The Grape Seeds of Worth

Published Spring 2010

Webster defines oil as any greasy substance that does not dissolve in water. There are many different categories of oil, which are obtained from numerous sources i.e. animal, vegetable and mineral. Edible oils are typically derived from animal and vegetable sources. These can be broken down into two categories: fixed and volatile. Fixed oil refers to oil that does not evaporate under normal conditions, while volatile oil or essential oil evaporates easily. Essential oils are used in flavors; fixed oils are used in cooking and baking. This article will discuss fixed oils, vegetable oils and seed oils. More specifically, we will explore grape seed oil, including how it is manufactured, its halachic ramifications, and the brilliance of Chazal.

Vegetable oils are found through a variety of sources, some of which are more likely than others. Typically, seed oils (as referred to in Europe) can be found in seeds such as corn, soybeans, rapeseed (canola), sunflower and cottonseed. Believe it or not, cocoa butter, which is extracted from cocoa beans, is actually the seed oil or fat that is found in a cocoa bean. Cocoa bean, the fundamental ingredient in chocolate, is a seed or bean rich in oil or fat. Other vegetable oils, such as palm and coconut, are found in the fruit pulp surrounding the seed of the fruit such as olives.

There are various methods of vegetable oil extraction: i) cold pressing, which is the method of extracting extra virgin olive oil; ii) mechanical or expeller pressing, which is the method of extracting cocoa butter; and iii) solvent extraction, which is the method of extracting grape seed oil, to be discussed later in this article.

Where does grape seed oil come from and how is it produced? According to the old adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This holds true even in the wine industry. After the grapes are harvested and crushed, what is to be done with the remaining seeds and pulp? One option is to throw them away, another is to put them to good use through the manufacturing of an array of marketable grape by-products, e.g. grape skin extracts, grape concentrates, tannins, colors and grape seed oil. A country that is best suited for these grape by-products is France, the home of thousands of wineries. It is staggering to note that, although the grape crushes take place in September and October only, enough grape pulp is produced to supply 22 French distilleries. These are companies that specialize in producing and manufacturing grape by-products. It takes six months of non-stop work for a distillery to separate grape seeds from the skins and stems. Enough seeds are produced to keep the grape seed oil operation busy year-round, 24/7!

In order to clearly understand the process and halachic ramifications of grape seed oil, it is important to accompany a grape seed on its journey from the vine to the refinery.

Due to an abundance of produce, and the advent of technological know-how, grapes are harvested in most cases with automatic harvesters that look like mechanical fingers. The harvesters collect the grapes and bring the truckload to the winery. Due to the aggressiveness of the automatic pickers, as well as the weight of the load, grape juice has already exuded from the fruit before the actual crushing takes place. When the grapes arrive, a sample of juice is taken from the load to measure its sugar content. The sugar content is critical for a winery to determine the adjustments that need to be made in the fermentation process in order to obtain the desired results. The grapes are then crushed, allowing the grape juice to be pressed from the skins, stems and seeds. From this point forward, the wine color, type or region of the production is customized to achieve the desired taste, fragrance and aroma of each variety of wine.

The de-stemmed grapes are then broken down into three grape components: “must” (freshly pressed fruit juice [usually grape juice] that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit), pulp and skins. These components are then placed into fermentation vats. Fermentation is the natural process that converts the grape juice into wine. Naturally fermented wine does not require any additional ingredients, as the grape skins contain natural enzymes that effect the change. Natural yeast contained in the grape converts the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. As the gas escapes, the juice bubbles violently (ferments). Some wineries produce red wines while others produce white wines. The fundamental difference between the red and white wines is the length of time the grape skins remain in the grape “must”. Grape skins that are left in the fermentation vats for a week to absorb the purple color produce red wine; white wine is produced from “must” that ferments without grape skins.

The by-products of the wine production – the grape skins, the grape seeds and the stems – are separated and sold to companies called distilleries. These companies process the grape by-products into an array of products, including wine alcohol, grape skin extracts, colors, and tannins to name but a few. The grape seeds are a derivative of the by-product and are transported to a variety of companies for further processing.

In order for the distillery to retrieve the grape by-products, the “marc” i.e. the seeds, stems, and skins need to be washed. The washing retrieves the remaining wine that was not pressed out at the winery, while cleaning the grape seeds in the process. Some distilleries use hot water, at approximately 140° F, while others use ambient (room temperature) water. The seeds are then dried to approximately 8% moisture. Considering the fact that a kernel of rice contains 11% moisture, and wheat is harvested at approximately 14% moisture, suffice it to say that 8% is fairly dry. After drying, the seeds are ready to be sent to the extraction plant for further processing.

It was mind boggling to observe the deliveries of grape seeds at the Bezier, France extraction facility. Trailer after trailer, measuring 15 ft high and 25 ft long, were loaded with dried grape seeds ready to be processed. The Bezier facility is the only grape seed oil extraction facility in France. It is supplied by the 22 distilleries that process the grape by-products of this country that prides itself on its award winning wine production. Understandably, this facility works non-stop 365 days a year to produce crude grape seed oil. 8,000 tons of grape seeds are extracted from 50,000 tons of grape seeds!

As previously noted, there are two methods of extracting crude oil. One technique is mechanical extraction, whereby the oil is extruded from the seed, bean or fruit. This method is used to express cocoa butter and oils such as corn, soybeans and sunflower. It is also the process utilized to produce cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. However, grape seed oil is removed through a process known as solvent extraction. A solvent, in this case hexane, is used to remove the edible oil from the grape seed. How is this accomplished? The grape seeds undergo a process called laminating, which crushes the seeds in a roller and cuts them into pieces so that the surface area is exposed. The crushed seeds are injected with steam and then advance through an extruder. The pieces are then fused together and look like pieces of a black electrical cord or smooth sticks. The laminated grape seeds are then immersed in a bath of cascading hexane, which washes out the grape seed oil.

The new combination of oil and hexane is then purified in a distillation still, similar to whisky. The hexane boils off and is recaptured, leaving crude grape seed oil behind. At this point, the crude oil is sent to the fourth facility, a refinery in Provence outside Marseille, where the oil will be refined.

Refining is a six step process. First, the oil is neutralized with caustic soda and phosphoric acid. Second, the caustic and phosphoric process causes the waxes to set up. This allows the waxy soap stock and oil to be pulled apart through a process called separation. Next, the separated oil is washed and dried to burn off any excess water. Then, the oil is bleached with bleaching earth and activated carbon to remove any residual green color. The oil is then filtered and sent to a deodorizer to remove any smell. Finally, the result is a clear, ready-to-enjoy oil that looks like any robust refined olive oil.

Or is it? A myriad of question surround the kashrus of grape seed oil, starting from its inception. When the grapes come to the winery from the field, they have been sitting in juice which is caused by the automatic pickers and the weight of the grapes. Once a sample is drawn by the worker in the winery, it is eligible for a disqualifying hamshacha.1 A hamshacha results when an aino Yehudi desires to take some of the grape juice. According to Ashkenazic ruling, once the grape juice sample is drawn, the rest of the wine becomes stam yayin, or yayin nesech according to the Sefardic ruling.

How does this impact on the grape seeds? If the seeds are removed immediately and do not stay in the juice for 24 hours, then the seeds are not subject to the laws of kevisha. Kevisha is the disqualification of a kosher food item that is soaked in non-kosher liquid for 24 hours or vice versa. Red wine, however, would be subject to the laws of kavush k’mevushal due to the fact that the grape by-products (the skins, seeds and stems) remain in the grape “must” for seven days.

At the distillery, where the “marc” is washed in hot water and the seeds are separated, the hot water cooks the seeds in the wine residue. This would be the second disqualification.

The Shulchan Aruch discusses the two criteria for permitting grape seeds, tammdan, washing of the seeds and yibush, drying of the seeds to a point where the seeds are moistureless.2 This is similar to the drying of the wine sediments on the side of the cask (Weinstein), the basic ingredient of cream of tartar.3 In the distillery, the seeds are definitely washed and dried well. This is critical because if a wet seed were to become moldy, the oil would not be able to be extracted. Furthermore, prior to extraction the seeds are dried once again during lamination. The question remains: Does a seed that has originally been soaked and cooked in non-kosher wine prior to washing, drying, and re-drying qualify as kosher grape seed oil?

The Shulchan Aruch clearly states that grape seeds are forbidden to be used within the first 12 months of their separation from the “must”. Furthermore, the halacha states that the seeds need to be washed and free of any residual wine before the 12 month count can be successful. Moreover, does the drying of the seeds equal a 12 month waiting period? Similarly, the question was raised regarding the wine sediment which is the main ingredient of cream of tartar. Does the drying of the wine lees, the wine sediment, qualify for the 12 month waiting period? Many authorities maintain that it does.

Another opinion in favor of grape seed oil is that the oil bears no resemblance to the original grape seed in smell, taste, color or texture.4 The Chasam Sofer rules that since there is a complete transformation from grape seeds to oil, the prohibition of disqualified grape seeds does not apply. This is based upon the ruling of Rabbeinu Yona, who maintained that a forbidden item that has undergone a complete transformation is permitted. Moreover, the Pischei Teshuva which quotes the Chasam Sofer adds that an additional caveat to permit grape seed oil is that the lamination dries the seeds to a point that qualifies for fuel after the hexane is poured onto the cut seeds. The Chelkas Yaakov offers yet another reason to permit grape seed oil. Oil is contained inside the seed, and the wine is not converted into oil; therefore, it can be viewed as two separate entities.

It is the position of the Star-K, as well as other major kashrus agencies, to permit grape seed oil that is manufactured in this manner. It is indeed a great manifestation of the Ribbono Shel Olam’s masterful handiwork to see the mysteries that can be found in nature, and the versatility of the fruits of Hashem’s labor.

1. Yoreh Deah (Y.D.) 123:17.

2. Y.D. 123:14.

3. Y.D. 123:16.

4. Pischei Teshuva (Y.D.) 123:20.