Now You See It, Now You Don’t: A Kosher View of Refined Edible Oils

“שמן תורק שמך“ (Shir Hashirim Rabah 1:3) …”Your name is flowing like fine oil”. Shir Hashirim Rabah makes the following insightful observation.  Shlomo Hamelech compares Bnei Yisroel to fine oil. Just as fine oil is extracted from its source through crushing and squeezing, so do the innate qualities of Bnei Yisroel emerge as a result of our collective challenges and travails. Similarly, just as oil serves as a glowing source of radiance that fills a room with shining light, so does Bnei Yisroel serve as a light to other nations through their stellar performance of Torah and mitzvos.

Oil is an incredibly remarkable and versatile product of Hashem’s creations and is not limited to olives, the quintessential source of shemen. Oil is found in a plethora of sources, and the means of oil extraction are varied.  Moreover, there are remarkable halachic ramifications with various oil extractions.  Let’s explore the wondrous world of oil.

Oil can be obtained from various sources such as animals, vegetables, seeds and minerals. Today, edible oils are generally derived from vegetable sources; animal sourced edible oils are not as prevalent as they used to be. Oil can be classified into two categories: fixed and volatile. Fixed oil refers to oil that does not evaporate under normal conditions, while volatile or essential oil evaporates easily. Fixed oils are used in cooking and baking; essential oils are used in flavors. This article will discuss fixed oil extraction, and we will explore the halachic ramifications of grape seed oil and other vegetable oils.

Vegetable oils are produced from a variety of sources. Seed oils (as referred to in Europe), which have become very popular, are produced from seeds such as soybeans, rapeseed (canola), sunflower, cottonseed, flaxseed and hemp. Believe it or not, cocoa butter which is extracted from cocoa beans is actually the seed oil that is found in a cocoa bean. Cocoa beans, the main ingredient in chocolate, are seeds or beans rich in oil or fat. Other vegetable oils, such as palm and coconut, are derived from the fruit pulp surrounding the seed of the fruit such as olives. Olive oil is derived from both the fruit and the seed (extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and refined oil, as well as pomace oil).

Methods of Edible Oil Extraction

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 seed oil and cocoa butter; and iii) solvent extraction, which is the method of extracting grape seed oil, to be discussed later in this article.

Grape Seed Oil Production

How is grape seed oil 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 option is to put them to good use through the manufacturing of an array of marketable grape byproducts, e.g. grape skin extracts, grape concentrates, tannins, colors and grape seed oil. One country that is best suited for these grape byproduct productions is France, the home of thousands of vineyards. There is enough grape pulp produced to supply 22 French distilleries. These are companies that specialize in producing and manufacturing grape byproducts. 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 follow 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. Then the grapes are crushed, allowing the grape juice to be pressed from the skins, stems and seeds. From this point on, 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 byproducts 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 byproducts 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 byproduct and are transported to a variety of companies for further processing.

In order for the distillery to retrieve the grape byproducts, 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 is mind boggling to observe the deliveries of grape seeds to an 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, France facility is the only grape seed oil extraction facility in France. It is supplied by the 22 distilleries that process the grape byproducts 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!

Mechanical Extraction

As previously noted, there are two methods of extracting crude oil. One technique is mechanical extraction, whereby the oil is pressed from the seed, bean or fruit. This method is used to produce cocoa butter and crude vegetable oils such as corn, soybeans and seed oils such as sunflower, flex and hemp.

Chemical Extraction

Grape seed oil and pomace olive oil are removed through a process known as chemical extraction, using a solvent. The solvent, in this case hexane, is used to remove the edible oil from the grape seed or olive byproducts. 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 same process is used to extract crude pomace olive oil.

The new combination of oil and hexane is then purified in a distillation still, similar to whiskey. The hexane boils off and is recaptured, leaving crude grape seed oil or pomace olive oil behind.

Refining Crude Oils

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 odor.1 Finally, the result is a clear, ready-to-enjoy edible oil.

The Bottom Line

A myriad of questions 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 the result of 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.2 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 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 byproducts (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.3 This is similar to the drying of the wine sediments on the side of the cask (Weinstein), the basic ingredient of cream of tartar.4 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 halachah states that the seeds must 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.5 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 opinion of STAR-K, as well as other major kashrus agencies, to permit grape seed oil that is manufactured in this manner.

Kitniyos Shenishtanu

It is interesting to note with regard to Pesach, there is a divergence of opinions amongst kashrus certification agencies as to whether we permit or forbid Kitniyos Shenishtanu.

Today, food science has found multiple applications for products derived from kitniyos. These kitniyos conversions and fermentations have given rise to a new kashrus term, “Kitniyos Shenishtanu”, kitniyos that have been transformed into a new product. These converted food grade ingredients include citric acid and ascorbic acid (that have wide food applications), NutraSweet sweetener, MSG (a flavor agent in soups and spice blends), sodium citrate (found in processed cheeses), sodium erythorbate (found in deli meats), and lactic acid that is used in olive production. These corn or soy-based ingredients go through a multi-stage conversion process until the final food grade material is produced.

What is the reasoning for those who permit Kitniyos Shenishtanu? Interestingly, the reasoning behind permitting Kitniyos Shenishtanu is based on a different halachic query regarding a serious kashrus concern as to whether or not a product extracted and converted from a non-kosher source could be considered kosher. The heter is based on the reasoning of the Chasam Sofer and the Chok Yaakov permitting the consumption of grape seed oil that was extracted from non-kosher grape seeds.6

The fundamental reasoning of the Chasam Sofer and the Chok Yaakov permitting the newly transformed grape seed oil provides the basis for permitting Kitniyos Shenishtanu.
The reasons for permitting Kitniyos Shenishtanu are very compelling. What are the counter arguments in favor of prohibiting Kitniyos Shenishtanu? When Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of the STAR-K, discussed this issue with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, zt”l, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, their position was to prohibit Kitniyos Shenishtanu as a Chumra d’Pischa, a strict adherence to the minhag of prohibiting Kitniyos. For this reason, it is STAR-K policy not to certify products containing Kitniyos Shenishtanu.

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. Most refineries today have moved away from deodorizing animal fats on the same deodorizers. A deodorizer is a tall cylindrical column that essentially ‘cooks’ the oil to remove any off-putting smell.  it can be likened to a closed column of multi-level frying pans, almost impossible to kasher.  if a refinery is A/V (animal /vegetable), any kosher edible oil deodorized on this common deodorizer would be treif.
  2. Yoreh Deah (Y.D.) 123:17
  3. Y.D. 123:14
  4. Y.D. 123:16
  5. Pischei Teshuva (Y.D.) 123:20
  6. It is interesting to note that the shaila was raised by the gadol hador, Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zt”l, in Europe during WWII, where kosher oil was scarce and the only oil available was grape seed oil.