Snacks, Nuts & Dried Fruit
Research indicates that close to 75% of our society snack at least once a day, with most people facing that inner conflict between what they are instinctively drawn to pop in their mouth and what they know is a healthier snack and wiser choice. This is especially true for moms who are trying to decide what to include in their childrens’ lunch or give to tide them over until dinner. In the final analysis, most people surveyed admitted that they usually choose the snack that satisfies their errant tastebuds rather than the more nutritional counterpart. It has been documented that while most sports fans consume over thirty million pounds of general snacks on Super Bowl Sunday, the athletes themselves, tend to select healthy snacks such as soy products, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to kosher snacks, the statistics do not change, since most snack foods in the U.S. that are available to the general public are predominately kosher certified as well. Popular snacks such as potato chips, pretzels, nuts and popcorn are easily found with reliable certification. In more recent years, as the popularity of health foods increased, healthier snacks such as dried fruits and soy and rice products are also easily found certified reliably kosher. It is important for the kosher consumer to understand the nature of snack foods and the importance of a reliable certification for them.
Pretzels: The pretzel dates way back to the 1500’s. At that time the city of Vienna was under siege by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks began tunneling underground to enter the city but were caught by the pretzel bakers who were up all night baking pretzels. In those days, pretzels was a food considered fit and proper for royalty.
On the other hand, today in this country, the first American pretzel bakery was started when a baker gave a poor person some free dough in the 1850’s. That pauper was so grateful that he shared with the baker an old family recipe for pretzels. It seems that the original intent was to bake soft pretzels, but once they were accidentally burned and found to be actually pleasing in that form, hard pretzels were created and became one of the most popular snack foods in this country.
From a kashrus standpoint, one of the main concerns with pretzels is the dough-conditioner and shortening used in manufacturing the pretzel. The other ingredients, flour, water, salt and yeast are not usually a cause of concern to the kashrus status of this product. An additional kashrus concern comes with the popularity of pretzels today. Many often unique varieties of pretzel flavors have been added to the market. While these flavors can sometimes be kosher, at times they pose a challenge to the kosher consumer (in addition to dairy ingredients), requiring strict kosher supervision. Because of these added flavors, the machinery that manufactures these pretzels can also be a problem even if the actual ingredients in the pretzels are acceptable. Therefore it is of vital importance that pretzels be certified reliably kosher and designated properly for pareve or dairy status.
Since many pretzels today have a dairy status, there is one pretzel producing company that has chosen to take things in their own hands and designate all of their pretzel products as dairy, even if the product itself is dairy free or just produced on dairy equipment. Their logic is to reduce the level of confusion to the kosher consumer by simply designating all their pretzels with the dairy status.
A completely different type of problem arises when kosher pretzels are often sold at amusement or sports stadiums. The advertisement for this product may depict a large kosher hot pretzel (with actual reliable kosher certification when it is sold in a sealed package). Without certification on the cart we cannot determine if this otherwise kosher product has always been processed with kosher oil exclusively. In addition, we cannot assume, without on-site supervision, that the pretzel itself is actually always the kosher advertised brand.
Popcorn: This popular snack is also considered as a possible wiser choice for those health and diet conscience consumers. Popcorn is the type of snack that spans all ages, income levels and varying taste buds around the world. This product is typically made by roasting dried maize kernels of a particular variety in a closed vessel, sometimes with a little oil and often, in today’s more health oriented society, air popped. The starch in the corn kernel then swells as it heats and "pops" as it bursts through the outer skin of the kernel.
This unique snack seems to have its origins in North American hundreds of years ago. Many Indian tribes in this country pounded it into meal to proved a lightweight food, as Benjamin Franklin noted. Commercially, the more modern beginnings of popcorn began in Chicago in the late 19th century. At that time Charles C. Cretors invented a machine for popping corn in large amounts.
I n today’s market, popcorn manufacturers have given birth to new levels of imaginative food production. One can find popcorn flavored or covered with coatings such as: yogurt, jalapeno cheese, chocolate, toffee, butterscotch and even jell-o. They come in all colors of the rainbow as well. All of these innovative methods of modern food technology can certainly pose concerns for the kosher consumer.
Generally speaking, plain hard popcorn kernels sold in most supermarkets pose no problems at all for the kosher consumer (as long as they are oil-free). However, most microwave popcorn packages will list oil as one of the ingredients and therefore require reliable kosher certification. In public places of entertainment, such as movie theatres, sports arenas or amusement parks the popcorn sold there is not recommended for the kosher consumer. Even if we could determine that this particular vendor is using kosher oil when making the popcorn we do not have any guarantee that this oil has always and consistently been used in the past. The popcorn machine in such locations must be regarded as non-kosher. Glazed popcorn presents the same challenge as well as concerns that the flavoring may not be kosher. Fortunately, on the market today one can find many popular brand popcorn flavored products, such as Cracker Jacks and Fiddle Faddle, that are reliably certified kosher.
Potato, Taco, Tortilla, Corn Chips: Potato chips are considered to be the number one snack food choice today according to the Snack Food Association.
The original concept of fried potatoes seems to have originated in France. According to one account, it was actually Thomas Jefferson who first introduced this style of potatoes to the United States in the late 18th century. Jefferson had first discovered this delicacy in Paris. However, what we know today as the modern potato chip really originated in a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in the year 1853. The chef in that restaurant, George Crum was annoyed when a customer sent back his orders of fried potatoes complaining that they were not crispy enough. Chef Crum, in an attitude of disgust and revenge sliced potatoes paper-thin, heavily salted them and after frying them, sent them back to the dissatisfied customer. Surprisingly, the newly invented dish was a big hit with the patron. Soon other regular customers of the restaurant were requesting this dish. From this experience, the modern day potato chip was born.
Of course, the potatoes or corn themselves in chips are not a kashrus concern (unless they are from Israel where we would then be concerned with Maaser, Truma and Shmitta). However, most chips are fried in oil. In most of these cases a vegetable oil is used. As with all products, "pure vegetable oil" is truly pure and unadulterated. However even this "kosher" pure vegetable oil can often be processed on high temperatures on the same equipment as animal oils, rendering the vegetable not kosher. Only through reliably kosher certified supervision can we be assured that the oil that is being used to fry the chip is, in fact, 100% kosher, thereby proclaiming the status of the potato chip itself kosher. In addition, the kosher supervising agency must be careful that if dairy is being processed in the same plant as in the case of sour cream potato chips, the lines are not allowed to be contaminated by dairy remnants, to ensure the pareve status of those chips that are pareve.
One of the most popular healthy snacks today is dried fruits. Dried food dates back centuries and was a practice used to preserve food in many different coutries and cultures. Centuries ago, in the Near East, for example, fruit was preserved by wrapping in palm leaves and burying in the hot sand. On another continent, Native Americans sun-dried or used smoke from a fire to dry fruits. Today, these natural sweet treats come in many types and varieties. Although one of the first fruits to be dried was the fig, today one of the most popular dried fruits are raisins. Most raising are sun-dried grapes. The most common raisin today is the Thompson Seedless raisin. When the grapes reach a sugar content of 19% or higher they are harvested. This season usually begins around the end of August. The grapes are picked and laid out on paper trays to sun dry in the vineyards. It usually takes around 3 weeks for the grapes to dry. Grapes become raisins when their moisture content is lowered to about 15%. It takes about 4 pounds of grapes to product 1 poiund of raisins. Most raisins are a darker color. In order to produce a golden color raisin, the grapes must be mechanically dried and treated with sulfur dioxide.
In the world of kashrus, dried fruit that is naturally sun dried without added coloring or flavoring is always kosher. However, the concerns related to dried fruit for the kosher consumer include bug infestation, frying, drying in a kiln and added coloring and flavoring. Certain types of fruit are prone to become bug infested, in particular when they are grown in hot and humid climates. Some fruits, such as banana chips can include frying as part of the processing. One must be sure in such a case that the oil used to fry the fruit is kosher. If the fruit was dried in a kiln, we must determine that the kiln was not used for meat or fish but rather only kosher items. And finally, as always, any coloring or flavoring, which is sometimes used if the fruit is too pale, for example, must be reliably certified kosher.
When one is in the mood to snack, many turn to nuts as an easily accessible, crunchy, addictive choice. Perhaps one of the most popular nuts in the snack category are peanuts. Actually, technically, peanuts are more of an herb than an actual nut (they are developed underground, similar to a potato), however Peanuts originated in the Western Hemisphere, then reached the European continent when Spanish explorers brought it there. After their introduction to European society, traders took this tasty treat to Asia and Africa. Today, peanuts are often grown in tropical regions around the world and is known by such colorful names as ground pea, , pindar, monkey nut and goober nut. From a kashrus perspective, raw and dry roasted nuts, such as dry roasted peanuts, do not require a certification. However, shelled nuts that have been processed and cooked in oil must be properly certified in order to determine that the oil used was kosher and that the cooking utensils are kosher as well. In addition, some companies coat some of their nuts with non-kosher gelatin to retain moisture. Even when the company is producing kosher nuts, one must be careful to check the kosher designation as the machinery can be used at times for dairy as well.
Thirty-five percent of American adults choose to snack on chips or pretzels, and 31% snack mainly on cookies and candy. Only 19% reach for fresh fruit.
The pretzel was invented in the Middle Ages by an Italian monk who tried to inspire his students by rewarding them with baked treats like arms folded in prayer.
Nabisco’s Triscuits are made by sending softened wheat through a shredder, then layering it in alternating directions to give the illusion of a woven texture.
According to the Snack Food Association, Americans spend an average of $21,917,808 every day on snacks.
Sales of tortilla chips keep rising annually ($2.5 billion a year at last count) and experts predict they will exceed those of potato chips.
Blue Corn - Although it’s real popular in health food stores these days, blue corn, especially in the form of corn chips, is actually no healthier than white or yellow corn. A native American food, blue corn chips may brighten up the cocktail table, but they’re not worth the high price.
Junk Food Junkie - America’s addiction to junk food is no laughing matter. A few years ago, a savvy lawyer argued that his client, an accused murderer, should not be found guilty because he had been addicted to Twinkies and was therefore under the influence of a "mind-altering" substance. Most junk foods are high in calories, fat and sugar, and have poor nutritional value. However, recent studies show that the average American diet consists of 50 percent junk food. Here’s what the average junk food junkie eats per year:
300 cans of soda
200 sticks of gum
5 pounds of potato chips
100 pounds of refined sugar
50 pounds of cookies and cake
Brazil Nuts grow in the Amazon rain forest inside hard coconut-sized shells that weigh about 5 pounds each and enclose up to 18 nuts per shell.
A handful of any shelled nuts contains about 170 calories. (A handful of unbuttered popcorn contains about 12 calories.)
Nuts are so nutritious that the USDA guidelines permit them to be substituted for half the meat requirements in school lunches.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Most contain B-complex vitamins, and some raw nuts and seeds supply Vitamin E. A few contain vitamins A and D.
Popcorn - Where Does It Come From? Popcorn is believed to have originated in Mexico. Archeologists have found ears of corn in Bat Cave, New Mexico, that are estimated to be a few thousand years old. Aztecs and West Indians were using popcorn when the white European explorers arrived. The Iroquois people popped corn in pottery vessels placed in heated sand, and made popcorn soups and other foods when French explorers visited the Great Lakes region in the early 1600’s.
The Origins of Pistachio Nuts: Pistachios originated in the Middle East, growing wild in the deserts in ancient times. Pistachios were considered a rare delicacy and were so expensive that they were consumed mostly by royalty (the queen of Sheba was a pistachio partisan) and exported to Europe. Pistachios were grown in Greece and Sicily during the Roman Empire and remained popular in the Mediterranean, but didn’t really catch on in the United States until the first wave of immigrants from southern Europe in the 1880’s. Iranian pistachios are harvested the same way now as they were a century ago. Workers knock the nuts off pistachio trees with poles. The nuts are picked off the ground by hand and thrown into burlap bags. Often, the nuts sit in these bags for weeks. The protective hull of the pistachio is removed by rubbing the nuts against rough surfaces, usually stones.
Macadamia nuts have more fat and calories than any other nut
Buttered flavored popcorn may be real butter, margarine, butter flavored oil or a soy-based artificial concoction.
Corn chips in all colors have the same amount of fat and calories unless they are labeled fat-free or baked.
Natural peanut butter will remain fresh longer if you store the bottle upside down in the refrigerator.
Nuts, seed or grains that have the slightest hint of mold may contain a carcinogen called aflatoxin.