Monday, February 28, 2011

Gelatin and Enzymes and Bugs - Oh My!

A while back someone asked me if Jell-O brand gelatin was kosher. Since I didn't know the answer, I started doing a little research. I went to the discussion group at Chowhound to see what I could find. There was a lively bit of disagreement within that community, which seemed to stem from one person's saying Jell-O brand gelatin was kosher, and another one saying it was not. So I studied some more.

Imagine my dismay as I read this story of how one person queried Kraft Foods about whether their Jell-O brand was kosher. The upshot? Supposedly, here's what the rabbi who provided the "kosher" certification stated:

December 23, 1996
Dear Mr. Swiger,
Gelatin is made from the skin and bones of animals - not the meat: as per information that I have enclosed, it can be considered Kosher, even if it starts with pork skins/bones.
Sincerely, Rabbi  S....G..... (name omitted by author)

I say "supposedly" because I never could track down the original author, though I am familiar with the publication in which his letter was published. Just a couple of weeks ago I was saying to someone, "I think these stories about rabbis certifying pork to be kosher must be out-and-out anti-Semitism!"

Since then, I've had correspondence with several sources, and it seems that the "K" without a circle is to be avoided. (I have not heard back yet from anyone at the Orthodox Union, but if I do, I'll post an update). My information comes from The Israel of God Research Committee out of Chicago. The reason to avoid this particular certification was not explained, but perhaps the Swiger letter may provide some insight. Or it may not. You never know when you are reading on the Internet, though as I said, The Herald is a publication out of Kennesaw, GA, and I'm familiar with the teacher who runs that ministry. He also teaches that we should keep the dietary laws, and perhaps that's why this was published, lest we find ourselves leaning solely on rabbinnical certifications to guide our choices. We have to know what is clean and what is unclean, per the scriptures, how to identify it on a food label, and how to query a manufacturer if we have questions. I believe it is the homemaker's job to do this, as she is typically the one who makes the food purchases.

UPDATE:  The OU did finally contact me, and they said "As a matter of policy, the OU does not share evaluation of other Hechsherim with the public for a variety of reasons. We suggest you discuss this question with your Rov."

Note:  All Pepperidge Farm products containing gelatin are unclean. Don't buy them. And for those of you who eat at the Olive Garden, beware. Any of their sauces containing meat have pork in them. Same thing for Pizza Hut and Dominos and a lot of other fast foods. Sorry.

One item I see folks ingesting, perhaps unknowingly, are Altoids mints. Here's the email I received from them:

Dear Ms Johnson,
Thank you for visiting and for your interest in our ingredients.
The different varieties of our ALTOIDS mints do contain very small quantities of gelatin which is derived from pork. Gelatin does not impart any flavor to ALTOIDS, but it's a necessary ingredient for the texture of the mint. When we use gelatin it is thoroughly purified and dried during its manufacturing process. Our staff is continually looking at alternatives to animal gelatin, but at the moment we've not been able to find a substitute that produces the same quality you've come to love with ALTOIDS.
Again, thanks for contacting us, and we hope you will visit us again soon!

Melissa Kepple
Consumer Care Representative

Just in case you find yourself wanting to pop an Altoids, you know what you're putting in your mouth. Don't grab an IceBreakers either, as they are also not kosher. Alternatives? TicTacs and Mentos, perhaps. But you should do your own research on your favorite breath mint to make sure our Father would approve ;-)

If you need gelatin for a recipe, use a certified kosher brand such as Elyon. As a side note, if you need marshmallows (which contain gelatin) for a recipe, use Elyon brand as well. It's all fish gelatin. If you must use a marshmallow creme, say for fantasy fudge, Marshmallow Fluff brand is probably the safest, as at least in the plain variety they don't put any artificial ingredients. One really never knows what kind of unclean thing they'll put in "artificial ingredients" and "natural flavoring" so it's best to avoid them. But that will be the subject of another post!

On to cheese. Oh, the problems I've had with cheese. I grew up in Northern Illinois, not far from the Wisconsin border, home of the largest population of skilled and licensed cheesemakers in the country (if you're interested, you can read about it here). In short, I love cheese. I have hardly met a cheese I didn't like, except Limburger, which was just a little too ripe for me (the bacterium used to ferment that particular type of cheese, Brevibacterium linens, is the same bacterium found on human skin thought to be responsible for body odor). Don't say yuk! You can't get cheese, or yogurt for that matter, without bacteria. So let's talk about that.

Start with milk. Add "good" bacteria according to the kind of taste you want to end up with (the lady I buy raw milk from uses cultures from here). Some add a coagulant (rennet, or blood), cook and separate out the whey, press and salt the curd and shape it as you wish. Age according to your recipe, and voila! You have cheese. Now, I know it's more complicated that that, but I say it simply to illustrate a point. Bacteria are used in cheese, and so is a coagulant. Sometimes, if I understand this correctly, bacterial enzymes are sufficient for coagulating the cheese, so rennet is not needed, and there are bacterial and vegetable sources of rennet in case you don't want to eat cheese coagulated from rennet found in the fourth stomach of an unweaned calf (which some folks call veal), for moral reasons. Not getting into all that. The point is, cheese contains enzymes and a coagulant. It's important that you know where these come from.

Many already know the Cabot brand, which carries a kosher certification from the Orthodox Union. It's nice to see a cheese maker actually certify kosher, which helps us make good choices. But not every manufacturer will go to the expense. So you have some digging to do.

A question I've asked many cheese manufacturers is "What is the source of the enzyme used in your cheeses?" Here's what I've found about cheeses commonly available in our grocery stores in the Central VA and Tidewater areas:

This, from Sargento:

Dear Ms. Johnson,
Thank you for your question.  Most Sargento shredded and sliced cheeses and most of our refrigerated Sargento Snacks natural cheese snacks are made with non-animal rennets.  The only Sargento natural cheeses that may contain animal enzymes are those that contain Romano, Provolone, Asiago, or Jarlsberg cheeses.  Those include: Artisan Blends Shredded Parmesan & Romano Cheese, 6 Cheese Italian Shredded Cheese, Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Shredded Cheese, Artisan Blends Shredded Mozzarella & Provolone Cheese, Bistro Blends Shredded Italian Pasta Cheese, Deli Style Sliced Provolone Cheese, Deli Style Sliced Sharp Provolone Cheese, Deli Style Sliced Reduced Fat Provolone Cheese, Bistro Blends Shredded Mozzarella & Asiago Cheese with Roasted Garlic, and Deli Style Sliced Jarlsberg Cheese. The cheese dip in our non-refrigerated Sargento Snacks, Cheese Dip & Sticks, Cheese Dip & Pretzels, and Cheese Dip & Crackers, is made with beef rennet.  If you’re interested in knowing whether any other Sargento products contain animal products, you should know that Sargento Bistro Blends Shredded Sharp Wisconsin & Vermont Cheddar Cheese with Real Bacon contains bacon.
You'll find this information on in the Frequently Asked Questions:

The upshot? Sargento cheese, so long as they don't specifically say bacon, are okay for us to eat, because as their FAQ page says, they do not use pork or pork products in any of their cheeses.

This, from Saputo:

Dear Lori,
Thank you for contacting Saputo Cheese USA, Inc.!
All of our domestic products contain bovine milk and microbial (non-animal sourced) rennet with the exception of Ricotta Cheese. This is considered a "rennet less" cheese. The carrageenan, guar gum, modified food starch and distilled vinegar are plant based. Any residual rennet that may be present in the whey used in the production of Ricotta Cheese is microbial (non-animal sourced). Some of our products do contain lipase which is animal sourced (calf, kid or lamb). Lipase is usually found in our more intensely flavored cheeses. The following products do not contain lipase: Baby Swiss, Blue Cheese, Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Lorraine, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Ricotta, String Cheese and Swiss.
None of the cheeses produced by Saputo Cheese USA contain pork or pork products.
Please note that ingredients or changes in formulations may affect the above information and are subject to change without notice.
If you have any questions please contact us again.
Sherrie Shallow
Quality Assurance Specialist
Corporate Quality Assurance

Saputo brand includes Frigo, Lorraine, Stella, and Treasure Cave. Their labels look like this:

So at least at this time Saputo doesn't use pork in their cheese, though they do admit they can change without notice.

UPDATE:  I received the following info from Kraft:

Hi Lori,
Thank you for contacting me about the enzymes used in our cheese. Most of the cheeses we manufacture contain a microbiologically produced coagulating enzyme called chymosin. The process of converting milk into cheese is dependent on the use of this enzyme.
Our Sharp, Extra Sharp Cheddar and Romano cheeses may contain animal derived enzymes which assist in their flavor and texture development.
Other products utilize a microbial rennet which is derived from the growth of pure cultures of bacteria or mold. KRAFT Natural Swiss Cheese and KRAFT Grated Parmesan Cheese are example of products that contain this type of enzyme.
Soft cheeses utilize another method of coagulating milk by the growth of pure cultures of bacteria in the milk and the development of lactic acid. Our cream cheese products such as PHILADELPHIA BRAND Cream Cheese and Light PHILADELPHIA BRAND Neufchatel Cheese fall into this category.
I hope that this has given you some useful information.
Again, thanks for contacting us, and I hope you'll continue to enjoy our products.Kim McMiller
Associate Director, Consumer Relations

So I asked the question, "Can you tell me if your block and shredded cheeses also use those same enzymes?" and this is the response I got:

Hi Lori,
Here is the information I have on enzymes in our Kraft Cheeses. I hope it is helpful to you.  SHARP & EXTRA SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESES contain animal derived enzymes sourced from calf, kid, and lamb. These enzymes assist in flavor and texture development. The enzyme used is NOT a pork enzyme. The process of converting milk into cheese is dependent on coagulating through the use of this enzyme. Our enzymes are purchased from a reputable supplier.
GRATED ROMANO: Our Grated Romano cheeses do contain an enzyme which is of animal source.
KRAFT NATURAL SWISS & KRAFT GRATED PARMESAN - Kraft Natural Swiss and Kraft Grated Parmesan utilize microbial rennet which is NOT made with enzymes extracted from animal tissue - grated parmesan may contain lipase (from animal source). Please check ingredient line on the product packaging.
KRAFT SINGLES - We use enzymes in the cheese making process to make our cheese from milk. The milk ingredient is stated on the package in our ingredient line. These enzymes are sourced from both microbial fermentations and animal sources. The animal sources are cow, sheep and goat.
VELVEETA - The enzymes in Velveeta loaf may come from two sources; (1) isolated from microbial fermentations, and, (2) isolated from animal sources (cow, lamb, goat, but not from pork).
DELI DELUXE - The enzymes in Deli Deluxe cheese can come from two sources (1) isolated from microbial fermentations (2) isolated from animal sources (cow, lamb, goat, but not from pork).
If you haven’t done so already, please add our site to your favorites and visit us again soon!Kim McMiller
Associate Director, Consumer Relations

What about store brands? I have spoken to Kroger and Food Lion on the phone. Kroger said they use either pork or beef enzymes and do not distinguish between the two. Food Lion told me I would have to give them a particular UPC code before they could tell me. But if it's not spelled out on the label, and if they can't tell me in general, I'm going to avoid their products. This is not especially difficult because most grocery stores carry Sargento and Saputo brand cheeses. But if you have a favorite store brand cheese and you find out it's actually biblically permissible to eat, please drop me a note so I can update this post.

What about bugs? We are told in Leviticus 11 not to eat flying insects, with few exceptions (locusts and grasshoppers among them). Where in your diet will you find bugs? Of course, grain and pantry moths abound and you should always sift your flour before you use it, just in case you have creatures there that have escaped your notice. Since it's coming up on the spring cleaning, let's-get-the-leaven-out-of-the-house season, it might also be a good idea to see if you have any bugs in your food. Boxed cereal is notorious for its bug content (that's why those darned cereal bags are so hard to open!). If you have the room, you can freeze your flour, grains, and cereals (4-5 days should do it) to kill any of the critters, then sift (flour) or thresh (outside, in the wind) or (egads, I know) pour your cereal into a bow, add milk, and see if any bugs float to the top, then scoop them off. At least that's one one writer suggested. But they probably were not familiar with Leviticus 11:37-38. There's a principle there which seems to be saying "Don't eat cereal and milk if you see bugs!"

Sound like a lot of work? It is not an easy thing to keep a "clean" household. It goes way beyond getting up the dog hair (which we always have plenty of!) and swiping off the dust and germs.

Let's talk about toothpaste as well. Carmine is derived from insect wings and is sometimes used in various artificial colors. This also shows up in some cosmetics and lotions. The Israel of God web site provides a list here where you can check the various personal products and OTC medicines you might be using. You can also find a lot of information here through The Vegetarian Resource Group's Guide to Food Ingredients.

Do you see now why He has placed us in our homes? There is much to be learned, guarded against, and passed on to the next generation.



  1. Wonderful Post! Thanks so much for doing all this leg work! I learned a couple things! Shalom,

  2. Extremely helpful. Thanks for all of your hard work
    Miryam Evan
    Galilee, Israel

  3. Contacted Kraft today, and they told me that the enzymes in the Velveeta loaf are of pork origins