Making Fruit Jelly Kosher: It’s Easier than Ever

January 4, 2005

When the Food and Drug Administration originally fixed the standard of identity for fruit jelly in 1940, the definition, which was based on the evidence of two centuries of recipe books, was roughly a fifty-fifty combination of fruit or fruit juice and sugar. However, when the FDA modified the standard more recently, the new definition reflected the staggering complexity of the modern food industry. The new standards now permit the addition of acidulants such as citric acid, buffering agents such as sodium citrate, high and low-methoxyl pectins, anti-foaming agents, flavorings, preservatives, and other ingredients.

While the ingredient base for fruit jelly has become larger, kosher rules continue to focus on unchanging themes: the ingredients have to be kosher and the production equipment must be acceptable for kosher production. With respect to both of these areas, changes in the food ingredients market make producing kosher fruit jelly as easy as ever–as long as the proper precautious are taken.

The additives used in fruit jelly are eminently available as kosher certified. PH adjusters such as citric acid and sodium citrate can easily be procured from kosher certified companies, as are flavorings and anti-foams. All of these ingredients must be listed on the Schedule A before they are purchased and brought into the facility. The fruits themselves must be free of insect infestation. When fruit juice, which is used for fruit jelly, is the raw material, the presence of insects is not a problem. But when jams or preserves are the goal, larger chunks of fruit are used. Pureeing fruits ensures that any insects present will be nullified. If the fruit is not pureed, plants must work with the OU to take measures that any potential insect issue be eliminated.

The classic problem for kosher equipment in the jelly industry has been figuring out ways to accommodate, in a kosher production plant, the production of non-kosher grape jelly. Grape jelly is a stock-in-trade for any fruit jelly manufacturer–Americans have enjoyed grape jelly with peanut butter, or on toast, or on pancakes, since time immemorial. Grape jelly has, until recently, been available in large quantity only as non-kosher. Kosher rules require that grape juice be produced only under constant supervision and rabbinical involvement, which has, until recently, resulted in a distinctly more expensive grape juice. Because of the greater expense, kosher certified fruit jelly manufacturers and the OU have had to go to great lengths to accommodate non-kosher grape jelly production while also producing other certified jellies. Down-time is required as part of the kosher-cleaning process; intense CIP protocols are implemented; and schedules for rabbinical visits must be incorporated into production schedules. Steam that is used for nonkosher grape jelly cannot be reused for any kosher production. And most important, steam emitted from non-kosher grape production that is captured during jelly production cannot be reused in kosher jelly.

Many OU companies continue to work superbly with their rabbinical coordinators and field representatives to ensure that the necessary kosher-cleaning, with its concomitant requirements, takes place after a nonkosher grape jelly run. But increasingly, OU companies have chosen to forego the complications involved in producing both kosher fruit jellies and non-kosher grape jelly and choose, instead, to purchase kosher grape juice for a kosher grape jelly production. Their choice has been fueled by a singularly important development: the drop in price of kosher grape juice.

“The price isn’t exorbitant, like it was years ago,” says John Whitaker, Vice President of Operations, Baumer Foods in New Orleans, LA, who chose to replace non-kosher grape juice, “the only thing that was non-kosher” in the plant, with kosher grape juice. And for Baumer Foods, which sells its grape jelly to the prison system–and doesn’t bear an OU even though it is kosher–the retail benefit from having a kosher grape jelly wasn’t even part of the company’s bottomline evaluation. Still, the choice to go to kosher grape juice has been beneficial. Downtime has been eliminated and production schedules streamlined.

The price drop is in part attributable to new technology, employed by the OU during the autumnal grape crush, which alleviates the cost of supervision for grape juice companies. Juice companies that have partnered with the OU have found new ways of reducing costs for grape juice products. In addition, some longstanding OU companies like Johnson Concentrates of Yakima, WA, have chosen to produce only kosher grape juice, which enables them to cut out the costs associated with switching from non-kosher to kosher production.

Johnson Concentrates can maximize its efficiency and pass on the savings to its customers. “Kosher and non-kosher grape juice are trading at about the same level,” said Dave Watkins, Vice-President, Johnson Concentrates. The reason, he said, is that there are more companies like Johnson Concentrates that are supplying the juice market with more kosher grape juice. Greater supply and less expensive production costs have translated into a better price.

The OU has many decades of experience in the jelly, jam, and preserves industry. Although times have changed, the rudiments of certification remain the same. And now it’s easier than ever to maintain a kosher fruit jam or preserves program with the OU, even where grapes are concerned.