The Tasty Muffin: Starting off Your Day the OU Way

June 11, 2009

From sea to shining sea in this blessed country of the United States of America, there are a myriad of breathtaking views where nature’s wonders will enthuse and invigorate all that behold her. Each of this great nation’s fifty states has much to contribute in this regard. Whether it is Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Florida’s Everglades, New York’s Niagara Falls, Alaska’s glaciers, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, or Utah’s Rainbow Bridge, the list goes on and on for anyone who seeks to become awe-inspired by America’s offerings of nature’s best.

And while adventurers are whetting the appetite of their souls with these American marvels, they would be happy to know that in the course of their travels, there are delectable state muffins to nourish their bodies. Some notable state muffins are Massachusetts’ corn muffin, Minnesota’s blueberry muffin and New York’s apple muffin. This doesn’t mean that one won’t be able to find a lemon poppy muffin in all of Minnesota. All states tender muffins at thousands of nationwide eateries in a host of varieties, flavors, and shapes. The state muffin however, is a source of pride and joy for the state among many other prized possessions.

What makes the muffins even more attractive is that so many bear the world’s premier kosher emblem – the OU Symbol on their packaging. The companies that manufacture these muffins are to be commended for adhering to the most rigorous standards of kosher supervision for which OU kosher certification is renowned. In order to appreciate the requisite kosher supervision entailed for muffins, an historical perspective of this fabled product proves quite revealing.

The origin of the word muffin is derived from the French moufflet or soft, and is usually used in the context of bread. In other words, muffins resemble a soft bread. The parallel drawn between muffins and bread insofar as kosher dietary law is concerned is extremely significant. This is because kosher dietary law precludes bread from containing any dairy or meat ingredients. Bread can only be made pareve. This is attributed to the fact that bread, as a main food staple, can readily find itself available for either a dairy or meat meal. As a necessary precaution to avoid eating dairy bread at a meat meal, which is in violation of kosher law, the bread must be pareve.

By extension it follows, that if muffins are indeed a soft bread as their etymology implies, then kosher dietary law would mandate that they only contain pareve ingredients, and no dairy components. Notwithstanding the word’s French roots, whether or not muffins are bread is contingent upon what constitutes bread according to kosher dietary law. Three criteria that identify the distinctive nature of bread are: shape, taste and function. Concerning shape, it is most common for bread to come in the form of loaves, rolls, buns and baguettes. Regarding taste, bread is yeasty and not sweet. Pertaining to function, bread primarily is eaten as a whole meal as in a sandwich, and not merely munched upon as in a snack.

Americans have grown accustomed to enjoy their breakfast with one of two types of muffins. First there is the American muffin which is baked from a batter mix and deposited in uniquely configured muffin baking pans. This batter mix is very thin, does not contain yeast, and could be sweet as in a chocolate chip muffin, or savory as in a carrot cheese muffin.

Since the American muffin is altogether shaped differently than any roll, bun or baguette, is sweet or savory, and is not normally used to make a sandwich, it does not qualify to be considered bread in any of the aforementioned three criteria of shape, taste or function. Accordingly, American muffins are considered more like cake than bread, and can therefore be kosher certified even when containing dairy ingredients. For this reason, there are literally hundreds of luscious American muffins that contain dairy ingredients and have been approved by my office as OU-D. In addition, for the more health conscious, the trendy succulent real dairy low fat American yogurt muffins can also be certified OU-D providing all ingredients meet schedule A (ingredients) specifications.

The second muffin enjoyed usually at breakfast time is the English muffin. In contradistinction to the American muffin, the English muffin is not sweet, but rather stems from a thick yeast dough that is proofed and then deposited in griddle cups while being conveyed through a griddle oven. This difference in manufacturing leads to the English muffin satisfying two of the three kosher dietary law criteria for bread. English muffins have the yeasty taste of bread and function like bread since they are used to make a sandwich to be eaten for a meal. Their spongy texture however, disqualifies them from meeting the shape criterion for bread.

The upshot is that since English muffins resemble both bread and cake, it is in a singular category of kosher certification. For the most part, as in the case of bread, OU kosher certified English muffins do not contain any dairy ingredients nor share equipment with products made with dairy, and hence are in fact pareve. However, there are some brand English muffins that are certified OU-D. This is either because the dairy component is less than 1 ½% of the total ingredients, or on account of the English muffins being produced on equipment that make dairy product. Companies that have been approved to manufacture OU-D English muffins must keep the dairy component for these products below the 1½% threshold of the total ingredients. Rabbinical field representatives closely monitor the batch sheets for these dairy English muffins, to ensure the dairy components meet the requirements.

A further glance into history reveals another unique quality indigenous to English Muffins that serves as an additional benefit for many kosher consumers. Mr. Samuel Bath Thomas left England for the shores of this country in 1874 with an English Muffin recipe that Americans would absolutely relish. Thomas’ English Muffins were the very first English Muffins enjoyed by Americans. Mr. Thomas recommended that his customers toast the English Muffins before serving for maximum flavor. These same toasting instructions are to this very day included on the packaging of Thomas’ English Muffins.

The fact that English Muffins are most preferred when toasted is most important for a further expanding market among kosher consumers known as ‘pas yisroel’. Literally meaning ‘bread of a Jew’, the ‘pas yisroel’ status is an elevated level of kosher for baked goods. It is obtained by an observant Jew igniting the oven in which the product is being baked. The method that the OU recommends to accomplish this task is for the bakery to install an electric panel by a designated oven that enables that oven to be turned on off-site by a rabbinic field representative using a remote control telephone hook-up. This system meets the strictest of the kosher pas yisroel requirements and has received great approbation among leading rabbinic authorities. The device is known as the “Shain system,” named after a Rabbi Shain who made this innovation.

Accordingly, since English Muffins have their flavor enormously enhanced via the product being toasted before serving, this may facilitate a kosher Jewish consumer in effectuating a pas yisroel product by toasting the English muffin in their own toaster at home. This is a kosher bonus for English Muffins which is not found in most other commercially baked products.

For over one hundred years Americans have been enjoying the famous Thomas’ English Muffins. Kosher consumers too are delighted to be able to benefit from the premium taste of Thomas’ English Muffins because its packaging bears the worlds premium kosher OU-D logo. Scores of other quality brand English Muffins have followed Thomas’ stunning example and are also proud bearers of the OU or OU-D kosher logo. Regardless, if they are American or English, kosher consumers the world over have a great way to start off their day by eating any of the thousands of muffin products that are OU kosher certified.