According to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. total imports of agricultural products from India totaled $2.6 billion in 2019. Leading categories include spices ($271 million), rice ($230 million), essential oils ($184 million), processed fruit & vegetables ($142 million), and other vegetable oils ($133 million).
OU Kosher has been active in India for decades and its Indian customers represent a cross section of all leading categories of exports to the US. As an essential part of the US supply chain, it has been important for Indian manufacturers to be certified kosher. From dairy in the north, spices in the east, vegetables – especially gherkins – in the south, tea in the west, and chemicals in the center, the OU certifies thousands of Indian products in 200 factories.
OU inspectors in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalor, as well as inspectors from overseas, provide support and oversight for these diverse kosher producers. Prominent Indian companies like Adani Wilmar (oils), Kancor/Mane, AVT McCormick (spices), Synthite (extracts), Plant Lipids (extracts and essential oils), Jubilant (pharmaceutical), Ruchi Soya (soy ) and Marcatus QED (gherkins), are producing a diverse and vast array of OU-certified foods and raw materials for America’s growing kosher market.
As a supermarket to the world, many of India’s OU certified companies produce ingredients and raw materials for US manufacturers who require OU certifications. Before Mohini organics, a producer of emulsifiers, became kosher they were told the koshering process could take as much as a year. For Mohini and others there was no question they needed to be kosher and that they would carry the OU symbol because of its universal acceptance by consumers and manufacturers. The process of converting Mohini took 8 months.
In addition to producing oils, enzymes, vinegar, spices and other raw materials, India manufactures retail products as well like pickles, milk powder, concentrated mango and papaya juices, herbal medicines, spices and IQF, a.k.a. instant quick freeze foods. “Anything that grows from the ground in India can be dehydrated or IQF,” says Rabbi Chaim Loike, OU Rabbinic Coordinator who specializes in spices. “The dehydrated vegetables in many of the soups we eat come from India.” Many of the pickles we eat are also from India. In fact, Rabbi Gavriel Price, the RC in charge of the Mohini Organics account, refers to India as “the cucumber distributer to the world.”
Situated near the equator, the country enjoys abundant vegetation. “They do a lot of herbals, oil extractions from botanicals,” says Rabbi Mordechai Merzel, RC, “industrial products that go into foods, vitamins and other items — the possibilities are endless. Spices, peas, gherkins are also indigenous to the region, as well as teas from Sri Lanka, which used to be part of India. And they ae offering products at competitive prices.”
The Cultural Differences
The RC’s (Rabbinic Coordinators) at the OU Kosher office in Manhattan often visit companies in India. “There are animals all over the place,” says Rabbi Price. “You stop at a red light and a cow comes right up to your window. In the U.S., if you want to pass a car on the highway, you move to the left lane and accelerate, then move back to the right. In India, you honk your horn and the person in front of you has to move out of the way, then you accelerate, and he goes back to his original lane. This causes a cacophony of honking.” Despite the noise, Rabbi Loike is impressed by India’s sophisticated production systems. “There are some really high-tech processes going on there,” he says. “Agro Dutch, an OU Kosher company, is the largest integrated mushroom company in the world; due to superior standards of cleanliness in their manufacturing procedure, their product is free of bug infestations, a major plus, since Jewish law forbids the consumption of insects.”
It’s also about quality. “We have converted many of our non-kosher suppliers to get OU Kosher certification,” says Suma Devassy, who handles operations at Marcatus QED, one of India’s largest exporters of gherkin pickled cucumbers. “It is one of our requisites in our quality manual. People understand, just like any other quality parameters, they need to have the OU. The OU’s supervision is very stringent, so it has an impact on bringing quality systems. It forces the vendors in India to follow certain protocols and this helps them to follow such standardized practices. The recognition, the acceptance, the quality assurance — we knew OU Kosher certification was the only way. We have grown exponentially. And it’s only going up and up.”