Sweet-Talk: Inside The Kosher Bakery

From Exodus to the Modern Bakery

Ever since antiquity, there has been one innovation after another in the baking industry, some by accident and some by design. During the exodus from Egypt the Torah recounts that a new ugot matzot or unleavened cake was unintentionally created.  In their haste to leave behind the shackles of Egyptian bondage, the Israelites baked their dough in the desert sun. This resulted in the tradition of eating matzah during Passover. The discovery of a category of breads that are flat and unleavened led to another development: pita bread. Accordingly, the range of bakery products is nothing less than astonishing: breads, rolls, bagels, baguettes, buns, pizzas, pitas, wraps, croissants, cakes, cookies, crackers, muffins, biscuits, wafers, pies, donuts, scones, crullers, Danishes, pancakes, cereals, pretzels, etcetera. But what exactly distinguishes baked goods from other foods? Two common features to the above are that they all contain flour and are baked, with the exception of donuts and pancakes, which are fried. And yes, in this modern age, there is a wonderfully light pastry that is baked without any flour whatsoever: meringue.

An Educated Consumer

The OU has kept up with this ever-growing montage of baked products and takes great pains to keep our consumers educated about the relevant kosher symbols. Thus, our consumers know that a standard indicates that the product is certified kosher pareve, D means kosher dairy (cholov stam unless the product specifies that it is cholov yisroel) and P signifies kosher for Passover. Many also know that the dairy status of a product is also evident by the “REAL” (Ed, insert REAL emblem here) emblem, commonly found on milk and other dairy products.

What many may not know, however, is that milk proteins such as whey, caseine or caseinate in the ingredient legend indicate that the product is dairy, even if the container says non-dairy, as is the case with many so-called non-dairy creamers. This is because the FDA and halachah do not define dairy in the same way. According to the FDA, any product that doesn’t contain milk can be marketed as non-dairy, even though it may contain milk derivatives. Halacha considers such a product dairy. Consumers should therefore check for the D on “non-dairy” creamers to determine if they are dairy or not.

What’s in a Cracker?

One of the challenges in certifying baked goods is the number of ingredients the average commercial bakery uses. It is not unusual for a bakery to use 500 ingredients; and many store over 1,000. Ingredients that need to be carefully monitored include oils, shortenings, flavors, emulsifiers, stabilizers, enzymes, glycerin, gelatin, grape juice, whey, and cheese. Moreover, the sources of these ingredients—and oftentimes the ingredients themselves—are in a state of flux. Bakeries under OU supervision are forbidden to receive any ingredient without prior approval from the OU. Approved ingredients are subsequently registered on an official OU document and used by our rabbinic field representatives (RFR) to ensure the integrity of the company’s kosher program.

OU Kosher Staff