In an exciting development, certain vegetarian casings from Europe are now OU kosher-certified. This will allow kosher-producing hot dog companies and consumers to avoid casings that are usually made of collagen, which are proteins extracted from cow hides that weren’t slaughtered properly. If slaughtered properly, then the collagen from the cow hides would be kosher, though the production process would be much more intricate. A recently featured company, The Absolute Collagen, has already begun producing kosher powder-based collagen. Viscofan, an OU kosher-certified company, is the global leader in producing these vegetarian casings which they call “Veggie Casings.” This development has become transformative for many faiths throughout the world who abide by strict dietary laws.
The Casing Market
GlobeNewswire notes that by the year 2029, the artificial casing market will have a worth in excess of $5 billion. Though collagen cases have always been the norm, vegetable casings have now become a viable substitute. The reason for the popularity of the vegetarian casings is based on the expanding plant-based market, growth of the vegan movement and religious restrictions relating to the consumption of meat.
Vegetable Casings and the Hot Dog Crunch
I spoke with Seth Leavitt, the owner of OU kosher-certified Abeles and Heymann (A&H), who exclusively uses Viscofan’s veggie casings. He said that the casings provide a snap crunch to the hot dog. This adds to the allure of the hot dog, which is also unique in that it is comprised of a few different meats and is cooked in large ovens that disperse the heat into hot dogs from outside to within.
Leavitt explained, as a point of fact, that he must use different manufacturing equipment because the veggie casings remain on the hot dog even after being cooked. To him, gaining the right taste and crunch is the priority. Manufacturers who use removable casings make use of automatic peelers that strip the casings off the hot dog in the final stage.
For Viscofan, commitment to sustainability is their mission. Their bottom line takes into account the environment, water supply, energy use and health, when addressing any undertaking. Viscofan sees their veggie casings as part of the sustainability equation.
Their casings are fully edible, gluten-free and allergen-free. Because the casings are ready-made, meal preparation time is reduced. When stuffed with meat or a vegetarian serving, the casings can be cooked or fried.
Hot Dogs as an Example For the Halachic Necessity of Seals
Though the hot dog takes on a new crunch and taste with the vegetarian casing, it is still meat, and would have to comport with the halacha of basar shenisalem min ha’ayin. This halacha addresses situations where meat is left unwatched in the hands of a non-Jew. Because the hot dogs go through so many steps, high vigilance is required in this area.
Basar shenisalem min ha’ayin requires that all food items left with a non-Jew must have a seal (Shach Y.D. 118:12). Deorisa consumptions like meat require two seals (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 118:1, Chochmas Adam 70:1). With two seals, it is unlikely that the non-Jew will switch the meat. Therefore, in hot dog production, when the meat is transported from the slaughterhouse to the factory, it must be double-sealed. Any time the product is opened, the mashgiach must be present. Before the mashgiach leaves the premises, the meat must be sealed again. After the hot dogs are cooked and packaged, they are sealed once again and transported to supermarkets.
Veggie casings are a new marvel that is changing the face of meat and vegetarian cooking. With the world moving more towards natural consumption and environmental sustainability, these casings are having a global impact. The casing area is expanding, and much exploration is taking place. Considering that collagen casings still present a roadblock for religious dietary reasons, in addition to the fact that vegetarian casings offer a special snap to the crunch and a unique taste, the face of the casing industry is taking on a whole new mystique.