As Far as Kosher Products Are Concerned, South America’s Hottest Country Is Chile

OU Kosher Staff

Ah, Chile! This incredible country has been in the spotlight recently. Last year’s terrible 8.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled the southern and central parts of the country, and the spectacular miraculous rescue of the Chilean miners and then their emotion-filled visit to Israel have placed Chile firmly in the world’s spotlight. The truth is that Chile has been the model country economically and politically for the entire South American continent for the last two decades.

Chile is physically isolated from the world. The Atacama Desert in the north; the gorgeous snow-capped Andes Mountains in the east that separate Chile from Argentina and that can be seen from almost any point in Chile; and the stunning Lake Region leading to Antarctica, make Chile a traveler’s dream . The country is a few thousand miles from north to south yet only a hundred or so miles from east to west – it’s that long skinny country you see on the map.

Although Chile is known as the world’ largest producer of copper and one of the biggest exporters of wood, the food industry is its most dynamic and quickly growing industry. That is why in close to 15 years in Chile working with the OU, I have travelled from the north to the south of Chile and seen so much growth in so many diverse climates with many different products coming out of each specific climactic region.

From anchovies, salt and delicious olives in the north, to the fruity center of Chile that produces some of the world’s best quality fruits and wines, to Southern Chile where salmon and trout reign in the waters this country is a feast for the eyes and an opportunity for those who can use the country’s great economic climate to produce high-quality kosher products.

Chile’s Jewish population of 15 thousand, based mainly in Santiago, has benefited from kosher certified products, as the main supermarkets such as Lider and Jumbo now have kosher sections and many products bearing the OU Kosher symbol on them
Starting in the north with the anchovy companies, there’s always a very friendly reception from Me. Sergio Taboada, one of the owners of Agropesca, and Mr. Agustin Cataldo, who works for the company. If I take a taxi from the airport to visit this company it’s an insult to them. They show so much respect and caring and not only drive me to their company and give me some delicious samples, but they also drive me to their competitors’ plants and to other companies in the area. The anchovies are fished locally and are salted for a few months with olive or other oils added afterwards, and then are canned and sent north to the United States.

Five hours to the south by car we find the astounding SPL Salt Company. The salt reserves are found high up on salt beds in the Andes; at some point the oceans reached so high as to leave salt deposits there that can provide the human race with salt for thousands of years to come. It’s exciting to see the salt blasted with dynamite out of the ground. Many bricks of salt have water trapped in them from thousands of years ago; I take a few of those souvenirs home after I visit. One would think salt is salt and doesn’t need supervision, yet there are processes and ingredients added to make sure the salt is nice and clean and doesn’t stick together; there is salt with iodine added and iodine free; a kosher certification is needed to ascertain that the ingredients used are kosher and sometimes Kosher for Passover.

Heading straight to the central region there are state of the art olive oil companies like Terra Santa in Curacavi on the way to the beautiful Vinia del Mar beach, or the enchanting Aculeo Lagoon, which is home to the Soho Olive Oil company; in both plants only extra virgin olive oil is produced. About three hours south of the capital is wine country. Millions of acres of vineyards line the Panamerican Highway; it’s a treat to the eye so drivers beware. Producing quality kosher wine is no easy task, yet working with the Luis Felipe Edwards winery for many years has been a great experience, in which both the team of rabbis and the company’s staff work together to produce award-winning kosher wines. Kosher tour groups come to visit this winery, as it is not just an advanced production plant but is located in a valley with many fruit trees and a small garden and park with antique carriages and wine barrels, perfect for a quick photo shoot .

The southern third of Chile is fish country, more than anything fish meal, which is used for animal feed and made from mackerel and hake; even more important are its salmon and trout farms.

Rodrigo San Martin, who runs the Marvivo Fish Company, has been my guide and friend since the very beginning in Chile. His company produces frozen fillets, canned and smoked salmon and trout. Most smoked salmon coming out of Chile is prepared with the cold smoked system with the smoke coming from wood chips. It’s a pure process in the sense that no artificial colorings or flavorings are added to the salmon, just natural smoke salt and sometimes sugar. Much of the salmon both processed and fresh we buy in American supermarkets, or the salmon we see in sushi bars, are Chilean products and come straight form these OU certified companies.

The price of salmon has been high of late due to a virus that wiped out ninety percent of the baby Atlantic salmon, similar to what happened in Norway a few years ago, but this has been almost completely eradicated and prices are starting to stabilize.
Chile’s government is extremely understanding and helpful to its companies, providing incentives which helps them set up new or upgrade existing plants to be able to meet HAACP ISO and kosher standards. ProChile is the government’s export bureau, with offices in many countries. In New York, its office is in the Chilean consulate right across the street from the UN.

Daniel Martinez, ProChile’s representative in New York, went with the OU to Kosherfest, and as the representative of many food companies in Chile has decided to set up a Chile booth for the 2011 show.

ProChile will promote many new niche areas like organic products and different oils, teas, natural and artificial colorings and fish products, that will open up even more possibilities for Chilean companies who have not yet exported or for companies who want to expand their export possibilities and range.

The mix of natural beauty, natural resources and Chile’s determination to continue growing as a South American leader in quality food production and exports, makes Chile a unique and proud country to live in, to do business with, and as The New York Times reported, the number one country to visit in 2011.

Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori serves as OU Kosher rabbinic field representative throughout South America. He was born in New York to a distinguished rabbinic family. He studied in Israeli yeshivas, including Beit Meir and Torat Moshe, and received rabbinical ordination from the renowned Beth Medrash Govoha, In Lakewood, NJ. Rabbi Ghoori moved to Chile in 1991 to further his studies at Kolel Avreichim de Chile and has since been actively involved in creating a vibrant Orthodox Jewish community through establishing both the Aish Torah of Chile and the first Sephardic congregation in Chile for Jews of Mediterranean and North African descent.

In addition, he was instrumental in creating the Spanish translation of the ArtScroll Siddur (prayer book) which has sold tens of thousands of copies. Rabbi Ghoori established the Kosher Chile organization as well as latinkosher.co. His exciting feature on OU certification in Peru appeared in the BTUS Spring 2010 issue.