The enzyme industry and its component, the food-grade enzyme industry, are areas that have grown rapidly over the last forty to fifty years. Enzymes are currently used to create all sorts of different properties in foods, throughout food manufacturing. Examples include the starch industry, production of cheese and other dairy products, bakery products, the egg industry, juice and wine production—and we could go on and on. Enzymes have been found to do all sorts of interesting things such as liquefy solids, sweeten starch syrups, curdle milk for cheese production, act as a clarifier in juice production, de-sugar egg whites to prevent browning during drying, extract more oil during degumming in the oil industry—and, again, the list goes on and on. It can truly be said that the use of food grade enzymes is now “mainstream,” as their usage is found in all sorts of production situations, large, medium and small.
While in almost all cases these ingredients are used in small quantities, under kosher rules the OU is obligated to ensure that each and every ingredient is derived exclusively from kosher sources. The restriction against the usage of non-kosher enzymes at even small levels dates back to ancient times. The Talmud requires rabbinic supervision of cheese to ensure that rennet derived from a non-kosher animal is not used. While the sources of the catalysts may have changed (for example, the American cheese industry uses almost exclusively microbial rennets or chymosin in modern cheese production), the concepts remain the same. Most enzymes today are manufactured through a biotechnology process. That is, a company will start the grow-up of a microorganism that has the desired property. The propagation generally goes through graduated stages beginning with a small flask, moving to a seed fermenter and then to a main fermenter.
This is followed by the harvesting steps where filter aids, preservatives, other processing aids and diluents may be added. We do have some companies in the Far East that also use koji fermentation. This is a variation on the submerged fermentation process, in which the propagation takes place with the nutrients on solid trays, instead of in a liquid solution in a fermentation vessel. At all stages of production growth, it is the OU’s responsibility to ensure the kosher status of each and every ingredient, whether nutrient, antifoam or any other processing aid used. In addition, we need to ensure that the equipment used is in kosher status. That is, if the equipment had previously been used with non-kosher ingredients (or in the case of an OU pareve product, with dairy ingredients), the equipment would require kosherization (generally under the guidance of an OU rabbinic field representative) to restore it to the required status. When we talk about equipment, we are referring to fermentation vessels, recovery vessels and in the case of dried products, spray dryers or crystallization equipment.
Another important topic in food grade enzyme production is Kosher for Passover status. During Passover, there are more stringent kosher requirements and no derivatives of any of the “five grains” (wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye) may be used. In addition, ingredients derived from the legume family (rice, corn, soybeans, etc.) are generally not acceptable. Many products manufactured with enzymes are manufactured as Kosher for Passover, and as such the enzymes used must meet Passover approval as well. The most common examples are cheese products, as well as enzymes used in grape juice or wine production. This is especially important regarding enzymes for wine/grape juice production, as wine crushes only take place once a year and wine and grape juice are highly desired products for Passover.
Still another important issue regarding Passover is corn syrups. While corn syrups are from the legume family and accordingly by definition should not be acceptable for Passover, the OU does accept legume derivatives in the fermentation industry due to the extreme changes that happen during the fermentation—resulting with completely changed contents by the end of the fermentation process. This only applies to legume derivatives, as the stricter nature of the prohibition on the “five grains” does not allow for similar acceptance.
The most common Passover applications for corn syrups are in fermentation products such as citric acid, microbial rennet, and MSG, among others. These corn syrups will be certified chametz-free, meaning that all ingredients, specifically the enzymes used in corn syrup manufacture, besides having the regular kosher requirements, are also kosher controlled to ensure that no derivatives of the five aforementioned grains are used.
One more area of enzymes that can be termed “natural enzymes” are enzymes such as papain (extract of papaya), ficin (extract of figs), bromelain (extract of pineapple plant) and beta amylase (steeping of barley or wheat or soy). While in this case the raw materials are non- animal and should be intrinsically kosher, kosher control is needed to ensure kosher status on ingredients on the diluents used. Some of these products are very powerful and in order to be usable, the company will need to dilute them down to the proper strength.
If the product is in a liquid form, glycerine could be used, which is kosher-sensitive as it could be animal-derived. In a dried product with a kosher pareve certification, lactose would be proscribed and a pareve dilutant such as maltodextrin would need to be used. If the product is needed for Passover, sorbitol could be a concern as it could be wheat- or even corn-derived.
It is very important that our client companies understand our requirements and that the OU understands our clients’ business objectives, as well. If we understand each other’s requirements, we will be in a more advantageous position regarding working out our clients’ needs while maintaining kosher standards, at the same time allowing our clients to service the kosher consumer with a top-of-the-line kosher certification.
In that regard, the OU is very proud that we partner with the leading food-grade enzymes manufacturers in the world to offer first class kosher certification on enzyme products that are considered the best in quality and functionality. We currently certify over 70 food-grade enzyme companies worldwide including the world’s largest enzyme companies, as well as medium size companies and even many of the small enzyme companies. The OU is positioned to certify any enzyme product that meets the kosher requirements, whatever the size of the company.
If your kosher product requires a food grade enzyme, you can be assured that there is a very good chance that one of our OU companies has what you need in an OU certified version, and where applicable, certified as Kosher for Passover/chametz free. Even if it is not currently available as kosher according to your needs, there is a good chance that the product can be manufactured to your specifications and be kosher-certified. If you find yourself in such a situation, please contact the enzyme company and inform it that you need kosher certification on the desired product. The enzyme manufacturer can then contact its rabbinic coordinator at the OU office and discuss kosher certification for the new product.
The worldwide food grade enzyme industry continues to expand and offer new and exciting products which can help improve product quality and consistency, and hasten production time. If your product needs a food grade enzyme solution and also needs kosher certification, working with the OU will enable you to utilize leading food grade enzyme manufacturers worldwide while servicing the kosher public with the respected OU symbol.
Editor’s Note: This instructive article on kosher enzyme production appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of Behind the Union Symbol.
RABBI MENACHEM ADLER SERVES AS OU RABBINIC COORDINATOR FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE OU CERTIFIED ENZYME COMPANIES. RABBI ADLER HAS ALSO SERVED AS RC FOR OTHER OU CERTIFIED BIOTECHNOLOGY COMPANIES, AS WELL AS FOR COMPANIES IN THE EMULSIFIER, VEGETABLE OIL, DAIRY AND COFFEE CREAMER INDUSTRIES. MARRIED AND THE FATHER OF THREE CHILDREN, RABBI ADLER RESIDES IN FAR ROCKAWAY, NY.