By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
Q: Cream is the fatty part of milk and is by definition kosher. Why isn’t cream listed as a Group 1 / always kosher material?
A: You are correct that pure sweet cream is the fatty part of milk and is inherently kosher. However, there is another type of cream – whey cream – derived from cheese production and is often non-kosher. Many cheese manufacturers and receiving plants mix their excess sweet cream with whey cream and sell the blend as plain “cream.” In order to assure that non-kosher whey cream is not present in otherwise kosher cream, cream needs kosher approval and doesn’t qualify as a Group 1 item.
Q: Is this the reason that butter always requires kosher certification, even though its ingredients seem pretty innocuous – just cream and sometimes salt?
A: Yes, concern for the presence of whey cream, even in small amounts, is the primary reason that butter is only acceptable with kosher certification. However, there is another factor at play as well. Many butters contain “natural flavor,” this flavor is a highly-sensitive ingredient called starter distillate, which is produced from the condensate of fermented milk. The fermentation process involves materials and equipment that require strict kosher supervision. Hence, “simple old butter” isn’t so simple from a kosher perspective.
Q: One final question for now, please: I am aware that half and half, even when manufactured by fluid dairies, which never handle whey cream, needs kosher supervision. Why? The cream used in half and half is pure sweet cream that is separated directly from milk at the fluid dairies, and the milk used in half and half is obviously kosher. Why is any certification necessary?
A: Great question, but there is likewise a great answer! First, many fluid dairies purchase outside cream, and such cream may contain blended-in whey cream. Secondly, half and half often contains emulsifiers, meaning ingredients that enable the components of a product to mix properly. Emulsifiers in half and half enable the milk and cream to mix into a consistent texture. Emulsifiers frequently derive from animal sources and therefore always need tight supervision in order to be produced as kosher-pareve materials. Due to the common presence of these super-sensitive emulsifiers, half and half always needs kosher certification.
Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher specializing in the dairy industry. He is also a member of the New York Bar, and lives in Manhattan with his wife and children. A frequent contributor to BTUS, his OU and OU-D: Going Beneath the Surface appeared in the Summer 2015 issue.