Spices and Production-Key Kosher Issues

Spices come with built-in benefits. They have the power to transform a bland dish into a savory one. And they are nearly always kosher. Nonetheless, anyone working with spices — in packaging, distribution or simply as an ingredient — should keep a few essential points in mind.

Flow Agents

Many OU spice merchants use flow agents in their productions to prevent the spices from clumping. Although flow agents are not part of the final product, it is crucial that the flow agent be represented on the Schedule A — the list of ingredients in the certified plant. Because flow agents are a technical aid and come in contact with the spices themselves, they are relevant data for the kosher certifier.

Some flow agents may be kosher-sensitive and, therefore, require kosher certification. Stearates, which can be animal derived, are often used in flow agents and must come from an approved source. Silicon dioxide, however, is always acceptable. To avoid any kosher problems, the key is to report the use of all ingredients, additives and technical aids to your OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator.

Israeli Grown

Another kosher issue relevant to companies that work with spices is the status of the spices coming from Israel. Plant personnel who consult the Schedule A may notice an intriguing comment attached to spices. Spices are generally categorized as a “group one” — acceptable from any source, kosher-certified or not. But a very important accompanying statement reads: “Not from Israel, unless with acceptable certification.” You might wonder why an ingredient coming from Israel, of all places, would carry a kosher restriction. Understandable question. Special Torah laws, related to tithing, govern spices and other produce grown in the land of Israel.

Another agriculturally-related Biblical injunction is the sabbatical year. The sabbatical is a year of refraining from planting and harvesting the land of Israel and occurs once every seven years. Kosher rules prohibit eating spices, as well as any other produce grown from Israeli soil throughout a sabbatical year. The packaging of all spices, including those from Israel, must be labeled with the manufacturer’s name and the origin of the product. If “Israel” is included in the label, this should alert the conscientious kosher personnel that the product needs certification.

Beware of Blends

Finally, seasonings — blends of spices designed for specific applications — merit special kosher attention. Cheeses, bacon bits and other kosher sensitive ingredients are commonly included in seasonings. Therefore, it is critical that your rabbinic coordinator have access to the formulas for the various blends produced at an OU-certified plant. The OU is careful to guard the confidentiality of such formulas. However, the kosher concerns for seasonings extend beyond the status of the ingredients in a particular blend.

A well-known kosher principle is the separation of dairy and meat. Imagine a seasoning that contains a dairy ingredient blended on the same production line as a non-dairy seasoning that was especially made for chicken. Without proper cleaning, a mixture of the two seasonings would result in a serious kosher problem — a dairy presence in a chicken seasoning. While companies conventionally have their own cleaning procedures, in order to avoid such unwanted mixtures, it is crucial that cleaning procedures adhere to the OU Kosher guidelines. Salt and flour rinses, for example, are especially effective at removing residual seasonings. Whatever procedure your company chooses, it is critical to discuss it with your rabbinic coordinator for approval. In order to confirm that a blend is going into the product intended, the rabbinic coordinator must have access to any code that a company uses to match a particular blend to a particular product.

Rabbi Raymond Morrison is director of the OU Kosher Ingredient Approval Registry.

Rabbi Gavriel Price is an OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator.