“What do you mean? Butter is always kosher!”
Butter is often kosher, but to use the word “always” is to deny the important concerns and considerations that must be taken into account when certifying butter facilities. The distinctions that come into play with cream sources, as well as the care that must be taken with cultures and other factors, are neglected or ignored by the mistaken assertion that butter is 100% kosher 100% of the time.
Let’s look at the issues and see what‘s needed to change the above conversation.
Cream – the Mother of Butter
All butter comes from cream, which is the fatty component of milk. Butter manufacturing involves concentrating the fat within cream into a solid – by churning.
Whenever cream is churned, the natural membranes which surround milkfat globules rupture, thereby allowing the milkfat to clump together. As the milkfat clumps together into solid pieces, excess liquid, called buttermilk, separates out. The solid butter pieces are then kneaded and formed into butter.
This sounds like a very kosher process: cream coming from fresh milk being churned into an end product. What could go wrong? Read on.
The truth is that there are two kinds of cream. The above scenario reflects butter production from sweet cream, which is a pure (and normally kosher) milk product. however, cream has a cousin that hails from another area of the dairy world. That cousin, whey cream, is the fatty component of whey. Whey cream is often not kosher. (see the Summer 2016 issue of BTUS) And since butter is often made from whey cream or from a blend of sweet cream and whey cream, butter can be non-kosher if it is made with non-kosher whey cream.
The OU certifies many sources of kosher whey cream, but as whey cream is a very sensitive commodity, accessing kosher sources of it can pose a bit of a challenge.
When the OU certifies butter facilities, verification of cream sources is the central feature of each OU visit. Every cream source must be reviewed for kosher acceptability and listed on Schedule A, the list of approved ingredients.
What qualifies cream for approval?
In the case of whey cream, it requires regular and thorough kosher visits that determine the following.
- The whey from which whey cream is derived was not produced from a high-temperature cheese.
- The cheese vat ingredients were all kosher.
- The whey cream has no cooker cream content. Cooker cream is the non-kosher fat which collects in pasta lata cheese cookers, as explained in the aforementioned BTUS whey article.
So, in the case of sweet cream, no certification is needed, correct? Wrong.
Some cream-source facilities handle whey cream, some process non-kosher beverages on common lines, and others process yogurt that contains animal-based gelatin on common lines. Thus, even sweet cream sources need kosher verification.
The Flavor Factor
The presence of starter distillate is yet another reason why butter cannot be considered automatically kosher. Many butters on the market contain starter distillate, which is a lactic fermentation of milk produced by steam distillation. Starter distillate adds flavor to butter, which would otherwise taste bland. And like anything manufactured via fermentation, starter distillate requires kosher certification.
In the US, most butter is made from plain cream (sweet cream and occasionally whey cream), sometimes with starter distillate and/or salt added. However, in Europe (and increasingly in the US), cultured butter, meaning butter into which cultures were incorporated during production, is quite popular. Cultured butter has a much more potent taste than regular butter; along with its enhanced taste comes enhanced kosher concern. the added cultures are very kosher- sensitive and make kosher verification even more critical.
Clarified butter, otherwise known as anhydrous milkfat, has long been popular overseas and is slowly making its way into the US market. Clarified butter is a highly concentrated form of butterfat in which far more moisture is removed through heat treatment. this extra heat-processing means that the oU has to verify that the heating equipment is indeed kosher, thereby adding a step to the kosher checklist. Butter oil is clarified butter with a slightly lower concentration of butterfat. Ghee is a form of clarified butter that undergoes a different variation of heat treatment. For kosher purposes, the same concerns as those of regular clarified butter pertain to these two products.
The OU certifies hundreds of butter products; all of them meet the highest kosher standards. We take pride in providing client companies with express cream approval, by way of the OU ingredient Approval Registry’s master Cream list – a comprehensive compilation of kosher cream sources from around the globe.
Butter may not always be kosher, but if it bears the OUd symbol, it most assuredly is.
Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is an OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator specializing in the dairy industry. He is also a member of the New York Bar. A frequent contributor to BTUS, his “Kosher whey – yes whey!” appeared in the Summer 2016 issue.