Michele Alperin, JNS.org
The growing demand for natural, organic, vegetarian, fiber, and gluten-free alternatives among kosher consumers was apparent at Kosherfest 2013, the annual trade show of the kosher food industry, from Oct. 29-30 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ.
Companies big and small are in with the new trend. As Manischewitz Assistant Brand Manager Avital Pessar tells JNS.org, “We are constantly looking to find ways to be innovative with modern health trends.” Indeed, the company’s new “L’Chaim, To Life” insignia applies to its natural products, for example, broths without MSG. Its “Season” brand indicates that the fish used in a product are sustainably harvested and wild caught.
Many companies at Koshefest are now catering to customers who need to be gluten-free. Streit’s offers several gluten-free products: vanilla and chocolate cake mixes, kosher-for-Passover Israeli couscous, matzo ball mix, and cran orange matzo granola. Manischewitz, meanwhile, has gluten-free matzo-style squares and crackers as well as cake mixes and other foods.
Nutritionist Reesa Sokoloff, who works with Sherrie’s Specialties, spoke to the increasing need for the gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free macaroons and biscotti her company offers.
“Younger people eating gluten-free foods are heading for diabetes,” she says, explaining that gluten-free products typically use high-starch flours like potato starch and tapioca (Sherrie’s uses nut flour or no flour at all). The company’s goal, says Sokoloff, is “to put forth healthy and delicious food and to fill a void that is increasing in size—whether a diabetic that needs to eat gluten-free or a gluten-free that has walked themselves into diabetes.”
Sherrie’s uses the sweetener Zylotol, an all-natural sweetener from birch bark and corn cobs.
“It looks, tastes, and bakes just like sugar, and it is the only natural sweetener that is safe for diabetics,” Sokoloff says.
One of several companies that have recently received kosher certification after offering gluten-free and other healthy products to a broader market is Kinnikinnick Foods of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The firm’s owner, Dani Wiebe, explains why her company— which manufactures products free of gluten, dairy, meat, and peanuts—decided to get its Orthodox Union (OU) kosher parve certification in December 2011. “We had been getting lots of inquiries for a number of years, and because we take allergy restrictions seriously, there was no reason not to take into account other dietary restrictions as well,” she says.
Kinnikinnick’s has won awards for the taste and healthiness of its gluten-free bread, which, notes Wiebe, is different from other gluten-free breads because it provides five grams of fiber in every two slices of bread, is enriched with five essential nutrients, and has loaves the same size as regular bread. Wiebe says her company “is the only gluten-free company to stay true to the traditional boil-and-bake method” of making bagels.
Another aspect of healthy eating has to do with the health value of fiber. David Holzer of Fiber Gourmet, which exhibits for the American Diabetes Association, put forward his first fiber-based product in 2008 and says of his pasta and crackers, “Half the product is fiber, but it tastes like you’re eating regular food.” Holzer adds that the Resistant Starch Type 4 he uses, which has no calories, is digested in the distal rather than the proximal colon, which may offer protection against colon cancer and reduce bloating for people who have difficulty digesting fiber.
Vegetarian alternatives were also represented at Kosherfest. A newcomer to the kosher market, Ryan Krause of Atlantic Natural Foods from Nashville, NC, showcased his company’s Meatless Select brand, which includes a five-bean chili, fishless tuna, and vegetarian taco filling, among other products.
“We set out to create products without artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives,” he says. “We also wanted to create products that not only vegetarians would enjoy but also a person who eats meat and wants to reduce red meat from their diet.”