By Ephrayim Baskin posted July 20, 2016
The big talk of town this week has been the decision of a large yoghurt company to cease their decades old kosher certification. I’ll let the political and moral commentators have their say as to why the company decided to do this, but the response of the company to consumers has been that they have not changed any ingredient or process and imply that they are as kosher as before. From a technical kosher point-a-view I’d like to give a brief explanation of why yoghurt needs kosher certification and why ongoing independent audits are required to assure its kosher status.
Yoghurt is a semi-solid fermented milk product that has been made for thousands of years. Modern yoghurt manufacture involves the addition of fermenting bacteria (starter cultures) that consume the lactose in the milk and produce lactic acid and flavour compounds. The increased acidity causes the proteins in the milk to coagulate to form the yoghurt texture. A good reference for detailed information of yoghurt manufacture is from the University of Guelph https://www.uoguelph.ca/foodscience/book-page/yogurt-and-fermented-beverages. Starter cultures usually come with kosher certification, similarly raw milk is kosher (unless you keep Cholov Yisroel). The bigger kosher issue with yoghurt is the other ingredients that are added.
Milk powder – to ensure that yoghurt sets properly and is not runny, manufacturers will add more milk protein to their milk, and the most common way to do this is to add milk powder. One of the issues with manufacturing milk powder is that often lactose powder is added to standardise its prtoein content. Lactose powder is the by-product of cheese manufacture and can have various kosher issues such as contamination of animal lipase, rennet and non-kosher cheese.
Flavours – under Australian food law, flavour components of the product can be listed as just ‘flavours’. A flavour can have dozens of ingredients (the largest I ever evaluated had 124 different ingredients!) and are made by specialised flavour houses. The yoghurt company itself won’t even know what goes into their flavours. Flavours can have a large range of non-kosher ingredients, fruit and creamy flavours in particular will have a lot of oil derived items (esters and lactones) which potentially can be animal derived or at least contaminated by animal fats. Flavour houses confidentially disclose this information to kosher agencies for evaluation to ensure kosher compliance.
Colours – natural red colour (E120) is derived from the cochineal bug, which is not kosher and anthocyanin (E163) can be derived from grape skins, which have kosher concerns.
Other ingredients – stabilisers and thickeners like di-glycerides and gelatine can be animal derived, sodium caseinates and whey protein concentrates are by-products of cheese manufacture and have the concerns mentioned above. Enzymes like lactase (used in lactose free products) are manufactured from microbial fermentations that can have various non-kosher ingredients in the growth media.
Other products made on the same lines – without a proper kosher clean, the status of other product processed on the same line will affect the kosher status of otherwise kosher products. Even shared steam systems can cause kosher concerns.
Obviously with the above concerns yoghurt manufacturers need to be audited by kosher experts to ensure compliance. Due to the ever changing kosher status of ingredients and the fluid nature of the food industry, ongoing inspections need to be in place to ensure that the item remains properly kosher. It’s not just kosher that require ongoing audits, other food quality and safety agencies, both governmental such as Dairy Food Safety Victoria, or 3rd party certifiers such as BRC, SQF, ISO9001, WQA, Coles, Aldi etc. perform multiple audits to ensure ongoing compliance.
In our experience the most powerful way to change the mind of companies is through positive consumer feedback. If you want this or any other product kosher, the best way is to call, send an email or use social media to respectfully request that the company consider kosher.