Old World Kosher Is Now New World Gourmet

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c. 2007 Religion News Service

NEW YORK _ What’s old is new in the kosher food industry.

Ethnic favorites once regarded as too Old World for mainstream consumption are taking over the marketplace, if the products promoted at the recent Kosherfest convention in Manhattan are any indication.

Many of those products are quickly filtering down to local retail stores. They especially appeal to the 70 percent of kosher food buyers who are in the 18-to-35-year age group and looking to experiment with new and exciting foodstuffs.

Consider, for example, the “new” Hungarian cabbage soup sold by the 74-year-old Gold Pure Food Products. The soup is based on founding grandmother Tillie’s recipe found in the Gold family’s files, said partner Marc Gold. Each 6-ounce serving contains only 70 calories, with no fat or cholesterol.

“This tastes like stuffed cabbage without the meat,” Gold said.

Updated condiments in convenient packaging are being ushered in by the fourth generation of the family, represented at the show by Melissa Gold of Manhattan.

Gold’s horseradish, which Tillie Gold used to grind in the kitchen for her husband, Hyman, to sell from a pushcart, now is an ingredient in many different kosher, Asian, Russian, Hispanic and All-American products. Items are as varied as Russian borscht, duck sauce, salsa and ketchup. Various flavors of wasabi, mustard, horseradish and tartar sauces are sold in consumer-friendly squeeze bottles. A 26-ounce jar of seafood cocktail sauce ideal for entertaining is on the shelves of discount retailers such as Costco.

Kosher manufacturers, including the Gold family, are vying for a share of the $75 billion U.S. ethnic food market, which accounts for $1 of every $7 spent on groceries. Those ethnic food sales are expected to increase by 50 percent over the next decade, according to reports from Kosherfest retailers.

More than 500 new products debuted at Kosherfest, and the event attracted more than 350 exhibitors from around the world.

The total number of packaged goods in the United States bearing kosher certification now tops 98,000. While more than 11 million Americans shop for kosher products, it’s significant that only 1.1 million of those consumers are Jewish.

About 3 million of them are Muslims or represent other religions. The remaining 7 million are buyers who turn to kosher items because they believe kosher means better quality, health or safety.

Kosher foods are generally recognized for having twin selling points _ they fill the demand for both ethnic and specialty items.

“Mainstream consumers are sending a strong message that they are satisfied with the quality and diversity of the products, which bodes well for kosher and other ethnic foods,” said Menachem Lubinsky, co-producer of Kosherfest.

The Orthodox Union Web site (http://www.oukosher.org) lists kosher products and detailed information about certification.

While many kosher companies are expanding their lines to include ethnic foods _ including Hispanic or Asian _ ethnic manufacturers such as Vitarroz of Jersey City, N.J., are catering to consumers who keep kosher kitchens. Vitarroz, which specializes in authentic Latino products, has 82 items listed on the OU Web site, including many rice mixes, sodas, juices, olives, crackers, sauces, oils and pastas.

“Whatever we can do to cross over to American or kosher customers, we do,” said Eli Kahan, director of chain sales. “We’re expanding as a full grocery line catering to all American consumers.”

Kosherfest offers one-stop shopping where customers from all over the world are able to see and taste many newly certified items.

“We’re living in the easiest time there ever has been to be and keep kosher,” said author Susie Fishbein, a spokeswoman for Manischewitz, whose most recent cookbook is “New Kosher by Design _ Short on Time: Fabulous Food Faster.”

Manischewitz, based in Secaucus, N.J., is a leader in this regard with many new products, Fishbein said. The choice is broad, ranging from Whole Grain Matzo Farfel to Dairy Free Frostings and Family-Size Matzo Ball Mix.

Chocolate Covered Tam Tam Crackers, pasta in Hebrew alphabet shapes, Whole Grain Matzo Meal, Season Sardines with a lid that opens easily and Guiltless Gourmet Dessert Bowls, containing just 200 calories each, are among the newly introduced Manischewitz items, according to David Rossi, vice president of marketing.

Fishbein’s cookbook features 140 triple-tested recipes in cuisines ranging from Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern to Italian specialties. There’s even a chapter devoted to the slow cooker _ a piece of equipment that many Jewish home cooks keep stored away except for Shabbat.

(Maura Grunlund writes for The Staten Island Advance in Staten Island, N.Y.)

KRE/PH END GRUNLUND

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