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Kosherfest 2013 -- Food for All

Food for All…….Kosherfest 2013

 

The 25th annual Kosherfest was held on October 29 and 30, 2013 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ. What started out as a consumer event at the Javits Center has evolved into a B2B trade event where manufacturers, importers and distributors of kosher foods can show their products to restaurants, supermarkets, caterers and any other outlets to the growing kosher marketplace.

There were several trends that were evident, some described in the opening remarks by event organizer Menachim Lubinsky and his distinguished panel of Joan Nathan, Timothy Lytton and Jacob Rusanov.  Others became evident as I walked the floor, looked, talked and sampled products across virtually every type of foodstuff imaginable.

 

That, in itself is the first major trend. The modern kosher market is not that different from mainstream, in that we live in a global food economy, where few people are not aware of famous chefs, food competitions and exotic (growing less so everyday) ingredients. And everyone wants to explore as well as experience as much of this universe as they can acquire and afford. There will always be insular pockets of society, but that does not seem to apply in the case of new kosher foods, as long as they have been certified as such by a reliable agency. The certification topic might open up a separate discussion, for another time.

 

From Kosherfest organizers:

" Industry statistics show that the current kosher customer is 40 and under, and looking for gourmet, upscale and healthy kosher products. According to various sources, the number of kosher consumers in the U.S. tops 12 million, and 21% of Americans who regularly or occasionally purchase kosher products do so because the items are kosher-certified. There are approximately 10,650 kosher producing companies and plants, and 200,000 kosher certified products.  Forty percent of kosher sales occur on the eve of Passover, and the dollar value of kosher products produced in the USA is $305 billion. While many of the exhibitors still featured traditional kosher foods such as pickles, pastrami and knishes, it was the gourmet and upscale features of products that attracted industry professionals from all over the globe."

 

Some countries, like Argentina, Australia and Italy, in addition to Israel, had separate areas to promote their countries’ offerings, and the London Beit Din was present to promote British and other European products that were certified kosher by them.

There were many excellent varieties of beef jerky, estate chocolates, truffle products, olive oils, specialty soft drinks, Greek style yogurt, cheeses and some of the best gelato and dairy free sorbet  I’ve ever had, regardless of origin.

 

Plus, the wide range of gluten free products, which is a growing trend in all food markets. There had been a great number of gluten free items with kosher certification at the Fancy Food Show as well. This most likely comes from the experience needed to avoid all leavened foods and all wheat products except for matzos during Passover.  You want organic? Sure. Free trade? Of course. Non-GMO? No problem. Artisinal or hand made? Absolutely.  This trend to healthier, or at least perceived healthier and socially responsible food sourcing was the second trend that was evident.

 

 

Trend number three: There was a plentitude of smoked meats, gefilte fish and other traditionally Jewish foods. With many established players offering both old standards and new variations, and some new players putting new twists on old flavors there was much to sample.

 

This leads to trend four. Not every variation or twist turns out so well. This is especially true with snack and convenience food products. Just like there are frozen items in your supermarket that are of dubious worth, the same is true if it has a kosher certification. The ratio of ditched tastes here and at the Fancy Food Show (Javits Center) last June was about the same, begging the question: “Why would anyone eat this?” This included wines from several places in the world that I had hoped to be interesting, but were not up to standards that any wine should meet.

 

On the whole, however, there were some really good items on hand, kosher, or not. That, by the way, is the only yardstick that matters. Stating that something is “good for a kosher item” is actually an insult in today’s marketplace, or at least it should be.  Here are some of my highlights, in no particular order:

 

  • Hot chocolate from www.Cuppajhotchocolate.com ; very rich and similar to “drinking chocolate” in density and deep chocolate flavor. Three varieties, including mint and Mayan, with a touch of heat..
  • Spanish style potato tortilla Espanola from www.tassol.com ; classic tapas bar food, frozen and ready to reheat. Well done and a product award winner at Kosherfest this year.
  • Gluten free product line from www.kinnikinnick.com ; an entire line of products including cookies, donuts, pie crusts and even white bread that was uniformly excellent. Mostly dairy and nut free as well.
  • Ginger ale from www.brucecostgingeralecom ; made from fresh ginger and cane sugar. If you love ginger, this is the real thing. Two other flavors, which I did not taste should be in the same class.
  • Gelato and sorbetti from www.gelatopetrini.com ; each flavor made from a specific base formula to best exhibit the intense flavors, including mint /chip or chocolate/ hazelnut,  for gelato and creamsicle or cappuccino for non-dairy sobetti. A 2012 Kosherfest award winner, and for very good reason.
  • Gluten free pasta from www.bagelbitesusa.com.;  gnocchi that had tooth was expected, but the fusilli did as well. Quite surprising and would stand up to any sauce. Obviously for Passover, but good enough for mainstream that have a gluten problem.
  •  “Granola” from  www.foodmanNosh.com ; made from Streit’s matzo farfel, both in gluten free and regular styles, called Matzolah. Categorized as a breakfast cereal, snack or yogurt topping, it was crunchy and tasty.
  • Range of European  products certified by www.klbdkosher.org ; the London certifying group had samples of truffle products, jams, and a 15 year old Drambuie with certification that was less sweet than the standard issue. I’m sure there will be some products that are marginal in their line up, but I did not have any.
  • Wine imported by www.happyheartswine.com ; started 5 years ago, importing from boutique wineries in Israel and Italy, a very impressive line up of quality products. Over 100 wines and some liqueurs as well, mostly (look this up, if you have to) non-mevushal.

 

So in conclusion, the kosher food business is not much different than everyone else, except the ingredients and methods of production are certified to meet religious standards known as kashrus. This doesn’t guarantee good or bad taste, only purity and acceptability of ingredients, preparation methods and equipment. For a discussion of those rules and interpretations, you are on your own to seek appropriate guidance.

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