A Festival of Kosher Food

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04 Dec 2008

When Madison Avenue talks, the world listens…and buys! Years ago two ad campaigns did much to help bring kosher food into the mainstream. Remember the one for rye bread, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s”? And then there was “We answer to a higher authority” from Hebrew National.

Once the province of Orthodox Jews, kosher food is now one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry, and last month the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, hosted Kosherfest, the world’s largest international kosher food trade show, now in its twentieth year.

As the launching pad for new kosher products, Kosherfest brought over 600 manufacturers and distributors together with thousands of eager buyers. “Attendance was even greater than last year,” noted Vianna DiGristina, marketing coordinator for Diversified Business Communications, the show’s producer.

Today there are more than 100,000 certified kosher products with annual sales of $12.5 billion, according to Menachem Lubinsky, chairman and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing Consulting and the show’s founder, and the public perceives these products as healthier and safer.

According to industry analysts, only 20 to 33 percent of kosher food produced worldwide is consumed by Jews. So just who is buying them? Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters.

With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. (The Mad Cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either. Because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.)

As usual at these trade shows I attend, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research! What follows is a totally subjective rambling on some noteworthy nibbles.

My personal favorite by far was the goat cheese by Celebrity – I’m torn between the rum raisin and cranberry with cinnamon. Made in Israel in the lower Galilee, the cheeses are distributed by Angel’s Touch, manufacturer of all natural, gluten-free quiches and pizzas, also quite tasty.

First in the nostalgia category were the Vegetable Cutlets by Ratner’s, which since the landmark dairy restaurant closed its Delancey Street doors in 2002, now produces those menu favorites of yore in frozen form, minus the octogenarian waiters with their fingers in your soup.

I’m really excited about Zap peanut butter made with ten added vegetables and fruits, including spinach and beets, and loaded with anti-oxidants! I was wary at first, but this stuff really tastes just like regular peanut butter. I can’t wait to try it on my grandkids (the real taste test!) next week. Stay tuned.

The cheese blintzes by Golden – what can I say? – hard to resist in my grocer’s freezer, much less warm and glistening as they beckon to me from the platter.

Very moist and definitely habit-forming were the Brownie Bites from Shabtai Gourmet of Woodmere, New Year, which garnered first place in the “Best New Passover Product” category, a fourth win in seven years for the company. Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe of Skokie, Illinois. took “Best in Show” for their Southern Pecan Pie.

Manischewitz celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, and the company will be offering matzo in a special commemorative one-pound box for Passover. “May you live to be 120 is a special blessing,” said David Rossi, VP of Marketing. “We went through lots of old photos to get this one.” The wooden box with its nostalgic photo will retail for $7.99. And look for Passover Tam-Tams in full supply next season, Rossi assured me.

Before we leave the food, I must mention Davida Aprons and Logo Programs, which won Best New Foodservice Product with its baby bib inscribed: “I’m Not Crying I’m Davening.” See www.davidaaprons.com for Davida’s complete Matzah Mania line as well as gift ideas for every holiday.

In addition to what I like to think of as Kosherfest’s endless sample buffet, special events included a Sushi Competition won by Simply Sushi restaurants of Cedarhurst, Long Island, and Monticello, New York, and appearances by Levana Kirschenbaum, author of “Levana Cooks Dairy Free!” and “Levana’s Table”; Jeff Nathan, chef/owner of Abigael’s restaurant and author of “Adventures in Jewish Cooking” and “Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers”; Elan Kornblum, publisher and president of Great Kosher Restaurants International, Tammy Polatsek, author of “Aristocratic Fruits,” as well as yours truly. Sharon Lebewohl was also on hand signing “The 2nd Avenue Deli Cookbook” and promoting the new CD “A Sabbath Meal” that she did with actor Mike Burstyn.

Mark your calendars now for Kosherfest 2009, which will be held again at the Meadowlands, on October 27 and 28. See you there!



Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.