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KOSHERFEST 2019 GOES GOURMET





It could have been any gourmet food exhibition, featuring cauliflower pizza crusts, high-end cognac, vegan cheeses, global wines, date seed coffee, and a pickle juice sports beverage, among three hundred new other products. But this was no ordinary convention. It was the 31stannual Kosherfest, a two-day event that touts itself as “The world’s largest and most attended kosher-certified products trade show.”

Taking place at Meadowlands Exposition Centre in New Jersey November 12-13, products went far beyond typical supermarket kosher staples such as gefilte fish, matzo, bagels, and cured meats (though there were plenty of those, too).

It may be surprising to some, but kosher food products do not necessarily hail from countries with large Jewish populations. In the hopes of grabbing a slice of the kosher consumer’s market share, exhibitors came from the far reaches of the globe, including United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, South Korea, Australia, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

The convention attracted about 6,000 attendees, some eight hundred more than last year. There were 360 exhibitors, and roughly 300 new products on the floor had been launched within the last 12 months, said organizers.

Growing Trend of Consumer
Interest in Kosher Products

Some media outlets, such as The New York Times, have reported a growing trend in the general population’s affinity for a kosher diet. A recent Quartz article elaborated that it is “fairly astounding that more than 40% of the country’s (U.S.) new packaged food and beverage products in 2014 are labeled as being kosher. While it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009.” Explanations for this include the public’s desire for assurance that a product does not include certain allergens (or traces of allergens), such as shellfish, or animal products. Take the example of Oreo cookies, that once-contained
lard, prior to their switch to exclusively kosher ingredients.

In an online essay by Star-K, a kosher certification agency in Maryland, it was noted that there are “35 million non-Jewish consumers of kosher products” who buy because of health and food safety, “as a trustworthy means of ensuring that these criteria are being addressed.” Food production companies, as a result, are increasing their lines of certified products, due to “more general cultural anxiety about industrialization of the food supply.”

Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom, the organizer of the event, said that kosher foods today appeal to a “more health-conscious consumer. Now it’s become almost fashionable to have ‘vegan’ or ‘gluten free’- so why not kosher? They don’t want any customer to be left out.”

“It’s like a new generation of kosher. It’s different from those who have been there for many years, the basic kosher staples. It’s part of the process of kosher going upscale,” he said. “It’s not your chopped liver and stuffed cabbage anymore.”

By 2025, the kosher industry will reach some $25 billion in sales each year, according to The Jerusalem Post, and Lubinsky notes, “I think they’re coming from the basis that you can’t produce an ingredient anywhere in the world and hope to sell it to the United States without being kosher – the idea there’s a significant market and they want a piece of it.”

Not everything exhibited at Kosherfest was a food product. One company sold kosher cast iron cookware. Isaac Salem, president of New York-based IKO Imports, notes that his cookware differentiates itself due to the fact that its non-stick “seasoning” is created with a proprietary plant-derived oil base, rather than the typical animal fat, “which obviously can come from non-kosher sources.” He says that their cookware holds up against competitors, and appeals to vegans as well.

A recent discovery in the kosher world has been the proliferation of tiny bug infestations in dozens of supermarket vegetables. This challenge is met by washing the vegetables thoroughly so as not to ingest those non-kosher critters.

Boston-based Fresh Box Farms came to Kosherfest with a solution. They grow and sell hydroponically grown leafy greens, in a triple-sealed environment, using no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. “It’s free of any pests. And we don’t wash our product, and the consumer doesn’t need to either,” said Jacqueline Hynes, senior marketing officer.

Innovative New
Kosher Products

Passover cognac, a new
apple-based vodka, and a Passover beer, were among new beverages introduced at the convention.

Sauvage Beverages created a vodka and sparkling wine from New York apples. Ilio Mavlynov, president of operations said, “I always had a passion for alcoholic experiences, and I wanted to create something new and innovative for themarket. So, I decided to create a hybrid between apple cider and champagne, called Comsi Comsa. It was about an innovative brand, produced locally, using local ingredients.”

Soon consumers will be able to enjoy something they’ve never had before: Passoverbeer. Promised Land Beverage Company’s Exodus Hopped Cider does not contain any leavened products or grains; rather, it has fermented apples and hops, that double as a kind of “beer.” Yoni Schwartz, president, said: “Now you can have beer at the seder, something unimaginable in the past.”

Strong Representation
from Our Community

As one might expect, there were scores of representatives from the local community.

Brooklyn’s Kosher Culinary Center opened their doors in May, 2017. They tout themselves as “the only kosher cooking school in the U.S. to offer a professional level training program in culinary arts.” They also make it their business to help the new chefs find employment opportunities.

Director Perline Dayan went to culinary school in 2014,
where she developed a “great bond” with Chef Avrum Weiss, and “sensed an alchemy of sorts.” After a year and a half internship at T-Fusion Steakhouse, in Brooklyn, the two developed a curriculum, found a venue, and “made our dream come true to help people become chefs.”

Joey Esses is owner of Brooklyn’s Pints N Pies. After three years in business, he now wants to take his dairy-free ice creams further afield from their single outlet. The company began with Esses’ 13-year-old son tinkering in the kitchen. He “experimented in the kitchen, mixed ice creams, and sold it to friends and family.” Eventually, Esses took over the company and now seeks distributors in supermarkets.

Dare to Be Different’s signature piece is cauliflower crisps, launched November 1, 2018 They now can be found in a hundred supermarkets. The Brooklyn-based company sells a grain free, gluten free, GMO free, and kosher cauliflower cracker, with a sister product of cauliflower pizza crust. Robin Jemal, CEO and two-time cookbook author says, “I found that a lot of people are eating gluten free and non-carb, and that’s definitely the way things are going now, so we came up with a healthy item.”

Global Appetizers, launched last year, is a subsidiary of Seuda Catering, a
fifty-year-old local business. Their forte is Syrian mazza, such
as kibbe and lachemagen. “We couldn’t produce enough, so we opened a wholesale department,” says Eliyahu Mezrahi, president. “Our products have been time-tested by thousands and thousands of community members, who approve of them all. These are original Syrian recipes.”

On the topic of Syrian foods, Glutenfree.syfounder Esther Anzaroot sought to fill a niche with gluten free foods from the old country, in order that her son’s friend with celiac disease could eat them. Last year it won Kosherfest’s Best New Product in the “breads and baked goods category” for its gluten free cheese sambuzak. Their products include a gluten free mini pizza, franks in blankets, mushroom tarts, mozzarella sticks, potato knishes, and dozens of others.

Of Course, Bagels

And finally, the classic Jewish food, the bagel, has entered the 21stcentury with classic preparation married with modern tastes.

Clifford Nordquist, president of Bronx-based Just Bagels, says that his products are “different in several different ways,” including water from the Catskills, all-natural no-chemical no-bleach ingredients, no artificial colors or flavors, 10-hour aged dough, boiled dough, all oven baked at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

“What we do is what a little bagel store does, but in a very big level. All of those things, not many people do.” Just Bagels started as a little bagel store 25 years ago, “and I realized that ifyou make something special, people will come,” and today they are across the U.S. and in fifteen countries, such as Japan, Ireland, France, Bahrain, and Chile. “When they’re good, they’ll find you.”

They offer 22 varieties, including Tuscan Cheddar, French Toast, and Jalapeno. 

Five years ago, they broke into the kosher market with their “mezonot” bagel – where apple juice replaces water, to give it a sweet dessert feel. And it was a hit.

“I guess, if the Jewish people like your bagel, you must be doingsomething right.”