The Kosher Modernist Pantry

If there’s one thing I take issue with in the vast world of Kosher food, it’s the fact that we’re usually so far behind the rest of the world with regards to technique, style, and flavor. Do I need to offer any proof to this, other than the sushi-sold-in-90%-of-all-kosher-food-establishments phenomenon? With regards to us as a nation of prepared-food consumers, we tend to find one trend to stick with for about a decade or so, and that trend has usually been out of fashion with the rest of the world for at least two decades.

Part of this problem, I assume, lies with the actual kosher barrier. As much as I’d like to, I cannot attend a non-Kosher culinary school, or visit a non-Kosher restaurant, whether to eat there, or to even intern in the kitchen. This limits the scope with which I, and those observant Jews like myself, can access the new discoveries in the culinary arts that are happening more and more, every day.

A larger part of the problem, IMHO, is the fact that, with regards to new cuisines, we are not a very adventurous people. In my years of cooking for others, I’ve come across way too many people who won’t try new things, no matter how appetizing they may be to me. Some recent examples: Beef cheek, oxtail, duck (!), or even medium rare steak! (I’m lookin at you, K!) I feel kinda embarrassed just writing out that list for the whole world to see…

As I mentioned in my previous post, maybe this last factor has more to do with upbringing than anything else. Radishes, artichokes, fennel, chicken gizzards, and fish roe were all a staples of my diet by the time I was five. (No, not at the same time. The weirdest combinations growing up were more along the lines of scrambled eggs and peas. More on that another time…) I get it, though. Especially in households where both parents have full time jobs, making something like onion soup is much less time consuming when using soup mix, than cutting up and caramelizing a giant batch of onions. And when kids are brought up on these tastes, they really end up knowing no better. The tinokos she’nishbu of the culinary world…

Right now, the culinary world is going through a Modernist renaissance. Once referred to as “Molecular Gastronomy,” the methods and benefits of using “high tech” ingredients and cooking techniques, are being recognized in kitchens all over the world. There have been some truly incredible and creative pioneers in this realm, made up of restaurants, research facilities, and even home cooks/pro-bloggers–ElBulli, Alinea, Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine and even the great blog, Ideas in Food, to name a few well-knowns. Some of the ingredients and instruments they use are hard to come by, but for the most part, the same stuff can be done in your average home kitchen, with new ingredients that now can be found easily, online.

But where does that leave the Kosher culinary world? With a new list of exotic ingredients whose Kosher status in unknown? Absolutely not! A surprising amount of these science-lab sounding ingredients are already widely used by kosher manufacturers, and all it takes is a small amount of research to determine which are already kosher.

So for all of you adventurous Kosher cooks, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve already done a good deal of that research for you. With the help of a great customer service rep from ModernistPantry.com, Chris Anderson, and the always reliable Star-K kosher certification agency, I’ve compiled a thorough, but somewhat incomplete list of the ingredients in their inventory, and their Kosher status.

Disclaimer:

I do not claim to speak on an official capacity on behalf of the Star-K, or ModernistPantry.com. This list is only intended as a beginning reference point. As always, contact your local Kosher authority with any questions.

The inventory can be broken into three categories: Those ingredients which can be used without any kosher certification, those which come from manufacturers that already have certification, but the status of said ingredient is unknown, but is likely not non-kosher, and those which unless they have explicit certification, are probably not kosher.

Like I said, this is an incomplete list. I’m hoping that some of you, my dear readers, may have a little more time and resourcefulness than I, and will be able to help in this public service to the Kosher culinary world, in finding out more about these new ingredients, both in their kosher status, and their many exciting uses.

 

All the best!

–Yehuda

Can be used without Kosher certification:

Arabic Gum/Acacia Gum
Agar Agar
Carrageenan – Iota
Carrageenan – Kappa
Carrageenan – Lambda
Guar Gum
Locust Bean Gum
Methylcellulose HV (High Viscosity)
Methylcellulose LV (Low Viscosity)
Sodium Alginate

N-Zorbit M – Tapioca Maltodextrin

Methocel® E4M FG
Methocel® F50 FG
Methocel® A15C FG
Methocel® E19 FG
Methocel® SGA7C FG

Ascorbic Acid
Calcium Chloride
Calcium Lactate

Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC)
Citric Acid
Dextrose Powder

Fructose Powder

Glucose Powder

Isomalt
Liquid Soy Lecithin
Malic Acid
Maltitol Powder

Sodium Citrate
Sodium Hexametaphosphate
Sodium Hydroxide (food grade)
Sodium Nitrate
Sorbitol Powder
Soy Lecithin Powder

Further investigation required:

Kelcogel F – Low Acyl Gellan Gum
Kelcogel LT100 – High Acyl Gellan Gum

Xanthan Gum

Activa GS Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa RM Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa TI Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa YG Transglutaminase Preparation

Pectinex Ultra SP-L

Tate & Lyle:
Versawhip 600K

Calcium Lactate Gluconate

Gellan Gum

Honey Powder

Tartaric Acid

Probably not Kosher if no certification:

Egg White Powder – AAA

Glycerol Monostearate (40%)

 

And here’s a link to the Kosher certification statement from TIC Gums, the manufacturer of most of ModernistPantry’s hydrocolloids.

 

 

 

 

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About ydmalka

Just sharing my experiences as I learn more about kosher cuisine, from non-kosher cookbooks.
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12 Responses to The Kosher Modernist Pantry

  1. Steven Weinberger says:

    There is a version of Activa that is certified – Activa TI. I have a copy of the certificate, from a Rav in Paris. Doesn’t work as a meat-glue, though.

  2. Guy Newman says:

    My Dear,
    We Jews are a diverse and variegated group, your impressions of Jewish cuisine are, quite frankly just an expression of your own experiences. Mine frankly have been much better. Maybe a result of your location and / or upbringing. Jews of Hungarian, German extraction to name a few have some excellent classical foods that are rarely seen in “Kosher” restaurants. I appluad your foray into modernist cooking which is certainly unique, but don’
    t forget Jews are some of the best foodies out there. Check out some of the food you can get in NYC, Chicago, LA, Paris, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even Johannesburg you wil discover a magical world of kosher food even some modern work as well!

    • ydmalka says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      I happen to be of Hungarian and Moroccan descent, so I can say with confidence that I know what good home cooked kosher food is. That being said, I stand by my point that the benefits of a little extra effort in the kitchen is lost on most people. In addition, I doubt you could name me one kosher restaurant that has a vat of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen. Yes, good tools do not the artist make, however, it does show a lack desire to be at the cutting edge, or to explore new culinary worlds.
      I have been to what most people would consider to be the greatest kosher restaurants in those cities you mentioned, and found some to be great, and some to be frankly, underwhelming. I’m not saying that I could do any better, but I am hoping that we, as consumers and producers, aren’t forced to hold onto lowered expectations.

      What are your favorite restaurants/foods?

  3. ChefHannah says:

    Thank you for sharing your research — a great starting point!

    Regarding a comment you made in your post: Why can you not study in a non-kosher culinary school? Many shomer kashrut culinarians/foodies (like myself) have (or are planning to) train in the non-kosher world by day and test (and finally taste) kosher versions of their earlier treif feats by night.

    I ask not to debate. Trying to gather as many opinions and insights as I can on the issue.

    Thank you!

    • ydmalka says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      Regarding your question–unfortunately, not being able to taste what you have cooked is not the only issue with a non-kosher culinary school.
      The Torah repeats the commandment not to eat milk and meat three times. The Talmud understands this repetition to be alluding to the fact that there are actually three facets to the prohibition of milk and meat. Not only may we not eat milk and meat together, but we may not even cook them together (even without the intention of eating) or benefit from foods with that mixture (I.e. selling) in any way.
      I may be wrong, but I think that the prohibition of actually cooking milk and meat together is such a huge hurdle, that no school would allow for its accommodation. However, if I’m wrong, if love to be told so.
      All the best.

      • ChefHannah says:

        Thank you, Yehuda, for your speedy response!

        Regarding mixing milk and meat, I was told that the prohibition of benefiting from the mixture only applies to kosher meat. Since these schools will most likely use non-kosher meat, it would be okay, apparently.

        I guess it’s a question for an LOR…

        Keep up the good work!

      • ydmalka says:

        If you pass the question along to a real Rabbi (I never claimed to be one :-)) please let me know what answer comes back.
        Which school are you going to?

      • ydmalka says:

        I stand corrected. After looking into the matter, it appears that cooking non kosher meat in milk would not be a problem.

        All the best!

      • Daniel says:

        im not sure why to prohibition of cooking meat and milk together wouldn’t apply to non-kosher meat. iirc, the source in the shulchan aruch for this halacha is brought down as a statement that you shouldnt stir the fire under a non-jew’s pot. (if not the source, its an example.) the reason for this being that you will transgress cooking meat and milk together. unless you limit this to a case of a non-jew who cooks only kosher meat, it doesnt make sense if the prohibition applys only to kosher meat.

        that being said, i do know that frum people have gone to non-kosher culinary schools. i know that at least in one case they brought their own pots to use (since the others have a taam of both meat and milk in them already) and just didnt cook meat and milk together.

      • ydmalka says:

        The explanation I was given was the maxim “ain issur chal al issur.”

  4. Jonathan Edelson says:

    Hi, Thanks for investigating this.

    As part of your research, did you deal with repackaging issues? I ask for two reasons: 1) because I’d like to order from Modernist Pantry, and 2) because I deal with a chocolate distributor who repackages professional use chocolates, and have been investigating how the repackaging alters the supervision status.

    Many thanks
    Jonathan Edelson

    • ydmalka says:

      If I recall correctly, I didn’t explicitly ask the star-K the question regarding repackaging. I did explain to them the nature of their business at Modernist Pantry, but can’t say definitively that they weren’t taking for granted that nothing here was repackaged. Judging by the nature of their business, I myself am not concerned with any potential issues, but feel free to not take my word for it.

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