As we prepare to embark upon Rosh Hashana, we pray that we be blessed that be both good and sweet. Of the four basic senses of taste – sweet, sour, salt, and bitter – sweetness is universally used to connote happiness and well being. Adults, as well as children, crave foods that exhibit this quality, and to satisfy that desire sweet confections – candies – have been created in innumerable permutations to cater to the sweet tooth. Candies come in all flavors, colors, and forms, and the Kashrus issues relating to each type pose interesting questions, indeed. The original candies were sweets based upon naturally occurring foods. Dates, honey, and nuts formed the basis of these confections, and Kashrus issues relating to them were limited. With the advent of refined sugar in the 17th century, confectioners learned to expand the product line. The purpose of this article is to explain how many of these products are made and explore their Kashrus implications.
Hard candy, the type used to make sucking candy and lollipops, is basically sugar, color, and flavor. The original
hard candy was made by mixing sugar into warm water and then allowing it to cool. The supersaturated solution of sugar would then form crystals, yielding “Rock Candy”. The process used commercially, however, involves heating different types of sugar under a vacuum. The vacuum cooker removes most of the moisture in the syrup, leaving a candy base that resembles a thick plastic dough. The dough is then placed on tables, where flavorings and colors are kneaded into it. The dough is quite hot, and the workers must wear insulating gloves then handling the candy mass. After the candy has been appropriately colored and flavored, it is placed in a machine that rolls the block of dough into a tine rope, which is then cut into small pieces that are the finished candy bits. Filled hard candy relies on a “co-extrusion” process, where the filling is continuously injected into the candy rope before it is cut. Lollipops are produced in the same manner, except that the stick is inserted into the still soft candy as it is cut. The candies are then allowed to finish cooling, at which point they assume their classic hard consistency.
In most cases, the vacuum cookers handle only sugar syrups, with flavors and colors added later. Nonetheless, the sugars or sugar alcohols used may pose Kashrus concerns. Although glucose and maltose (a disaccharide composed of two molecules of glucose) are the classic sugars used in hard candy, manufacturers also produce sugar free candies based upon sugar alcohols. When an OH (oxygen/hydrogen) hydroxyl radical is added to the sugar molecule (a process called hydrogenation), it is categorized as an alcohol and exhibits properties that differ from the original sugar. For example, hydrogenated glucose is called sorbitol (the –ol suffix indicating an alcohol). Diabetics who have trouble metabolizing glucose can handle sorbitol much more readily. In addition, sorbitol does not promote tooth decay since the bacteria that cause caries (tooth decay) do not grow on sorbitol. Sorbitol-based candies are not calories free, however, and its use must be tailored carefully to take into account its other peculiar properties. Although sorbitol, as well as related sugar alcohols such as maltitol, poses no inherent Kashrus concerns, it is often produced on equipment used to produce lactitol – hydrogenated lactose (milk sugar). As such, Kosher certification of this raw material is essential.
Additional Kosher concerns involve the flavorings used in all candies, which require reliable Kosher certification just as they do in other foods. In addition, some colors pose significant Kosher concerns. A popular bright red color derived from an insect is of particular interest. The Egyptians used an insect called kermes to produce a red color, from which we derive the word crimson, and this type of color served as one of the most important dyes for thousands of years. When the Spaniards colonized the New World, they discovered another insect, called cochineal, which yielded a red color eight times more vivid than kermes.
The Spaniards treasured this insect according it a higher value than the gold they plundered, and created a red dye industry based on the carminic acid, which it produces. The color carmine, produced from carminic acid, is both natural and stable and, with recent restrictions on the use of certain synthetic red dyes, and can be used to color many candies. Discussion of the Halachik status of such red colors goes back to the time of the משכן and the use of colored wool referred to as תולעת שני. Many מפרשים (see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah, Exodus 25:3, בשם הרד”ק בשרשים [שורש שן] ובשם המעם לועז) translate תולעת שני as a type of red worm, the color from which was used to dye wool (וכן משמע מהירושלמי פ”ט דכלאים הלכה א’). The רבנו בחיי (ריש פ’ תרומה), however, disputes this based upon the גמרא מס’ שבת דף כ”ח ע”א לא הוכשרו למלאכת שמים אלא עור בהמה טהורה בלבד, and argues that the red color was a derivative of a nut which served as the home to a specific worm — the worm not being the source of the color.
The נודע ביהודה (תנינא סי’ ג’ באו”ח) brings a proof to this approach from רש”י on the פסוק in ישעיה א’ י”ח ד”ה כתולע, as well as the רד”ק in the ספר השרשים שורש תולע which distinguishes between תולעת (the worm) and תולעת שני (the color). In the רמב”ם, however, there seem to be conflicting ראיות (עי’ פ”ג מהלכות פרה אדומה ה”ב ובנו”ב שם). This שאלה does have a practical application to our discussion, however, based upon the רמב”ם פ”א מהלכות כלי המקדש הלכה ג’ and the כסף משנה (שם). The רמב”ם explains the “מור” used in the קטורת to be דם הצרור בחיה שבהודו, which is considered by the מפרשים to be מוס”ק (musk). The ראב”ד is משיג, however, arguing that this material is דם ממין טמא and could therefore not have been used in the ביהמ”ק. The כסף משנה (שם) answers this question by stating that since this material has been dried and considered עפרא בעלמא, its original source is of no import.
The שדי חמד in מערכת חנוכה סי’ י”ב בד”ה ומדברי quotes the approach of הרב בתי כנסיות בקונטרס בית אבטינס בית ט”ז דף מ”ב arguing that the רמב”ם would therefore agree with שיטת רבנו יונה that מוס”ק is מותר באכילה — and that this was the same basis for permitting the use of תולעת שני from insect-derived dye. While this approach is not accepted by the נודע ביהודה (שם) as regards what is מותר למלאכת שמים, the מנחת יצחק ח”ג סי’ צ”ו points out that היתר אכילה is not תלוי in מלאכת שמים. The מנחת יצחק notes that the cochineal insects are thoroughly dried prior to obtaining the red color.
The Halacha (based upon the גמרא חולין דף נ”ח ע”א א”ר הונא כל בריה שאין בו עצם אינו מתקיים י”ב חדש ופירוש הראב”ד שם דלאחר י”ב חדש נעשה עפרא בעלמא) states that insects that have been dried for twelve months lose their status of איסור, and the מנחת יצחק suggests that the forced drying of these insects may qualify for the same dispensation. For this reason, it would seem that a red extract made from a thoroughly dry insect might indeed be מותר (עי’ פתחי תשובה יו”ד סוס”י פ”ז ס”ק כ’). While the מנחת יצחק does not give an unequivocal היתר, it is worth noting that the issue is certainly not closed. From a practical perspective, however, most פוסקים do not permit the use of this material. [Interestingly, a suggestion has been made that perhaps a supply of cochineal insects could be sequestered for twelve months prior to being made into carmine, which may allay many of the Halachik concerns.]
Another potential concern with hard candies is the lubricant used in the handling of the molten candy as it is kneaded and formed. Typically, some type of grease is used to lubricate the tables and rollers that handle the dough. The grease may be of animal origin, and although it is used in very tiny amounts, care must be taken that only a Kosher lubricant is used. Interestingly, talcum powder is often used for the same purpose.
One significant ingredient issue relating to hard candies relates to the specialty flavor called butterscotch. Real butterscotch uses real butter, and although this ingredient is typically not added in the vacuum cooker, its use in subsequent equipment would cause the equipment – and all other candies produced on it – to be considered Dairy.
Another classic type of candy is produced in an entirely different manner. Jellybeans, gummy bears, and many other types of molded chewable candies are called “starch molded” confections. In this process, a solid metal or plastic die in the exact form of the desired candy – such as a bear or a round ball – is pressed into a smooth bed of cornstarch, forming the mold for the candy. Flavored sugar syrup is then poured into the mold, where it solidifies into the finished candy. In order to create the millions of such candies necessary to meet the demand, the process is implemented on a continuous basis with dozens of molds created in frames of cornstarch that are immediately filled. The filled frames of molds are then allowed to dry for a number of hours, often by being placed in hot rooms. After the candy has finished curing, the entire tray is dumped over a sieve, catching the candy and allowing the cornstarch to be recovered, cleaned, and reused.
Aside from conventional Kashrus concerns relating to flavorings and other ingredients, the production of this kind of candy raises two interesting problems. First, some forms of this type of candy – such as traditional “Gummy Bears” – use gelatin in their formulation. While Kosher gelatin is currently available, its cost generally precludes its use for regular candy production. Although one would certainly not accept the use of non-Kosher gelatin in a Kosher product, a problem arises where the manufacturer wishes to produce a Kosher product using the same starch that is used with the non-Kosher gelatin based product. Since the non-Kosher material was hot, actually touched the starch, and absorbed the moisture from the non-Kosher material, such starch may not be used for Kosher productions.
A second issue concerns the process for obtaining the bright colorful shine we associate with products such as jellybeans. Interestingly, jellybeans are usually produced without any flavor or color! They come out of the starch molds as a chewy, pale drop. A flavored and colored syrup is then applied to the drops as they tumble in a device called a pan, slowly building up a “shell” of flavoring around it. This coating is also absorbed into the drop, causing both the color and flavor to be partially infused throughout. This production arrangement accounts for the fact that the flavor and color of the jellybean is much more intense around the shell and diminishes towards the center. [Gummy bears and fruit flavored bits include their flavor and color in the molded candy itself and are not flavored in this manner.] The jellybeans now have flavor and color, but lack their characteristic sparkle. At this point a polish is panned onto the confection, which may consist of carnauba wax, beeswax, mineral oil, vegetable gums, alcohol, and/or resinous glaze. It is this last ingredient that is of Halachik interest. Resinous glaze, or shellac, is a resin exuded by the lac insect, and again raises the question of derivatives of non-Kosher insects used in food. The issue is discussed at length by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, who allows based upon a number of considerations [אג”מ יו”ד ח”ב סי’ כ”ד ובמנחת יצחק ח”י סי’ ס”ה]. Other authorities are less sanguine concerning its use, however.
No discussion of the Kashrus of confections would be complete without mentioning the issue of gelatin. Gelatin is a protein generally derived from the hide, cartilage, or bones of animals. Except for special Kosher productions using hides from Kosher slaughtered animals or Kosher fish, gelatin is derived from swine or non-Kosher cattle. There are those who argue that since the processing of the non-Kosher material renders the gelatin to be completely inedible during the intermediate stages of processing, it may be considered a Kosher material. While it is well beyond the scope of this article to review the Halachik basis or cogency of this approach, the consensus of most leading Kashrus authorities is to reject this material. It does, however, continue to retain its promoters, and periodically one can find special “Kosher” marshmallows in stores boldly proclaiming the use of “Kosher” gelatin. Unless these products bear a known reliable Kosher certification (such as EarthKosher), in which case the gelatin would indeed be of acceptable beef or fish derivation, one can assume that the claims of “Kosher” gelatin are based upon the approach that has been rejected by most authorities.
Even in our preparations for the New Year, sweets are not limited to Rosh Hashana. On Erev Yom Kippur we are given a special Mitzvah to eat, with many reasons given for this obligation. This Mitzvah is fulfilled with every bite one takes on that day, and for that reason some have a custom to keep a piece of candy in one’s mouth all day so as to be in a constant state of doing this Mitzvah. With the understanding of some of the Kashrus issues relating to such candies, we can now fulfill both the Mitzvah of eating on Erev Yom Kippur and the adherence to Kosher law as we prepare for a sweet and healthy year.