Pigeon meat and 5 other kosher trends to watch

Walking around the exhibitors’ hall at Kosherfest, the annual kosher food trade show, is like finding yourself at the most intense synagogue kiddush reception you could ever imagine.

There’s plenty of food of every kind, from blintzes to hot dogs to nutritional supplements. There are loads of people. And everywhere you turn, someone is elbowing you in the gut. Most of Kosherfest’s attendees come for business — food company representatives, grocers, institutional cooks — but more than a few consumers come to taste the free samples.

I went to the confab last week to see what was new and interesting in the kosher food world. Here’s what I found.

1). They call it squab, I call it pigeon

Think chicken, only much, much smaller. The drumstick is about the size of an adult pinky finger, and there’s not much meat on the bone. It’s squab – known in the common vernacular as pigeon.

It’s actually not bad: With a creamier texture than chicken, squab meat tastes like a cross between dark-meat chicken and liver.

It’s the latest offering from Pelleh Poultry, a New York-based company that sells such poultry delicacies as gizzards and chicken feet along with less exotic varieties of chicken, duck and turkey (Pelleh is Hebrew for wondrous).

In what circumstance, exactly, would one serve squab?

“This is not something that’s going to be your everyday food,” Pelleh CEO Eliezer Franklin told JTA. “If you like patchkeing and getting something very good,” he said, using the Yiddish term for fussing, “I debone it, brine the breasts and you can serve it as an appetizer at a dinner party.”

Among Pelleh’s other new offerings this year are rendered duck fat, duck fry (which they call duck bacon) and duck sausage.

2). Empire eliminating nitrates

Change is coming to Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest poultry producer, following its sale last March to Hain Celestial, an organic and natural foods company.

Empire products are getting a fresh look and logo. More notably, nitrates — the preservative that some scientific research has linked to cancer — are being eliminated from its deli products.

The company’s new deli line will be all natural, which means no antibiotics for the animals that after processing become chicken and turkey breast slices, bologna, pastrami, salami and hot dogs. Instead, Empire will use high-pressure pasteurization methods to preserve its deli meats, which will have a shelf life of 60-90 days. The deli packaging is also being changed from the current oversized box to a much smaller, resealable vacuum-packed bag.

“We believe there’s a great desire from our consumers for clean-label products, and we want to be the leader,” Empire CEO Jeff Brown told JTA.

3). Welch’s going kosher for Passover

In the kosher grape juice market, Kedem by the Royal Wine Corp. rules supreme. It’s practically the only grape juice found in the kosher aisles at supermarkets — and even at kosher grocers.

But Welch’s, which controls a majority of the non-kosher U.S. grape juice market, is muscling its way in with the launch of a jointly branded Welch’s-Manischewitz kosher-for-Passover grape juice. Slated to hit shelves in January, Welch’s new 100 percent grape juice will also be kosher for year-round use, including for sacramental purposes like Kiddush and Havdalah. (The Orthodox Union is the certifier.)

Though Welch’s regular grape juice will not carry kosher certification and its new line is being targeted at the kosher-for-Passover market, those bottles may find buyers throughout the year.

“We certainly will be price competitive, and based on the quality of Welch’s and the fact that it’s made without anything artificially added to it, we think it’s going to be the best value to the Jewish consumer,” Manischewitz CEO David Sugarman told JTA.

4). Chicken soup potato chips for the soul

Chicken soup occupies an exalted place in the Jewish diet. It’s been described as Jewish penicillin, it’s a staple of Shabbat dinner — but it’s got no crunch. Enter the chicken soup-flavored potato chip.

Ten Acre, a U.K.-based company, is the brains behind this creation and another unusual flavor: pastrami-flavored crisps (officially called Pastrami in the Rye). But don’t be fooled: These chips are meat free (and dairy free, for that matter). Other flavors in the Ten Acre line include the slightly more prosaic hickory barbecue, Bombay spice, sweet chili, and cheese and onion, among others. All are certified by the Orthodox Union.

5). Chicken in a can

Ever bitten into a tuna fish sandwich and thought: “Oh, if only this were canned chicken, not albacore?” Well, wish no longer: Kosher canned chicken is finally here!

“Fifteen years ago I noticed people were eating a lot of tuna, but the only way to have chicken was to prepare it yourself,” said David Levine, president of Choice Yield, the California company manufacturing canned chicken under the label Noah’s Kosher Kitchen. “I thought this would be really convenient for people.”

Why would anyone want chicken in a can? Levine lays out his rapid-fire argument: You can take it on a road trip, pack it for the park, use it in institutions like schools and you don’t have to worry about cooking the chicken, making space for it in your fridge or worrying about it going bad. And it’s kosher for Passover.

The cans, which contain fully cooked chunk white meat packed in water, look just like tuna cans except for the label. (Don’t confuse them with Chicken of the Sea, which in fact is tuna.)

The just-launched product is not yet available in grocery stores.

6). Kosher bacon?

With bacon all the rage (didn’t you know?), kosher consumers are eager for a taste of this forbidden food. Imitation bacon bits – many of which are soy based and long have been certified kosher – just don’t cut it.

Welcome to the world of kosher meat disguised as bacon. It sort of looks like bacon, its taste may evoke bacon, it often can be prepared just like bacon, but guess what? It’s still not bacon.

It is pretty good, though.

Pelleh Poultry’s duck fry is called duck bacon because, Pelleh’s CEO says, “it’s friable, it’s fatty and it gets crispy.”

Jack’s Gourmet, a 5-year-old Brooklyn-based company that does wonders with sausages (nitrate free!), says its most popular product is its glatt kosher “facon.” Like bacon, the beef is dry cured and well salted, giving it bacon’s characteristic texture and flavor, says CEO Jack Silberstein.

How would he know?

“I wasn’t always kosher,” Silberstein whispers with a smile.

Jack’s new barbecue pulled beef brisket was among the winners of Kosherfest 2015’s best new product award.

Kosherfest 2012 serves up fake bacon and real innovation

Nothing says Jewish food like a bowl of matzoh ball soup or a slab of pastrami on rye. But will Mediterranean gefilte fish or facon also be on that list one day?

Facon, you ask? As the name implies, it’s fake bacon, and it was just one of the many novelties unleashed on the Jewish culinary scene at Kosherfest, the nation’s largest annual kosher-food trade show, which took place Nov. 13-14. Thousands of rabbis, restaurateurs, chefs, foodies, and at least one hungry journalist crammed into the Meadowlands Expo Center in New Jersey to nosh on the food samples and get a hold of the latest trends in cuisine that adhere to Jewish dietary law.

As one might expect, bagels and lox, a broad selection of cold cuts and a variety of pickles—cucumbers, cabbage and mushrooms—were on display. But the old staples were clearly fighting for prominence with a smorgasbord of new offerings that either borrowed from international cuisines, like the Japanese or Italians, or offered observers of kashrut a small taste of what dietary law forbids, like facon, the faux bacon.

“There’s no law anywhere that a Jew should not be allowed the flavors of the world,” declared Alan Broner, co-owner of Jack’s Gourmet, which markets the product that won the 2012 Kosherfest award in the best meat category.

Broner said facon was the invention of his business partner Jack Silberstein, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, and is made of beef plate—a fatty cut located behind the brisket—that is then seasoned, smoked and fried. The result, he said, is an accurately treif-tasting delicacy that is entirely kosher.

“The prohibition is not to have beef baked and smoked to taste like,” paused Broner, as he looked for the right word, “to taste like something else.”

Jeffrey Rappoport, a blogger who ate bacon before starting to eat kosher at age 13, almost had tears in his eyes when he took a bite.

“That’s amazing!” he said, planting a kiss of joy on Broner’s head.

“The buds don’t forget,” responded Broner, who had a taste for treif before he began observing kashrut at age 30.

Not everyone was as thrilled with facon, however.

“It’s kind of bland,” said storeowner Sandra Steiner, evaluating a slice of the cleverly dressed up meat. “I won’t buy it.”

She added, however, that she might not be the best judge as she has been kosher her whole life.

“Now,” she said, “I don’t feel so bad for never having never tasted real bacon.”

Facon was just one of the many novelties at this year’s Kosherfest, where innovation was clearly the name of the game.

JoburgKosher, a company originally from South Africa, partnered with New York businessmen to bring a taste of their homeland like bilatong—a dried meat similar to beef jerky—and boerewors, a type of Boer sausage, to the U.S. market.

“It tastes like a dried pastrami,” said Benny Goldis, a local partner of JoburgKosher, putting it in terms local Jews would understand. “People can take bilatong on vacation or on business trips. It’s a new food I’m sure people will love.”

Even the oldest names in the Jewish food industry like Manischewitz are acutely aware that palates are becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding as part of a global trend.

“People want different flavors and worlds whether they are kosher or not, Jewish or not Jewish,” said Alain Bankier, co-president and CEO of the fabled food company. “People want innovation and we are happy to provide it to them.”

That’s why Manischewitz, which is associated with foods like matzoh, farfel and kosher wine, launched a new line this year that includes Moroccan roasted vegetables and chicken couscous sauces, red velvet macaroons and Mediterranean gefilte fish, which are East European-inspired fish balls “with flavors of rosemary, oregano and olive oil.”

Those worried food fads are destroying authentic Jewish cooking need not worry. At the fair, there were still plenty of traditionalists ready to make sure old favorites would not die out.

Steve Leibovitz, the owner of United Pickles, the company behind Guss’ Pickles, reigned over a big barrel of sours, half-sours and green tomatoes, handing them out to passersby much the same way his grandfather, Max Leibovitz, did when he opened up on the Lower East Side 118 years ago.

“When he came to the U.S. from Russia in 1897 he sold pickles out of a pushcart on the street,” said Leibovitz, who dubs himself the company CPM (Chief Pickles Maven). “Now we’re in Walmart. We serve most delis around town and my sauerkraut is at every Nathan’s (the fast food chain largely known for its hot dogs) in the country.”

Though United Pickles has a nationwide reach, it remains a family affair. Steve’s son, Andrew Leibowitz, stood behind the counter watching his father greet customers and talk to the competition, who came by to say hello and talk shop.

“I’m ready to continue the tradition,” said the 30-year-old, who will represent the fourth generation of Leibovitz family members to sell pickles, observing his father at work. “I’m learning a lot from him.”

Kosherfest 2008 is heaven on earth for foodies


Business could not have been better for Ilan Parente, owner of Solomon’s Finest Kosher Meats, the only fresh meat supplier at this year’s Kosherfest 2008, the international kosher food and food service trade show.

Held Nov. 11 and 12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey, Kosherfest (photo, above) offered exciting new foods and kosher innovations, but also reflected the difficulties in the kosher industry brought about by the growing meat shortage.

With the recent collapse of Agriprocessors, the United States’ leading meat supplier, many businesses came to Kosherfest to find solutions to their empty shelves.

One such restaurateur, Marc Epstein, came to Kosherfest to find more meat and cheese sources. Epstein, who owns Milk Street Café in Boston, was frustrated by the lack of options. “Choice is good, and there is no choice,” he lamented. Epstein also attributed the problem to increased stringencies of the rabbinic establishment over the years.

Parente, on the other hand, who specializes in natural meat products, was reaping the rewards. Traveling to Kosherfest from Dawson, Minn., Parente had been inundated with buyers. They’re under “tremendous pressure,” he said, “trying to get Klal Yisrael as much meat as we can.” Parente’s company sells beef, bison, lamb and elk meat, uses no antibiotics on their animals and feeds them an “all-vegetarian diet.”

Kosherfest was also celebrating its 20th anniversary at a new location in New Jersey (rather than the Javits Center in Manhattan, where it has been held in recent years). The change notwithstanding, regular exhibitors and attendees said it felt like business as usual.

Celebrity Jewish chef Jeff Nathan (“they call me the ‘Jewish Emeril'”), who owns the kosher restaurant, Abigael’s, on Broadway near Times Square in Manhattan, said Kosherfest 2008 seemed on par with previous years.

“Jersey is a little more laid back, that’s why I live here,” he said. Nathan did notice “a little leaning toward lighter and healthier” foods at the show, something he has been hoping to see more of. Some examples included a number of new gluten-free products, soy nut butter — as a peanut butter substitute — and many desserts advertised as “trans-fat free.”

The event continued to be international in flavor, bringing together kosher food purveyors, caterers and distributors from more than 28 countries. Attendees traveled from as far away as Turkey, South Africa, Italy, Panama and Israel and as close to home as Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey.

Rabbi Gershon Finesilver, who attended the event on behalf of the London Beit Din (LBD), called the event “amazing.” It was the London-based rabbi’s first time staffing a Kosherfest booth and he likened the event (and the concomitant sampling) to “a very large Kiddush. You’re nibbling all day.”

In addition to educating American consumers about the LBD’s role in supervising ingredients across Europe and Asia, the LBD was showing off its newest heksher, a slightly curvier design than it had before, with a hint of Asian flair. Finesilver said the new design had been in use for a couple of years, even if Americans might not have seen it.

Each year Kosherfest organizers hold a competition for the best new kosher-certified products. This year, Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe of Skokie, Ill., took top honors with a “Southern Pecan Pie.” Zelda’s pie won the Best in Show award, the prize for best dessert, the prize for best packaging design and the prize for best snack food (for its caramel corn series).

After racking up so many awards, Zelda Neiman, the company’s matriarch, couldn’t help but stand at her booth beaming. “The show itself is amazing [as well as] a little overwhelming,” she said.

Neiman, who keeps kosher, said she enjoyed seeing all of the kosher-certified products at the show. She had been planning to come to the event before as an attendee but it just never happened. Then, as a first-time exhibitor, her company won the top awards; “Nothing could be better,” she said.

Other award-winners included Bella Baby organic frozen baby food, which won the prize for best new organic product; Kedem All Natural Premium grape juice for best new beverage, and Davida Aprons & Logo Programs, Inc. for best new food service product — a baby bib that reads, “I’m not crying, I’m davening.”

Exhibitor Linda Hausberg of Brentwood, who founded Linda’s Gourmet Latkes, was attending Kosherfest for the first time. Hausberg called herself a “PTA mom” who started her business after watching her homemade latkes sell out at a fundraising event for her kids. She launched her product at Vicente Foods and now sells her frozen latkes at Whole Foods around the country.

Other highlights of this year’s Kosherfest included a sushi-making competition that pitted sushi chefs from Eden Wok, Milk N’ Honey NYC, Glatt A La Carte and Simply Sushi Café against one another for the title of best sushi. Simply Sushi of Monticello, N.Y., took the prize for best presentation, taste and creativity.

But for many, Kosherfest is all about sampling the food. From a rose-flavored fruit juice to spicy turkey jerky and tomato-basil risotto, and from mouth-watering Danish blue cheese and chocolate crepes to elk-meat sausages, the show was a kosher gastronome’s dream come true. There was also a kosher Scotch by Speyside (for those who need a heksher on their liquor), freestanding vending machines with hot food available in minutes by Kosher Vending Industries, a kosher gelatin (courtesy of Kolatin), parve ice cream bonbons by Nestlé and nougat by Sally Williams (a South African favorite).

Rachelle Lewis of Beverly Hills might as well have been in heaven: “This is so exciting,” she exclaimed; “It’s fabulous!” Lewis works for Grocers Media, Inc., which markets new products with promotions inside supermarkets that use a barcode system. Though she’s been to many different food shows, she said this year’s Kosherfest was “one of the best.”

As someone who keeps kosher, the event was particularly exciting — “It’s uplifting to see so many upscale [products],” Lewis said. She particularly enjoyed some fresh Israeli pita she had tried with falafel as well the Oxygen-brand sauces and glazes. “They have a bottled charosets that I couldn’t imagine would taste good. But it does!”