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“When it comes to Passover cuisine, most home cooks know to avoid wheat, oats, rye, and other forbidden ingredients. But what consumers might not realize is just how much cotton they eat during the holiday. Yes, cotton—not the fluffy white stuff, per se, (though some might accuse matzo of tasting about as exciting as the fabric fiber), but the oil extracted from cotton seeds.
Flip over a package of kosher-for-Passover cake mix (or mayonnaise, soup mandlen, potato chips, cooking sauces, Tam Tam crackers, matzo ball soup mix, canned tuna, margarine, or salad dressing, to name a few), and cottonseed oil is almost certain to show up in the ingredient list. All of the major Passover manufacturers sell cottonseed oil by the liter for frying, baking, and sautéing at home. And that bottle labeled “vegetable oil”? That’s probably cottonseed, too—never mind that nobody has ever added chopped cotton to a salad.
So how did the cotton plant become the hidden star of the American Passover table? Ironically enough, you can likely thank your bubbe’s flaky pie crust for that. In 1911, Procter & Gamble introduced Crisco shortening as a vegetable-based alternative to lard. According to Michael Wex’s book Rhapsody in Schmaltz: Yiddish Food and Why We Can’t Stop Eating It, P&G’s marketing team “went straight for the Jewish market,” realizing that “a neutral-tasting shortening with no dairy or meat ingredients might strike a chord” with cooks looking to make pareve cookies and pies. They were right beyond their wildest imagining.”
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