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The Secret Ingredient
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents

One of the trademarks of the Star-K is that it encourages its staff to respond to consumer kashrus inquiries. All too often, after eating a yummy treat, a consumer will notice a seemingly questionable item listed on the wrapper's ingredient panel. They will then call the Star-K hotline in a frantic state because they fear they may have eaten something non-kosher, only to learn that they most likely mistook the ingredient for something else or that the ingredient has a kosher counterpart. The following is a list of commonly questioned ingredients that regularly appear on the labels of popular foods that we eat.

Acetic Acid or Glacial Acetic Acid is an acid that can be produced either chemically, from the conversion of alcohol to acetic acid, or synthetically. This ingredient is the sour component of vinegar. Acetic acid is used as a preservative or a flavoring agent in pickles, catsup, mayonnaise and giardinera. Natural acetic acid is called vinegar and requires reliable kosher certification for year-round and Passover use.

Agar or Agar Agar is a gum obtained from seaweed. Agar functions as a gel to hold foods together. It is used in icing, fruit desserts and glazes.

Artificial Colors - See FD&C Colorants.

Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C is a vitamin essential to maintaining the body’s resistance to infection. It has many food ingredient applications, including use as a supplement in beverages, as an antioxidant to increase shelf life in canned and frozen foods, or as a dough conditioner. Ascorbic acid is typically fermented from grains such as corn.

Beet Extract (not to be confused with beef extract) is a natural red colorant that is used in a concentrated powdered form to color beverages, yogurt and candies.

Calcium Stearate - See Stearic Acid.

Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate, a dough conditioner and emulsifier. It is a product of lactic acid and stearic acid which is then neutralized into a calcium salt. Sodium Stearoyl 2 Lactylate is similar to calcium stearoyl lactylate. These ingredients are generally used to increase dough volume and reduce the proofing time dough needs to rise. They are also used as an emulsifier in frozen egg whites. These products require reliable kosher certification.

Carmine - See Cochineal.

Caseinate can be combined with calcium, sodium, or potassium to form Calcium Caseinate, Sodium Caseinate, or Potassium Caseinate. Caseinate is produced by neutralizing casein, a milk protein, with sodium hydroxide. Caseinates are used as emulsifiers and protein fortifiers in products such as coffee whiteners, cereals, whipped toppings and American processed cheese. (See Kashrus Kurrents article, “Eating Her Curds No Way.)

Citric Acid is an acid and antioxidant produced by fermentation of crude sugars such as molasses or corn. It can be produced by extraction from lemon and limes, however, this extraction method is generally not used on an industrial level. Citric acid has many ingredient applications. It is used as an acidulent in fruit drinks, carbonated beverages and jellies, and as an antioxidant in instant potatoes, and in the processing of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Cochineal or Carmine is a natural red colorant extracted from the dried bodies of the coccus cacti insect which produces a highly stable natural red dye. Major kashrus agencies do not consider cochineal or carmine as a kosher colorant.

Collagen, a protein found in the bones and connective tissues of animals, is the principal ingredient used to make gelatin. (See Gelatin.)

Cream of Tartar is the acid potassium salt of tartaric acid. It is created through the heating of argol, the sediment formed on the walls of fermented wine barrels, and potassium carbonate. Cream of tartar is a colorless crystal white powder, and it is used in baked goods, icing, and candy.

Diglyceride, an emulsifier, is a combination of fatty acids and glycerol. (See Glycerol.) Similarly, mono-glyceride and tri-glyceride combine the same components, the difference being that ‘mono’ combines one fatty acid, ‘di’ combines two, and ‘tri’ three. Often, ingredients list ‘mono’ and ‘di’ glyceride together. ‘Mono’ and ‘di’ glyceride have a wide array of uses including ice cream, margarine, and peanut butter stabilizers, to name a few. They are a basic ingredient in shortening, baking mixes and coffee whiteners. ‘Mono’ and ‘di’ glyceride can be kosher or non-kosher and requires reliable kosher certification.

Ethylenediaminetetraacetate is a chemical that will make most spelling champions quiver. It is also known as EDTA which is added to margarine, mayonnaise, or vegetable spreads to prevent oil from becoming rancid.

Erythorbic Acid or Sodium Erythorbate is a food preservative used in delicatessen meats to preserve its color, and to help prevent color and flavor deterioration in fruits. Erythorbic acid can be derived from kitniyos and could be a problem if used in kosher for Passover products.

Ethyl Alcohol or Ethanol is commonly known as alcohol or grain alcohol. Ethyl alcohol can be derived through natural fermentation of grain, or from petroleum, or the enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose. Ethyl alcohol has a wide variety of applications, from beverages to pharmaceuticals to cosmetics. Ethyl alcohol requires kosher certification, especially in kosher for Passover products.

FD&C Colorants (red, green, blue, yellow) or Artificial Colors are kosher synthetic colors. FD&C stands for food, drug and cosmetics. Natural colors do not bear FD&C designation. FD&C colors can be manufactured in dispersions such as glycerin which would require reliable kosher certification.

Gelatin1 is a jelling agent derived from collagen. Collagen is obtained from beef bones, calf or pork skins. Gelatin requires very reliable kosher certification. Consumers may be mislead by the statement kosher-gelatin or k-gelatin in the ingredient statement. Products bearing kosher gelatin must bear a reliable kosher certification. Gelatin is an essential ingredient in marshmallows, gummy candies, and gelatin capsules or gelcaps.

Glycerin or Glycerol, a syrupy sweet liquid, is found in many food and pharmaceutical products. It is used to maintain moisture content and prevent food from drying out, to create the syrupy liquid one tastes in cough medicine, and in salad dressings, candies, and bakery goods. Glycerin is a polyol that may be derived from natural sources, both animal or vegetable, and can also be produced synthetically. This is a very kosher sensitive ingredient because there is no discernable difference between the animal, vegetable or synthetic versions. Glycerin requires reliable kosher certification.

Grape Skin Extract is a colorant that is extracted from the grape skins after the juice is pressed out of the grapes. It contains the same components as grape juice, but in different proportions. Common practice among U.S. kosher certification agencies is not to use grape skin extract as a colorant.

Grape Seed Oil is extracted from dried grape seeds. Since oil cannot be pressed out of moist grape seeds, the grape seeds need to be perfectly dry before extraction. Dried grape seeds no longer have any stam yeinum (non-kosher wine) concerns. However the method of drying has to be monitored to see that the grape seeds have been dried properly before processing. (See Kashrus Kurrents article, “The Grapes of Worth”).

Guar Gum, obtained from a seed of a guar plant, is a thickener used in dairy products, bakery goods, and beverages.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a corn derivative, is a sweetener widely used in soft drinks, canned fruits, fruit juices, and frozen desserts. Through the use of enzymes and hydrochloric acid, the corn starch is converted into a sweetener.

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, is vegetable oil into which hydrogen has been introduced. This gives the vegetable oil a more solid consistency and a higher melting point. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is used in baking, cooking and frying and requires reliable kosher certification. (See Vegetable Oil.)

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein is a wheat gluten or corn, beets, soy or cottonseed derivative. The components of the HVP consist of monosodium glutamate, amino acids and salt. Generally used as a flavor enhancer, HVP is found in soups, meat and poultry products, and sauces. HVP requires reliable kosher certification.

Invert Sugar is a sweetener that is a combination of dextrose (corn sweetener) and fructose (fruit sugar). Soft drinks are generally sweetened with invert sugar syrup.

Lactic Acid functions as a flavor agent, preservative and acidity adjuster. Generally, lactic acid is produced synthetically, but it may also be derived from grains such as corn. It is used in olives to prevent spoilage, and in spreads and salad dressings. Lactic acid is generally pareve, not to be confused with lactose which is a dairy sugar.

Lactose is a milk sugar. It is used as an anti-caking agent and a carrier for other ingredients such as vitamins or medications. This dairy ingredient may also be used as a sweetener.

Lecithin, a soybean derivative, is an emulsifier. It is used extensively in chocolates to control the flow of ingredients. It is also used to emulsify and blend the ingredients of margarine and shortening.  Lecithin is a kitniyos derivative and is not used in Kosher for Passover productions.

Locust Bean Gum or Carob Gum is obtained from the seed of the locust bean tree. It is used in cream cheese, ice cream, and bakery goods.

Magnesium Stearate - See Stearic Acid.

Malt or Malted Barley is produced by sprouting barley and drying the sprouted grain to obtain enzymes used to convert starch into sugar. In its liquid state malted barley is used as a basic flavor component in cereal. In solid form, it is a basic ingredient of beer and liquor.

Monoglyceride or Mono-Diglyceride - See Diglyceride.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is produced through a fermentation process of molasses or beets and is a flavor enhancer in soups, meats and sauces. MSG requires reliable kosher certification.

Nitrate or Nitrite (including Sodium or Potassium varieties) is used in delicatessen to stabilize the pink color of the meat during the curing process. It is the salt found in nitric acid.

Oleoresin, a solvent-free extraction of spices, is used as a flavor replacement for spices in spice blends and seasonings. Oleoresin requires reliable kosher certification.

Pectin, a gel that is obtained from citrus peels or apple pomace, is used as a gum in jams and jellies.

Polysorbate 20, 60, 65, and 80 are a very important group of emulsifiers. They are manufactured through the mixing of edible fats, oils, or fatty acids with a glycerol. Glycerol has the property of maintaining the moisture of a food. The combination of glycerol with the fatty acids, gives the polysorbate wide food applications. It may be used in ice creams and frozen desserts to help emulsify the ingredients, as well as cake mixes to increase volume. It lubricates the surface of pan liners and other machinery. In pickle products, polysorbates are used to disperse flavors and colors. Its technical name is polyoxyethylene sorbitan fatty acid esters. Polysorbates require reliable kosher certification.

Pregelatinized Starch is a starch that has been cooked in liquid, redried and then ground into a powder. This process, known as gelatinizing, allows the starch to swell in cold water. It is used in puddings and soup mixes. (Gelatinizing should not be confused with gelatin.)

Propylene Glycol is a synthetic liquid that serves as a solvent for flavors and colors, and as an ingredient to maintain the moisture content and texture in foods such as shredded coconut.

Rennet, the enzyme obtained from a calf’s stomach, is used to coagulate milk into cheese curds. Today kosher cheese productions use microbial rennet which is a synthetic counterpart of the natural variety that has the same genetic properties. Rennet requires reliable kosher certification.

Sorbic Acid, a preservative used to prevent mold in cheese, jellies and syrups, can be manufactured synthetically and can be kosher for Passover.

Sorbitan Monostearate, derived from fatty acid, is an emulsifier that is used as a gloss enhancer in chocolate and as a coating and surface release agent for dry active yeast. Sorbitan monostearate requires reliable kosher certification. (See Stearic Acid.)

Stearic Acid, derived from both animal or vegetable sources, is a fatty acid with wide food and pharmaceutical applications. Its multiple uses include use as a lubricant, release agent, a softener in chewing gum base, a flowing agent in tablets, to name a few. Stearic acid may be combined with other chemicals such as calcium, magnesium or zinc, to make calcium, magnesium or zinc stearate. It can be combined with sorbitol to make sorbitan monstearate. It also may be used in polysorbates or with propylene glycols. All of these food ingredients require reliable kosher certification.

Tapioca, a starch that is derived from the tapioca plant, is used in puddings and pie fillings. Pure tapioca is kosher for Passover. Treated tapioca requires kosher for Passover certification.

Titanium Dioxide is a white pigment that is used as a natural white color.

Vanillin is a synthetic vanilla flavor. It is also the primary flavoring ingredient of natural vanilla. Vanillin is used as a substitute for natural vanilla and is kosher.

Vegetable Oil is one of the liquid substances extracted from the vegetable. Some vegetable oils are extracted from the seed of the vegetable, as in corn, soybeans or peanuts. Some come from the fruit, as in olives. Vegetable oils are generally refined and require reliable kosher certification.

Whey2 is the liquid portion of milk that remains after the curds are removed in the cheese-making process. Whey is derived from all types of cheese productions and requires kosher certification. Whey is dairy and is used as source of protein in baked goods, ice cream, candy and dry mixes.

Worcestershire Sauce is a sauce that contains vinegar, soy sauce, sweeteners, and at times anchovies (fish). If there is more than 1.6% anchovies in the blend the proper kosher marking on the label should be kosher-fish. Kosher-fish Worcestershire sauce should not be used to flavor meat dishes. Regardless of the percentage of fish, Worcestershire sauce requires reliable kosher certification.

Xanthan Gum, obtained through microbial fermentation, is used together with other gums, such as guar, to give the food more jelling properties. Xanthan gum is used in salad dressings and sauces.

Zinc Stearate - See Stearic Acid.

Generally speaking, products containing those “secret” ingredients that do not have a “requires reliable kosher certification” statement may be purchased without hashgacha. However, when a product bears reliable kosher certification, the ingredients are no longer just assumed to be kosher; the consumer is assured that the ingredients are indeed kosher and that any other issues, however minimal, have been resolved.

Are any of the dairy kosher approved ingredients used in cholov yisroel products?  In the United States, any dairy ingredient used in a cholov yisroel production is derived from cholov yisroel sources. For example, the cultures used to make cheese or yogurt are specially manufactured for cholov yisroel productions. All mehadrin supervisions in Israel will also follow these rules. Consumers wishing to purchase cholov yisroel must identify a cholov yisroel statement on the label of products containing any of the dairy ingredients above.3

In regard to Pesach, products containing the aforementioned ingredients require reliable kosher for Passover certification.

kashrusorganizations to ensure that what we are eating is 100% kosher.




1. For a full discussion of gelatin, see “Getting Into the Thick of Things: Gelatin”.

2. For a full discussion of whey, see “Wheying the Kosher Possibilities” .

3. For a full discussion of cholov yisroel and dairy ingredients, see “Cholov Yisroel: Does a Neshama Good” and “Wheying the Kosher Possibilities”.


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