Pork-flavored (but vegetarian) foods get rabbinic seal of approval. Can kosher ‘lobster’ be far behind?
This fall saw the publication of a Jewish children’s book called “Baxter The Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher.”
If only little Baxter had known there is already a whole line of kosher “bacon” products. And they were dreamed up at a Jewish wedding of all places.
It all started when Justin Esch began waxing eloquent about the wonders of bacon to a table of people who kept kosher, claiming that everything should taste like the popular pork product. When he proclaimed the need for a bacon-flavored seasoning to add to food, the idea for Bacon Salt, which launched the J&D foods company, was born.
Esch brought the idea to Dave Lefkow, who loved the idea, “and eventually it turned in to a business for us,” said Lefkow.
So after much experimentation, in 2007 Bacon Salt finally hit the market shelves — funded in part by a $5,000 prize from America’s Funniest Home Videos for a winning film of Lefkow’s son.
Although Esch and Lefkow tried out dozens of versions of the product, the final product was vegetarian, getting its flavor from spices and artificial flavorings. “When we realized it was vegetarian,” said Lefkow, “we though it would be really funny if we could kosher certify this.”
When Lefkow contacted the man who became the product’s first kosher supervisor, Rabbi Moshe Londinski of the Square K, he told him the name of the product and waited for a reaction. “There was dead silence on the other side of the phone,” said Lefkow. “Then he said ‘David, I don’t know if you know this, but Jews do not eat bacon.’” Lefkow informed him that it was vegetarian, and the rabbi laughed. Today, Bacon Salt and its eight different varieties are certified kosher by the Kof-K.
Since the company’s launch, it has continued to roll out new products, like bacon-flavored popcorn, and Baconnaise, which are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. It has even ventured into non-edibles, but stuck to its slogan (“Everything should taste like bacon”) with bacon lip balm and “Mmmmvelopes,” envelopes with a bacon-flavored seal strip. The newest product, which launched at the end of last year and is appearing on supermarket shelves now, is “Bacon Gravy” mix. And a bacon-flavored rub for meats is currently in development.
But can a vegetarian version really taste like the real thing? Reviews are mixed. While the Boston Globe once listed Bacon Salt as one of its “20 favorite things,” saying “it makes everything it touches taste kissed by a slab of bacon,” an editor for Food and Wine said it “tastes nothing like the real thing.” Of course, many kosher consumers couldn’t tell. Bacon Salt and J&D Food’s other products are available for sale on their website, through Amazon.com and in a variety of supermarkets across the country, including Stop & Shop.
While it may seem heretical to certify kosher something with bacon in the name, it is hardly new. Bacon-flavored salad toppings like “Bacos” have been kosher for years, and the vegetarian producer Morningstar Farms sells “Veggie Bacon Strips” that are certified kosher by the OK.
While there is a prohibition in Jewish law, maris ayin, that forbids eating something that simply appears to be treif, today most rabbis see it as a non-issue.
“Today people are quite well aware that you have all these vegetarian mock meats,” said Rabbi Dovid Steigman, kosher supervisor with the OK, who oversees Morningstar Farms. “Forty or 50 years ago it might have been a serious concern whereas today it’s not.”
According to Rabbi Dan Senter, kashrut coordinator with the Kof-K, faux treif products must state that they are “imitation” on the label. (Bacon Salt has the words “artificially flavored” on the bottle.)
Lefkow, who comes from a Jewish home and had a bar mitzvah, said that while the kosher certification was sort of accidental, “it brings it to another level of awesome.”
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about people in the Jewish faith is that they have a great sense of humor.”
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