Traditional Jewish food — six-inch-high, artery-clogging corned-beef sandwiches, cholesterol-high cholent with kishke and chicken soup
flavored with fatty schmaltz — isn’t quite in line with a healthy, balanced diet.
But with American’s growing obsession with healthy foods, and organic products — the organic industry grew from $1 billion in 1990 to over $23 billion today — kosher producers are offering more wholesome and beneficial products, and health food producers are gaining kosher certification.
“We had almost a 50 percent increase in the number of natural and organic [products] this year over last year” at Kosherfest, said Menachem Lubinsky, organizer of the annual trade event and editor of KosherToday. “We had many, many more products — all the different types of health claims that I didn’t see before, and organic chickens for the first time.”
Today kosher consumers can find every health claim imaginable — low-fat, low-sodium, low-carb, organic, natural, vegetarian, vegan, free-range and gluten-free. “Anything that can remain natural and organic can be sold kosher,” said Lubinsky. “There’s a tremendous upswing in demand.”
At Manhattan’s downtown health food store Organic Avenue, you can try foods that are vegan, organic and raw — never heated above 118 degrees — and now kosher. By Feb. 15 the Orthodox Union certification label will appear on all products sold in the store’s two locations — on the Lower East Side and the West Village. The store offers a range of foods, including salads, wraps, smoothies and some desserts as well as beauty products and classes on living the “LOVE” — Live (raw), Organic, Vegan Experience — way.
The LOVE way of living “preserves the nutrients and enzymes that are in the food,” according to Denise Mari, owner and founder of Organic Avenue. Mari, who began making smoothies and other raw foods in her loft in 2002, opened the first storefront on Stanton Street four years ago, and the second a year ago.
“When we moved in to the retail store on Stanton Street, people would come in and ask if it was kosher,” said Mari. “And for all intents and purposes it was.” So getting certification was relatively hassle- free, and now all products from their kitchen in Long Island City will bear OU certification. Food and juices can be purchased at both stores, as well as through home delivery. But be prepared to spend: a 16-ounce bottle of raw apple juice will set you back $10, and a Portobello wrap is $14.
If you’re not interested in going vegan but are looking for natural, nutrient-rich products, there are several new kosher options available.
Futters Nut Butters, based in Chicago, offers a range of organic spreads and “butters” made of 100 percent ground nuts, just about everything — almond, cashew, pistachio, macadamia, hazelnut, walnut, pecan — except peanuts.
“They’re a really good source of protein and healthy fat,” said Jody Futter, founder of the company. “You walk down grocery aisles and there’s very, very few pure foods,” she said. So she started creating them for her family and friends, and soon was manufacturing them for distribution. The butters, certified by the Kosher Supervisors of Wisconsin, also come in a variety of mixed flavors, like chocolate hazelnut, or cherry almond. 16-ounce jars of the pure butters range in price from $12 to $18.
For a spread of a different kind, pick up one of Fruit of the Land’s no-sugar-added or organic fruit spreads — imported straight from the Beit Yitzchak moshav in northern Israel, near the city of Netanya.
“There’s nothing as good, nothing quite like it” in this country, said Stacey Kurtz, marketing director for Fruit of the Land. “It’s not easy to make a no sugar food spread that tastes amazing.”
The 100 percent fruit spreads come in 11 varieties, from the traditional strawberry and raspberry to fig, quince and plum. The company’s “superfruit” line, made from acai, strawberry, passion fruit and pomegranate — fruits known for their high antioxidant properties — was named the Kosherfest best new food from Israel in 2008. Jars are available for $6 from Amazon.com, and will soon be on the shelves at King’s Supermarkets.
But if you’re more concerned with your waistline than antioxidants, Debbie Cohen is here to help. She opened her diet food store, now called Get Healthy America, 11 years ago, after she lost 80 pounds herself.
“A portion control meal is really where the problem lies with obesity,” said Cohen. “People have no concept what a portion should be like.” So in her Plainview, L.I., store, Cohen sells individually portioned breakfast, lunch, dinner meals, as well as snacks, all designed by a dietician and ready to heat and serve. All her products are certified by either the OU or the Star-K. Two years in a row one of her meals has won the best new cheese or dairy product at Kosherfest: eggplant rollatini in 2008 and lasagna florentine in 2009. Her products are also available in Waldbaum’s supermarkets.
The calorie-conscious kosher snacker can also indulge in new “Smart Fries” — air-popped potato sticks from the Brooklyn-based Gourmet Basics.
“The demand for healthier snacks has been on the rise,” said CEO Allen Benz. “It’s at its highest peak and probably will continue to grow. Snacking is also on the rise because people don’t have time to make a real meal.”
Smart Fries come in six different flavors, ranging from classic sea salt to jalapeno heat, and have only 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per serving.
Now that most every health claim is addressed to kosher eaters, what’s next?
“What I see of interest is some of the traditional kosher foods are also going healthier, for example lower-calorie challah, whole wheat challah,” said Lubinsky.”
“It’s not that they’re cutting out traditional foods,” he said. “They’re just extending them to people who are more [health] conscious.”