This year, for the first time in Israel, there will be kosher lemehadrin diet soft drinks on Pesach. In this interview, Rav Avrohom Rubin explains some of the principles of Pesach supervision, and what had to be done in order to provide the mehadrin status diet drinks.
What, actually, is the secret of kosher lemehadrin diet products for Pesach? Is it an industrial secret?
HaRav Rubin: "In general, I am forbidden to divulge any industrial secrets regarding the companies whose kashrus I supervise, but here we are not talking about product ingredients but rather what it does not contain. Every diet product uses some sugar substitute. Neither the sugar nor the substitute are derivatives of legumes, kitniyot, and are surely not chometz. But food products today use all kinds of components or ingredients in the production of the end product. Even sugarless candies employ certain chemicals produced by bacteria feeding on legumes or legumes not technically considered kitniyos in their end product.
"Nonetheless, this, in the past, caused us to deny supervision for Pesach diet foodstuffs created in the above manner because of the kitniyos element.
"On principle, we do not provide Pesach supervision for plants that use genuine chometz all year round. We will not supervise a transition from chometz to Kosher for Pesach. For Pesach we only do what is in effect an upgrade, from a plant that is in practice free of chometz the year round but is not supervised as free from chometz, to a plant that is supervised as free from chometz.
"After a comprehensive clarification, we discovered that there is one sweetener on the market which is not produced through the above process, that is, it is not created from bacteria feeding on legume derivatives, namely, Sucralose. Its production is more involved and somewhat more costly but its advantage is that it is totally devoid of any trace of kitniyos, which is very good news to those who consume diet cola et al for Pesach."
Does the higher price prevent the use of Sucralose?
"At first, I was reluctant to get involved in this question especially since giving a Kosher lePesach status to a product means closing down the plant to make the necessary cleanliness overhaul. After that is completed to our satisfaction, the plant cannot operate for a full day in order to employ new steam for koshering the machinery. Not all manufacturers are willing to abide by this loss for the benefit of only one week of public consumption. In addition, the Sucralose sweetener is more costly, which raises the price to the consumer.
"But apparently, the demand for diet drinks has greatly increased, like the personal plea I received from the mother of a child who is forbidden to drink anything with sugar. We finally decided to take the leap and demanded that Sucralose be used throughout the year in order to make the Pesach supervision feasible to manufacturers. We came to an agreement to make the necessary cleaning during the time that the foreign workers are on vacation, enabling us to provide a Mehadrin supervision for the Pesach diet beverages.
"Today, the plant is located in Singapore. We traveled there and began supervising the initial switch over to Sucralose from scratch, with the accompanying switch over to the non-problematic raw materials etc. to avoid any hint of doubt. Having done this to our satisfaction, we are now ready to return to the U.S."
Tzvi Yunger, an employee of Jafora an Israeli soft drink manufacturer: "My company is an eighty year old Israeli company. We buy various essences from Israeli suppliers, and in the case of RC Cola (which will have kosher for Pesach diet cola) we buy compounds from the company in Columbus, Georgia that are the core of the recipe for the soft drink. All products used have mehadrin kosher supervision."
Do you know what is in those compounds you buy from Columbus?
Tzvi Yunger: "No. Only Rav Rubin knows the ingredients."
HaRav Rubin: I am signed to secrecy by every company to which I give kashrus supervision. This is a nonnegotiable condition. But I personally do know and check out the kashrus of every component of the formula.
Maybe we can hear how the use of Sucralose has affected the price to the consumer?
Jafora official: Sucralose is more expensive, though today it is not by much. Nonetheless, its use has not affected the price to the consumer. The company has absorbed the cost, knowing that its use allows us to provide a better quality product, as discussed.
Note: The cost of materials is altogether not such a large proportion of the price of soft drinks.