Did You Know
Wine and Halacha
Halacha bans benefit from all things used for and in pagan worship. Wine has been universally used in sacramental pagan worship and for this reason; grape juice, wines and their related by-products are subject to special regulations within the guidelines of Kosher even though they have not actually been used for pagan service. Therefore, although the wine contains no non-Kosher components, it is treated like a non-Kosher product. The Sages who made this decree were also aiming to reinforce a national isolationist policy. Grape juice and almost all its derivatives are known as Stam Yanem, and are forbidden.
”Kosher” wines and grape juices must be prepared by orthodox Jews exclusively. If non-Jews work in the wine making facility the risks and the precautions required are enormous. All manipulation of the wine must be through an orthodox Jew; be it operating the taps, moving hoses and even inadvertent movement of the wine. Any one of these alone will irreversibly disqualify the wine from being Kosher and leaves no detectable signal in the wine.
Once the wine or grape juice has been heated it is no longer susceptible to these disqualifications. Such wine is known as ‘Mevushal’ meaning cooked. There is dispute amongst the Halachic authorities regarding the temperature that satisfies this and also the method, some arguing that pasteurisation in enclosed systems is not acceptable irrespective of the temperature achieved.
Vinegar and Halacha
Vinegar was traditionally produced from wine and is banned since it is produced from banned wine of a non-Jew. The commonly found white vinegar is invariably not produced from wine and has very few if any kashrus concerns. Balsamic vinegar though, a viscous, sweet smelling vinegar, is made from the juice of freshly crushed grapes, known as “must” and is banned under these laws of Kashrut.
However, there may well be a consideration that makes balsamic vinegars and some wines, Kosher. It is a consequence and depends upon the method of production. Since the vinegar is produced from a reduced grape juice and the reduction is accomplished through heat, we must determine at what stage of the grape crushing and straining process the must is heated. It will make a critical difference if the must is heated PRIOR to being filtered or only afterwards. This is so since our Sages exempted grape wines and juices from the decree once they have been heated.
This is Not Wine
Halacha bans the wine or grape juice of a non-Jew. Yet wine is not simply the juice of grapes, since that would also prohibit any grapes of a non-Jew, as they obviously contain grape juice. Halacha bans the juice that has been separated from the grape. Grapes are initially crushed in a processing plant by being run between two rotating rollers that, by the gap between them, crush the grape but not the seeds of the grape. If crushed, the grape seeds will contaminate the grape juice with a bitter and unpleasant taste.
When Exactly is it Juice?
This slurry is not yet wine or grape juice in the eyes of the Halacha and it will not be so until it is strained from the crushed grape skins and flesh. Therefore, if it is heated at this early stage it will be excluded from the category of Yayin NeSech or Stam YeyNom since, when it becomes wine, i.e., when it is strained, it is already cooked and not subject to those prohibiting Laws. This is not a theoretical exploration but a serious consideration since this method has actually been investigated by wine manufacturers in their constant pursuit of innovation to increase both the yield from the grape crush and the quality of the wine. Similarly, when a Jew manufactures non-cooked wine vinegar produced from a Kosher non-cooked wine, it can no longer become disqualified by a non-Jew since vinegar is not a product suited for pagan service. For the remainder of this article we will be presuming that the juice has NOT been heated at this early stage and has therefore become prohibited.
The Vinegar Process
The grape juice is reduced by being heated until it becomes a thick syrup which is transferred to a series of wooden barrels where is matures, often for several years. The vinegar is decanted on a regular basis through a hierarchy of barrels, meaning that fully aged vinegar is removed from one end whilst fresh juice is inserted at the other, and so on down the chain. Thus it may take up to 25 years before the fresh juice emerges from the other end as fully matured Balsamic Vinegar; this known as solera or in perpetuum. These barrels being made of different types of wood, each contribute their own particular flavour. Some of the more commonly used woods are ash, cherry, oak, juniper, and chestnut. The balsamic vinegars sold in your average grocery store are more often than not just wine vinegar with some colouring, usually caramel and thickeners like guar gum or cornflour. There is no aging involved, and hundreds of thousands of litres can be produced every day.
Fermentation is a natural process, in which yeast, a living organism, consumes sugar and produces a toxin that at a sufficiently high concentration will kill the yeast organism that produces it. This toxin is the delightful [when used in moderation] stimulant – alcohol. The yeast also produces carbon dioxide. In wine and bread fermentation, the natural sugars found in malted grains or in grape or other juices are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Not a Waste of Alcohol
Vinegar is produced when bacteria convert the alcohol into acetic acid, the sour element of vinegar. There are two methods used for vinegar fermentation. Whereas in wine production air locks are used to permit the escape of various gasses and simultaneously obstruct the entry of air, principally oxygen; in traditional vinegar fermentation, the wine is exposed to as much air as possible.
To be a Mother
To begin the process a “mother” is used; this being an ancient vinegar with sterling qualities used as a “starter” i.e. containing the right bacteria. In some cases it might have a Yichus that can be proudly traced back for hundreds of years.
Mock Balsamic Vinegar
The other process, the modern process, uses catalytic systems to rapidly produce large amounts of vinegar sold in bottles labelled with Italian sounding names and imaginative price tags. A solution of water, alcohol, vinegar, bacteria, nutrients, and Beechwood shavings are processed in a generator kept at a constant 37.6°C. It is aerated to keep the bacteria happy and busy producing acetic acid.
This vinegar is filtered and standardized with water to various strengths as required. Like all specialist fields, vinegar too has its own language and code designed to keep outsiders in the dark. Vinegar strength is known as grain; 40 grain vinegar means that there is 4% acidity, which is about average for domestic use whereas industrial vinegar might be as high as 200 grain acidity.
White distilled vinegar is made from petroleum or grains such as corn and wheat. It is clear, with a pungent taste. Apple cider vinegar is mellower and has an amber colour. Red wine vinegar has a much deeper red colour.
According to the Halacha, a product that is a sharp and pungent has special properties. A Kosher product soaked or mixed into sharp non-Kosher vinegar become non-Kosher if left there for the time needed to cook the product. If soaked in non-Kosher grape juice, it becomes non-Kosher only after 24 hours. This is known as KoVush KeMeVuShel, soaking for 24 hours is the equivalent of cooking, i.e. a significant flavour has been imparted from the non-Kosher which renders the Kosher food non-Kosher.
Not 1:60 but 1:6
If non-Kosher wine was inadvertently mixed into a Kosher mixture of fruit juices, the non-Kosher wine would be nullified if the proportion of non-Kosher wine was less than a 1 part to 6 part ratio, which is the Halachic ratio needed to nullify non-Kosher wine when it mixes with Kosher liquids.
Kosher Vinegar Manufacturing
As is the case with any manufactured product, there are basic Kashrus issues that must be addressed when producing Kosher vinegar. In the traditional method of vinegar fermentation, the obvious requirement is that the wine, be Kosher and Mevushel, pasteurized or made by Torah observant workers. Any additional ingredients must be Kosher as well. Furthermore, the casks used to ferment Kosher vinegar cannot have been previously used to ferment non-Kosher vinegar or wines.
In the acetobactor generator process almost any alcohol can be used for the conversion process. As alcohol can be derived from wine or grapes or whey, the waste product of cheese manufacturing, we may need to assume that alcohol acquired from certain sources are not Kosher or dairy and not Chalav Yisrael.
Kosher For Passover
For Pesach use, all the fermentation ingredients must be Kosher for Pesach. Typically, apple cider or petroleum derived alcohol or wine alcohol are used for Kosher L'Pesach vinegar. Alcohol derived from barley, rye, oat, wheat or spelt, is considered Chametz. But if it is derived from corn, rice or other leguminous sources, the vinegar is considered Kitniyos and not to be used by Ashkenazic Jews.
Use After Pesach
A Jew must not possess Chamets on Pesach. It must be consumed or destroyed or sold to a non Jew in a bone fide sale prior to a certain hour on the day preceding Pesach. Chamets that is in a Jew’s possession for even one moment of Pesach becomes forbidden. However, since regular white vinegar is most commonly made from alcohol which is not Chamets, we need not be concerned that vinegar kept over Pesach id forbidden.
The last step of vinegar production is filtration through diatomatious earth and/or mechanical filters to remove any impurities. including a roundworm known as vinegar eels. These tiny round worms live in vinegar and feed off the bacteria that produce the vinegar.
Glacial Acetic Acid
Glacial indicates a product that has a high freezing point. Acetic acid concentrated to a strength of 12% or 120 grain level will freeze at 16.7°C and is known as glacial acetic acid. This is the acid commonly used in industrial food production and is not derived by concentrating vinegar but by chemical engineering; the chemical reaction of methanol, (a petroleum derivative), and carbon monoxide or through oxidation methods of synthetic acetaldehyde.
Balsamic vinegar is thick, sweet smelling vinegar made from pure and unfermented grape juice known as “must” The Trebbiano grape, native to Modena, Italy, is the most common type used for Balsamic vinegar production. Ancellotta, Lumbrusco, and Sauvignon are also commonly used.
True, gourmet balsamic vinegar is slowly aged in wooden barrels. Manufacturers have their own secret process and formula for aging the vinegar, moving it from one type of wood barrel to another to create its own unique flavour. Some of the more commonly used woods to make the barrels are ash, cherry, oak, juniper, and chestnut.
A Surprising Kosher Shortcut
The process of making balsamic vinegar begins by boiling the grape juice until it becomes thick syrup. This is most interesting from our perspective because it has the potential to make the vinegar Kosher. Wine is disqualified from Kosher if handled or touched by an Akum. However, wine is only so defined when it is a pure juice filtered from the pulp [Y”D 123:17]. Now, wine makers often crush grapes allowing the juice to steep in the skins (in fact red wine is only red from the colour extracted through this steeping process, the juice of red grapes is actually white). Halachically this is not wine and can not become disqualified if handled or touched by an Akum. If the juice in this pre-filtered state is now heated, it is no longer suited for Temple sacramental service and is immune from becoming non-Kosher if handled or touched by an Akum. It can now be filtered and handled like any other Kosher wine that is Mevushal. Balsamic vinegar will be Kosher, pending other smaller considerations, if it can be ascertained that it undergoes a similar process.
After boiling it is transferred to wooden barrels to start the aging process. This can take from 6 months to several years. Balsamic vinegars sold in the average grocery store are likely only aged for a few months in stainless steel tanks. There is ongoing legal action to restrict the use of the word “Balsamic” to those vinegars processed according to the true traditional methods, as champagne is now restricted to those wines produced from that district.
Fermentation is a natural conversion process in which yeast, a living organism, converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In wine and bread fermentation, the natural sugar found in malted grains or in grape or apple juice is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Vinegar is produced when bacteria convert alcohol into acetic acid, the sour element of vinegar. There are two methods used for vinegar fermentation.
Whereas in wine production air locks are used to permit the escape of various gasses but to obstruct the entry of air, principally oxygen; in traditional vinegar fermentation, the wine is exposed to as much air as possible. Traditionally, specially made oak casks with plenty of air holes are used.
Mothers and Tradition
To begin the process a “mother” is used; this being an ancient vinegar of sterling qualities used as a “starter”. In some proud families this mother might be traced back for hundreds of years. This mother is to the Italians what the pot-au-feu is to the French, who maintain a simmering cauldron or pot-au-feu, used to provide an ever-lasting broth enriched daily with whatever happens to be available, and very rarely cleared out. One wonders if they too keep tabs of how long the cauldron had been continuously on the bubble.
Would you believe that some of these vinegars are purchased at $175.00 for 25ml.
Modern Methods and Cosmetics
Most production today uses catalytic systems to rapidly produce large amounts of vinegar sold in bottles labelled with Italian sounding names and imaginative price tags. A solution of water, alcohol, vinegar, bacteria, nutrients, and Beachwood shavings are processed in a generator kept at a constant 37.6°C. It is aerated to keep the bacteria happy and busy producing acetic acid. This vinegar is filtered and diluted with water to various strengths as required and often coloured with caramel to provide the right visual effect. Did you know that at one time paint manufacturers were adding chemicals to get the paint to smell the way paint was expected to smell? The new formulations for superior paints did not use the traditional solvents and therefore did not smell like “real” paint. Sales fell and the manufacturers achieved the best of both worlds by adding “perfume” to their paints.
Like all specialist fields, vinegar too has its own language and code designed to keep outsiders in the dark. Vinegar strength is known as grain; 40 grain vinegar means that there is 4% acidity, which is about average for domestic use whereas industrial vinegar might be as high as 200 grain acidity.
White distilled vinegar, an anomaly because it is in fact transparent, is made from petroleum or grains such as corn and wheat. Amber coloured apple cider vinegar is mellower and has a reputation for various medically beneficial properties. Red wine vinegar has a much deeper red colour.
As we mentioned earlier, wine is only so defined and vulnerable when it is a pure juice filtered from the pulp [Y”D 123:17]. Whilst still with the pulp it is not Halachically wine and can not become disqualified if handled or touched by an Akum. If it is thus heated it can then be filtered and handled like any other Kosher wine that is Mevushal. Balsamic vinegar will be Kosher, pending a couple of other smaller issues, if it can be ascertained that it undergoes a similar process.
Otherwise vinegar processed from non-Kosher wine or grape juice is not Kosher. However, those considerations that disqualify wine will not disqualify wine vinegar. Only wine that is suited for sacramental service in the Temple will become disqualified if touched or manipulated by an Akum. However, once altered in any fashion, for example by boiling [Y”D 123:3] or by the addition of sugar, honey or cinnamon [Y”D 123:4] the wine is disqualified from sacramental service and is no longer vulnerable to becoming non-Kosher through contact by an akum. Vinegar is not suited for sacramental purposes.
The Taste of Vinegar
Very sharp and pungent foods are, in the eyes of Halacha, capable of penetrating foods to the same extent as cooking. For example potatoes that have sat in non-Kosher liquid for less than 24 hours, are Kosher they just require a rinse. If however they were cooked in non Kosher broth since this broth becomes infused within the potatoes they are not Kosher. Similarly potatoes that have been exposed to sharp non-Kosher liquid foods will become not Kosher if so exposed for the time it would take to cook that food
Wine Loses its Identity Very Easily
If non-Kosher wine was inadvertently mixed into Kosher liquids, the non-Kosher wine is deemed insignificant if it is less than 1 part to 6. However the sharp tasting pungency of vinegar would not allow the wine vinegar to become nullified in the mixture even in minute amounts, less than 1 to 60, because vinegar is a product that is Avid ltama. This requires investigation as wine WILL impart taste at those ratios certainly if it is added to water yet it is OK there is a teshuvah of R Moshe about this.
Kosher Vinegar Manufacturing
Not only must the ingredients be Kosher but the fermentation casks and equipment must also be Kosher. This would essentially mean that they have not been previously used for non-Kosher vinegars or wines. Just as foods absorb flavours so too equipment can absorb flavours and relay them to other foods.
Is alcohol derived from non-Kosher wine also not Kosher or perhaps the non-Kosher status is associated only with the wine in its original form?
There is also a suggestion that alcohol fermented from whey might be dairy. In fact some are adamant that it is. For example, one kosher authority states unequivocally, If the company imported whey alcohol, the vinegar produced from whey alcohol would be dairy! This also requires investigation as R Y S Elyashiv maintains it is not Milchig this is the din in Sh”O that Mei Chalav is NOT dairy
Kosher For Passover
Typically, apple cider or petroleum based vinegars are Kosher L'Pesach. Vinegar derived from grain alcohol i.e. barley, rye, oat, wheat or spelt, might be considered chometz. If derived from corn or rice the vinegar is considered by some to be kitniyos, a leguminous product and according to those opinions not to be used by Ashkenazi Jews.
Chamets that has been in the possession or control of a Jew over Pesach may not be used. Food products that contain Chamets will in turn become prohibited. Although grain based vinegars are considered by some to be Chamets nevertheless such vinegars are a minority; they and products containing them may therefore be purchased immediately after Pesach.
Some information garnered from http://www.star-k.org/kashrus/kk-palate-vinegar.htm