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Gelatin Revisited

By: Rabbi Dovid Cohen

from OUKOSHER.org Reprinted with permission of the OU.

Gelatin Revisited

It is well known that a few generations ago the Poskim discussed whether gelatin made from animal bones is kosher, and the general consensus in the United States was that it is not kosher. This article will focus on the more-recent developments regarding this ingredient.

Porcine Gelatin

Manufacturers have found that if they made gelatin from the hide/skin of young pigs, they would require considerably less bating (see sidebar) than if they made it from animal bones. For this reason, about 90% of American gelatin is porcine – made from pigs – and the higher-quality gelatin made from bones is reserved for the photographic industry. The halachic ramifications of this are as follows:

Animal bones and hides are considered inedible and “kosher” even if they come from a non-kosher or non-slaughtered animal (see Rambam, Hil. Ma’acholos Asuros 4:18), and are only forbidden mid’rabannan. However, just two halachos later, Rambam cites the Mishnah that states a number of exceptions to the aforementioned rule. One exception is that the hides of domesticated pigs have the halachic status of meat, are considered edible and are most-definitely not kosher. Thus, even those who argued that gelatin made from the hides of beef or from bones is kosher, would have a harder time defending that position as relates to gelatin made from pig hides.

Kosher Fish Gelatin

Although a small amount of kosher meat gelatin was made many decades ago, for years there was no truly kosher gelatin available. But after enough consumers clamored for kosher marshmallows, some enterprising businessmen decided to test the market with some kosher gelatin, but this was made from fish skins.

The first order of business was to procure a large horde of kosher fish skins. Although there were plenty of fish skins to be had, how could the certifying Rabbis be sure that the skins they were using were from kosher fish? Some Rabbis were satisfied if the fish skins came from a factory which only processes kosher fish, where it is rather clear that the only skins available are those of kosher fish. But others take a more strict approach regarding fish and hold that mid’rabannan a Jew must inspect every fish (or fish skin) to make sure it is from a kosher fish. Due to the way the fish skins were transported and stored, this was close to impossible, and the question was whether there was any room for leniency.

The question was posed to Poskim in the USA who ruled that the aforementioned Rabbinic requirement to inspect every fish only applies to fish which will be consumed intact (e.g. canned tuna fish) where Chazal were concerned that someone might eat a bite-full of non-kosher fish. However, the halacha does not apply to cases like gelatin where the fish will be processed to the point that it becomes a liquid and any potential non-kosher fish will invariably be thoroughly mixed into the overwhelming majority of kosher fish. This position was brought to Gedolei HaPoskim in Eretz Yisroel, who approved of this approach.

Much to the delight of Jewish children of all shapes and sizes, the gelatin was quickly mixed with other ingredients so that the kids could finally savor real marshmallows. But it wasn’t only the children who ate the marshmallows. Aside from snacking here and there, some creative cooks leafed through the pages of mainstream cookbooks and found meat dishes that included marshmallows, and this brought up the following question.

The Gemara, Pesachim 76b records that it is dangerous to eat meat and fish together. This is codified in Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 116:2 and it is therefore common practice to segregate the gefilte fish from the chicken soup. If so, can one bake meat with fish-based marshmallows? It turns out that the answer to this question depends on a disagreement cited in Pischei Teshuvah 116:3, as follows: It is a well-known principle that if a tiny amount of non-kosher food gets mixed into kosher food, the food is b’dieved kosher if the non-kosher is batel b’shishim (nullified in 60 times its volume). Darchei Teshuvah cites two opinions as to whether the principle of bitul b’shishim applies to meat and fish – some hold that it does, while others argue that the halachos of sakanah/danger are stricter than those of issur/forbidden foods and bitul b’shishim doesn’t apply. This (and other related issues) lies at the crux of whether one may eat fish-based marshmallows with meat. Some Rabbis follow the lenient approach and rule that since the fish gelatin is batel b’shishim in the marshmallow, one may mix or cook it with meat, while others rule that bitul b’shishim doesn’t apply to these halachos. [Of course, if the fish gelatin isn’t batel b’shishim in the marshmallow, all opinions would agree that it can’t be eaten with meat].

Kosher Meat Gelatin

Although fish gelatin was well suited for producing marshmallows, it doesn’t have the required level of “bloom” (a measure of gelling strength) to be used in the production of yogurt. For this reason, yogurt certified by the mainstream hashgochos in the USA and the Mehadrin hashgachos in Israel, was made without gelatin. However, the non-Mehadrin hashgachos in Israel relied on the lenient opinion and allowed gelatin from non-slaughtered beef bones into certified yogurt products. This situation bothered Gedolei HaPoskim in Eretz Yisroel, and after many years of behind-the-scenes work they were finally able to convince the hashgochos to stop this practice.

But the yogurt companies were loath to alter the formulations of their products, and therefore they decided that they’d have to restart the short-lived project of producing kosher animal gelatin. Production of kosher gelatin from animal hides began a few years ago, and involves collecting and salting animal hides from kosher slaughtered animals in South America. Once a sufficient number of hides are stockpiled, a tannery is kashered and the hides are processed to produce truly kosher animal gelatin.

One issue which came up was that of teraifos. The Gemara lists different types of wounds or blemishes which render the animal unfit for long-term living, and hence not kosher; such animals are known as teraifos. Glatt kosher refers to animals who meet a higher standard of being non-teraifos, and a widely accepted practice is to only eat (and certify) meat which meets the Glatt standard. However, only about half of the animals slaughtered are Glatt kosher, which meant that if gelatin would only be made from Glatt hides, it would take considerably longer to produce the desired amount of kosher gelatin. This question was also brought to Gedolei HaPoskim in Eretz Yisroel, who ruled, based on a number of considerations, that hides from non-teraifos could be used even if they didn’t meet the Glatt standard.

In contrast to the issue of mixing fish-gelatin with meat mentioned above, it is well accepted that gelatin produced from kosher slaughtered animals is not fleishig and may be eaten with milk-based yogurt. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to explain why meat gelatin is pareve, it is noteworthy that a major factor in that status is because the gelatin is made from animal hides which, as noted above, are inedible. However, we have also noted above that the Mishnah lists certain which are edible, and that list also includes parts of the hides of female cows. If so, does that part of the hide have to be cut out in order to render the gelatin pareve? Poskim in the USA and Europe ruled that due to the method of processing the hides, gelatin produced from all parts of the hide are considered pareve and may be used with dairy.

Unexpected uses of (non-kosher) gelatin
Although there is now a sizeable market for kosher fish and meat gelatin, producing kosher gelatin costs considerably more than producing non-kosher gelatin. For this reason, kosher gelatin is generally only found in products marketed specifically to the Jewish market. They pay more for kosher gelatin and pass on those expenses to the Jewish consumers. However, kosher gelatin is too expensive for the mainstream companies which market to the broader market, and those companies generally choose to use non-kosher gelatin and not have those products certified.

This section will focus on some of the unexpected places where (non-kosher) gelatin is used followed by issues involved in certifying products made in plants that use non-kosher gelatin.

Vitamins – Most vitamins are water soluble and can easily be put into pill-form or into foods. However, vitamins A, D, E, K and beta-carotene are generally mixed with oil, and if they were put into a pill as-is, the oil would leak into the pill and ruin it. To deal with this issue, vitamin companies have developed a method of encapsulating tiny beads of these vitamins in gelatin. The gelatin serves two roles – it protects the oil from the outside elements and protects the pill from having oil leak into it. In some cases, the amount of gelatin in an entire pill is batel b’shishim while in others it isn’t. An additional issue for a Rabbi to consider in deciding whether one may consume such pills is that the pill is inedible and may not even be subject to the traditional rules of kashrus.

Pills – For generations, mothers have used all types of tricks to get their children to eat awful-tasting medicine. Adults generally take pills which are rather bland, but some people have a hard time swallowing them, and in recent years, pharmaceutical companies have come up with creative methods of solving this problem. Some common methods include coating the outside of the pill with a thin layer of gelatin, putting a powdered medicine into a gelatin capsule, or putting a liquid medicine into a soft gel-cap. What these methods all have in common is that the gelatin acts as a buffer between the medicine and the person’s throat, and helps the medicine slide down relatively easily. Some Poskim take the position that since the gelatin is “plasticized” it is inedible and of no kashrus concern. However, others note that although the gelatin has been hardened (as a result of its being mixed with edible glycerin and sorbitol), it can easily be softened by putting it into water; therefore, it remains a food item and shouldn’t be consumed by anyone who isn’t desperately sick. Those who wish to avoid gelatin in medicines should carefully scan the list of inactive ingredients for “gelatin”.

Immobilized enzymes – Enzymes are chemicals which are crucial in effecting all types of wonderful (and not so wonderful) changes in foods. For example, the rennin enzyme causes milk to separate thereby creating cheese. Generally, the enzyme has to be put into the food for it to have an affect, but occasionally a process uses an “immobilized” enzyme. As the name implies, an immobilized enzyme stays in one place, and the food passes over it, and that is enough to change the food. One prime example of this is the glucose isomerase enzyme which changes mildly-sweet glucose (such as corn syrup) into very-sweet, fructose (such as high fructose corn syrup). In order to make sure that the enzymes remain “immobilized” and don’t get washed away into the corn syrup, the enzymes are often encapsulated in gelatin. If the corn syrup is hot during the process, does it absorb non-kosher ta’am from the gelatin coating the enzymes? Is the enzyme considered to have been ma’amid the fructose? (See Darchei Teshuvah 87:144).

Filtering – Most consumers would rather purchase apple and grape juice which has the naturally occurring haze or cloudiness removed. One common method of doing this is to pass the juice (while hot) through a gelatin filter, where the gelatin attracts the haze particles thereby facilitating their removal. A similar process was traditionally used for beer where small amounts of isinglass – a gelatin product made from the swim bladder of non-kosher sturgeon fish – were put into the beer to attract the haze and cause it to drop to the bottom where it can be filtered out. The use of isinglass is the subject of Nodah B’yehudah Y.D. I:26. The many angles of the question which he discusses are beyond the scope of this article, but it is worth mentioning one line of reasoning which many rely upon in practice. The amount of gelatin that is mixed into the beer is batel b’shishim, and although it is generally forbidden to intentionally mix even the tiniest amount of non-kosher into a kosher product (i.e. ain mevatlin issur l’chatchilah), in this case one may do so because the person has no interest in having the non-kosher isinglass remain in the beer – and in fact the whole point is to have the isinglass and the haze fall out of the beer. Some rely on this principle, known as ain kavonoso livatel, while others insist that beer should only be consumed and/or certified if the haze is removed with commercial (kosher) enzymes.

Kashering after products that contain non-kosher gelatin

As noted, gelatin is used in tiny proportions in foods in order to thicken them and give them more “body”. Such small amounts of gelatin are used that it would be batel b’shishim, except for the rule that a davar hama’amid can’t be batel, as follows: Bitul means that the issur is so insignificant that it can be viewed as if it doesn’t exist. If however, non-kosher rennet causes milk to solidify into cheese or non-kosher yeast causes dough to rise, the effect of the issur is so dramatic, that it’s impossible to view the issur as being “insignificant” and therefore (mid’rabannan) it isn’t batel. Issur which has this type of effect is called a davar hama’amid and isn’t batel even though it’s used in tiny proportions. It is generally accepted that the thickening which gelatin causes in foods is significant enough, for the gelatin to be considered a davar hama’amid which cannot be batel b’shishim.

The question which comes up is whether equipment used to process yogurt which contains gelatin, requires kashering before kosher yogurt is produced. On the one hand, the first gelatin isn’t kosher and at first glance one would assume that the equipment requires kashering. However, the reason one is required to kasher equipment is to remove the non-kosher taste absorbed into the walls of the equipment. In our case there is too little gelatin to give taste into the yogurt (and the reason it isn’t batel is not taste-related) and therefore most take the approach that kashering is not required.

However, a better understanding of the process of yogurt production raises another issue. In making yogurt, the gelatin isn’t mixed into all of the milk/yogurt all at once. Rather, the gelatin is mixed into a relatively small amount of milk, then this milk is mixed into more milk, and eventually it is mixed into the entire vat of milk/yogurt. Thus, for example, 1 gallon of gelatin might be mixed into 5 gallons of milk, the 6 gallons might be mixed into another 50 gallons and then the 56 gallons of milk & gelatin will be mixed into the vat of 500 gallons of milk. There is a 1:500 ratio of gelatin to milk in the final batch, but in the early stages of production the gelatin was at much higher proportions where it could give taste into the milk. Students of Yoreh Deah will recognize this as a question of ChaNaN – chatichah na’asis neveilah – whose intricacies and the possible reasons why it doesn’t apply to this case, are unfortunately beyond the scope of this article.


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