CRC
Search the site
 

Dried Fruits

By: Rabbi Sholem Fishbane

 

Gone are the days that an innocent fruit was just that. Like everything else in the food industry simplicity is a rare find. For this reason I have compiled an overview of the most common fruit, in its various forms and with the possible kashrus concerns that can be present. This article should prove helpful to the kosher trade and the dedicated kosher consumer in pointing out just what to look for and how to get it.

The Types of Fruit Products

A fruit can be dried in one of two ways: laying it out in the field can naturally dry it or the fruit can be put through a dryer, which dries the fruit through heat. Often, it is necessary to spray a lubricant (similar to Pam) on the dryer belt, or directly on the fruit, to prevent it from sticking to the belt. This is called a release agent. Release agents can be problematic since these agents may not be kosher and it is not necessarily mandatory for them to be listed on the ingredient panel. This is because manufacturers claim this is part of the drying process and not an additive.

Another concern is that the naturally sticky fruit should not clump together. An anti-clumping agent or a flow agent, known as a processing aid, can be used as well. Again, since these are not additives, rather they are part of the process; they do not necessarily need to be listed on the ingredient panel. A potential aid could be a stearate, which can either come from animal or plant origin. In general, the “stickier” the fruit (e.g. if they would be cutting the fruit, that would cause more naturally sticky liquid to be present), the more likelihood of processing aids.

In reviewing fruits, there are three basic categories: Typical fruits (e.g. apricots, apples, etc.), Berries and Tropical fruits.

The Typical dried fruit may have the issues of release and flow agents being non-kosher. The Tropical dried fruits are often imported from countries that have a short season, requiring harvesting and cold-water storage for year-round availability. Artificial coloring and sweeteners are usually added to unripe fruit to compensate for bad color and low sugar levels. Berries usually are infused (injected) with other sweeteners.

Our discussion will not include any freeze-dried fruit, which can be freeze-dried in the same chamber as non-kosher meat and cheese. Nor will we deal with fruit pie filling, which is loaded with other ingredients and processing concerns. Fruit juices are also subject to different manufacturing processes and almost always require a hechsher.

An important note to be aware of is that, like everything else in the food industry, processes and technologies are subject to change. What is true today is not necessarily the same tomorrow. It is, therefore, important to check the labels at all times as well as occasionally giving kashrus professionals a call to verify that indeed the information is current.

The Kosher Concerns of Fruit Products

Dried Apples - needs a hechsher due to the use of release agents (like oil) so that the apples do not stick to the drying belt. In granulated or powdered apples, there may also be an anti-caking agent such as stearates.

Canned Apples - if domestic and packed in their own juice, they do not need a hechsher. If the label says, “Packed In Fruit Juice,” the apples cannot be used without a hechsher, since grape juice may be used.

Dried Apricots - usually are of Turkish origin and go through an extensive drying and cleaning process before reaching your grocer's shelves. Methyl bromide, a chemical typically from the U.S., U.K., and Israel, is employed as a fumigating agent to protect the fruit from mites and insect infestation. They would need a hechsher for Pesach because of the use of rice powder in  diced apricot production (to prevent the fruits from sticking to each other). Even if the flour is not being utilized for the whole apricots, it may very well be in the same room, and the flour does easily spread around the room. However, for the rest of the year, dried apricots do not require hashgacha.

Dried Bananas - are generally quick-fried in oil. The oil used has to be high in acidification so that the high temperatures that are required can be reached. Something like olive oil (that typically can be kosher) would smoke at such temperatures. Therefore, the oil used definitely needs a hechsher.

A mashgiach told me that the lab at one plant had discovered that the specifications of the bananas were not matching up. It seems that the employees at the manufacturing plant had compromised the integrity of the process by frying their own lunches brought from home in these already heated oil vats! Dried bananas unquestionably require a hechsher for Pesach and year-round.

Dried Blackberries - require a hechsher because they can be sprayed with oil and because they are usually sweetened with sugar or juice concentrate (possibly with white grape juice). This would be specified in the ingredient list.

Fresh Whole Blackberries - might be infested. To inspect them, place the berries on a lightbox and bang down on them. The insects should be visible while scurrying away from the  berries.

Dried Blueberries - require a hechsher because of ascorbic, malic, or citric acid being added before drying. Almost all dried blueberries have a sweetening agent, but the sweetener added must be listed in the ingredients. Oil may be applied to the fruit as well.

Fresh Wild Blueberries require inspection for the blueberry maggot, imbedded deep in the berry. Readers are urged to discuss with their rabbi/kashrus agency as to whether these maggots are too common and difficult to extricate. Cultivated blueberries are acceptable without a hechsher. Almost all blueberries commercially sold are cultivated, not wild.

Dried Cherries - need a year-round hechsher due to juices and flavors that are added to compensate for the sourness. Some cherry processors apply oil to their equipment but not to the frui elf. In this case, there would be no legal need to list it on the ingredient panel. The kosher status of that oil potentially could be an issue.

Dried Cranberries - although infestation is not a problem, they require a hechsher for Pesach and year-round. Cranberries can be sprayed with oil or glycerin and sweetened with sugar or juice concentrate -- possibly white grape juice. (This is almost always specified in the ingredient list). The oil spraying, to prevent sticking, makes a hechsher necessary even without juice or flavors specified on the ingredient list.

Dates - most dates come off the tree nearly at the moisture level desired in a "dried date." If not, they will be naturally dried for a few days. Oil may be added to the dates for appearance, but would be listed in the ingredients and only then would they require a hechsher. Sugar may be added to some imported dates and lower quality domestic dates. These dates are labeled accordingly.

Like apricots, the chopped dates may use flour or glycerin to help in packaging.

Although dates usually don’t need a hechsher, infestation can be a problem. Pakistani dates are very problematic and therefore should be avoided. This is especially true for pressed dates, which are difficult to check.

American-grown pitted dates are relatively insect free since the insect usually attaches itself to the pit. When the pit is removed so are the insects. Therefore, pitted American dates do not need to be checked.  However, whole dates (with pits) should be checked for a date worm or its webbing.

Israeli dates have an added concern of removing terumah and maaser.

Figs - are washed in a warm water bath to increase moisture before packing. Sulfur or potassium sorbate are usually added to prevent mold from forming on these naturally moist fruits and there is no kosher concern. Oil is rarely added with the exception of diced or sliced figs.

Whole figs, therefore, should be acceptable without a hechsher. However, domestic and imported figs can be infested. Greek figs are generally problem-free, but, in truth, all figs should be checked. By checking several in a pack you can establish that the rest are acceptable to eat. To check figs for black fig wasp infestation turn the fig inside out and look for a noticeable webbing.

Dried Mangoes - have a short season that requires harvesting and cold-water storage for year-round availability. Artificial coloring, flavors and sweeteners are usually added to the unripe fruit to compensate for bad color and low sugar levels. These flavors have, in the past, been found without a hechsher. Mangoes with added sweeteners are called “honey-dipped” or may be labeled simply as “sweetened.” Since all ingredients must be listed, you usually would be able to determine if any colors or flavors have been added. This is especially true to imports, due to the FDA’s requirements on imported products that any additives must be listed on the label. Tropical fruits, in particular, are subject to FDA tests before being released for public sale. While is always best to use only the ones with a hechsher, if one does not find it with a hechsher it can be purchased provided that nothing problematic is listed on the label. This would not apply to Pesach with a special hechsher is required for Pesach.

Oranges - Mandarin Oranges from China are not acceptable because Chinese food plants often produce many different types of products (ranging from simple products which are kosher to those that are unkosher). Additionally, their clean-up procedures are not what we are accustomed to finding in other countries. One American company processed (uncertified) mandarin oranges in China despite the warning from their regular mashgiach. In fact, these canned oranges arrived containing a large amount of shrimp particles.

However, Oranges imported from Spain would be acceptable, provided that they are actually produced in Spain and not produced in China but relabeled in Spain.

Dried Papayas - are also one of the short-seasoned fruits. When harvested, they can be green and have an off-odor. Color and essence, such as apple or mango, are, therefore, added to compromise for these shortcomings. A yeast inhibitor may be added to prevent yeast and mold from growing off the added sugar; this inhibitor could be problematic. Papayas can also be glycerized to act as a moisture barrier. Again, since it is an imported item, colors or flavors would be listed and a hechsher would be required. A hechsher would be needed for Pesach regardless of the process.

Dried Peaches, Pears and Nectarines. You might notice that the “all natural” ones will be darker in color. This is because there was no sulfur dioxide added to deactivate the oxidative browning when exposed to oxygen.

However, even if the sulfur dioxide is added, it is not a kashrus concern. Also, since these fruits can easily scrape off the trays, release agents are generally not used. They, therefore, need a hechsher only for Pesach.

Canned Peaches, Pears and Nectarines - are not problematic as long as they are  not packed in what is labeled as “other fruit juice”.

Dried Pineapples - are usually sweetened with fruit flavoring to give some taste to their otherwise bland taste. However, the label will generally state, “pineapple flavored with mango or fruit juice”. Other sweeteners used may be artificial, but the label need not indicate “artificial” so long as artificial dye is not added. Therefore, it is best to purchase them with a hechsher, certainly for Pesach.

Canned Pineapple - are acceptable without a hechsher, if the label says “100% pineapple in its own juice.” Nevertheless, they need a hechsher for Pesach to assure that there is no Vitamin C added.

Prunes - after they are washed, they are dehydrated until they become stone-like. This enables them to be stored in this state for up to two years. When there is an order, they are then moisturized (usually blanched with steam) until hydrated enough for packaging. Oil is not a necessary part of preparation since prunes are a large fruit and do not have a tendency to clump together as do other fruits. However, oil might be used as a polishing agent, but then it would be listed with the other ingredients.

They would need a hechsher for Pesach since some have an oil coating and because potassium sorbate may be used. There can also be a corn-based glucose in the drying process that is problematic for Pesach.

It is important to point out that prune juice definitely needs a reliable hechsher. A world renowned mashgiach recently confirmed this when he saw a recognized brand of prune juice being cooked in the same kettles as non-kosher meat soup.

Raisins - are the type of fruit that needs oil to help in their packaging. Many cereal giants infuse or soak their raisins in glycerin so they don’t clump up in the cereal boxes or, worse yet, break some consumer’s teeth. (Of course, the glycerin is inspected before being shipped to the cereal plants). There are some companies that do not use oil and others that (at least domestically) almost always use kosher oil. Therefore, barring Pesach, domestic raisins may be used.

Dried Raspberries - are similar to blackberries and need a hechsher.

Fresh Whole Raspberries - might be seriously infested. Due to the hole inside and the sections of the fruit, raspberries present the perfect home for insects. The use of raspberries are being investigated by many kashrus agencies to verify when and how they may be used.

Dried Strawberries - require a hechsher. They are sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup before drying. Oil is applied to the fruit or the equipment. If it is applied only to the equipment, it need not appear on the ingredient list.

Whole Strawberries - have been found to have infestation. Therefore, it is important to cut the green leaves from strawberries without making a hole into the middle of the fruit and then wash the fruit, especially between any folds, under a stream of water.

So, you now see that fruits are not just sweet endings to a meal; they also present complex kashrus challenges, requiring vigilant monitoring by the kashrus agencies and the public alike.

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane is the Chicago Rabbinical Council Kashruth Administrator
Questions or comments about this article? Send to fishbane@crcweb.org

 

HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shlit"a
Rosh Beth Din

HaRav Yona Reiss, Shlit"a
Av Beth Din

 

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane
Kashruth Administrator

Rabbi Levi Mostofsky
Executive Director

© Copyright 2017 Chicago Rabbinical Council. All rights reserved.
Kashrus Alerts