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The 2013 Passover Dirty Dozen
Keeping kosher for Passover presents us with two different kinds of challenges: Halachic (matters of Jewish law) and nutritional. Many of the kosher for Passover products on the supermarket shelves are convenient, but are usually not particularly healthy. While many consumers realize this, many are unaware just how unhealthy these products can be.
Here is a list of our Dirty Dozen for 2013:
1. Cottonseed Oil
Cotton is considered to be one of the world's "dirtiest" crops due to the heavy use of pesticides. Since cotton is technically not a food crop, many chemical pesticides can be sprayed, which would otherwise not be allowed. These pesticides are concentrated in the seeds and then they are turned into oil for our consumption. The oil is also extracted, refined, bleached and deodorized using harsh chemicals processes. You can certainly choose another oil for your Passover cooking needs, but if you buy any packaged Passover foods, cottonseed oil is difficult to avoid. Cottonseed oil has become the oil of choice for Passover products.
Although the oil comes from seeds, which are kitniyot (see number 5), the oil is permitted since derivatives from inedible seeds are rabbinically allowed. A better choice would be extra virgin olive oil, which as long as it bears a year-round kosher certification, it would not require special Kosher for Passover certification.
2. Passover Margarine
Margarine is full of trans fats which are linked to heart disease and an increase in "bad" cholesterol. This margarine, for example, contains a whopping 3.5g of trans fat per Tablespoon!! The trans fats are created from the process of partially hydrogenating vegetable oils. Many of the year-round margarine also contains partially hydrogenated oil, but the Kosher for Passover margarine is a double whammy, since the oil being used is cottonseed (see number 1).
If you aren't having a meat meal, we would suggest just using real butter, which is what margarine is trying to mimic in the first place (minus the artificial flavours and preservatives). If you prefer margarine for its spreadability, try keeping your butter at room temperature instead of refrigerating. If butter is not an option because you avoid dairy or are having a meat meal, olive oil can be used for most cooking and baking seeds. And lastly, if your favourite recipes use margarine, you can either substitute with olive oil or try finding some new favourites that do not require it.
3. Chicken Flavor Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes are kosher for Passover and do not require special certification. Why bother with this dehydrated/re-hydrated potato product that is full of chemicals when you can simply boil and mash potatoes the old-fashioned way. Simply add a bit of chicken soup for that REAL chicken flavour.
4. Matzo Ball & Soup Mix
The "secret" is you still need to make the matzo balls yourself! They don't come out of the box already made, unfortunately (or fortunately IMO) so what's the real convenience factor here? What is not so secret in this mix is the high sodium levels with a little MSG thrown in. The time saver here is only the soup. If you need to make the matzah balls anyway, you might as well just buy matzah meal and find a good recipe.
5. Imitation Mustard
Mustard seeds are not allowed for Passover as they are considered to be kitniyot, meaning small and grain-like and may be confused with grains that can become chametz. This is why you will find imitation mustard for Passover rather than the real thing.
The first ingredient in this product is cottonseed oil (see number 1) plus added preservatives and flavouring. Imitation foods such as these, which are created in a laboratory, are best left on the shelves. If you are looking to add a bit of heat to your food, why not try a more traditional Passover food like horseradish.
6. Passover Pizza Bagels
The Passover Pizza Bagel: A traditional Passover food. Probably what Moses ate at his Passover table! This is a perfect example of the many processed Passover foods that try to mimic foods we do not eat on Passover. Why settle for something you know will not live up to the real thing? Our professional advice: Wait 8 days. If you are still craving a pizza bagel - make yourself an ACTUAL pizza bagel! In the mean time, you could always keep it simple and melt some cheese over tomato sauce on a piece of matzah.
7. Passover Mayo…with Olive Oil
Jewish legal and ethical texts especially note that misleading the public is a terrible sin. Intentionally making false or misleading labelling claims would be violating the high ethical standards of Judaism. This product is highlighting olive oil, however the second ingredient is cottonseed oil (again, see number 1). Olive oil is way down at number 5 on the list. This is misleading to consumers, pretending to be a healthier choice.
8. Flavoured Breakfast Cereal
Everyone knows that Passover breakfast cereals are a sorry substitute, to say the least. This rainbow coloured variety, however, is full of artificial colours and flavours. If you must have a cold cereal for passover, try the plain varieties and add your own fruitiness with some fresh berries.
9. Soup Base
The number one ingredient here is salt and number three is MSG. This product contains 50% of your daily sodium intake in just one teaspoon (1 cup of prepared soup)!! If you must use a mix, try to find a low-sodium variety. Because this is a parve mix, extra artificial flavours and sodium are needed to make up for the lack of real chicken flavour. A parve soup mix is not even necessary if you are using it for chicken dishes, as the box suggests.
10. Tomato Sauce...with vodka
Just one more Passover money grab, creating products that are unnecessary. Prepare a sauce from scratch easily by pureeing some fresh or unsalted canned tomatoes and add your own herbs/spices. Rather that adding it to the sauce, why not drink your shot of vodka while preparing it? Although traditionally vodka was made from potatoes, which are Kosher for Passover, some vodkas are now made from grains. Be sure to purchase a specially certified Kosher for Passover vodka.
11. Imitation Soy Sauce
Similar to imitation mustard, this product has made it's way to the Passover aisle due to restrictions of soy-based products (see number 5 re: kitniyot). This product is basically liquid MSG and should definitely be avoided. If you are looking to add a salty flavour, just add salt. Add flavour to your dishes with fresh herbs and spices. If you are looking for flavouring for a stir-fry, try fresh ginger and garlic.
12. Fruit Snacks
Here we take an issue with the ingredients, but also with the marketing (see number 7). The statement on the front of the package: "Made with real fruit" tells us that the company is trying to promote it as being healthier than other similar kosher for passover products on the market. However, just below that statement you will find the words "natural and artificial flavor" in smaller print. The ingredients include fruit juice concentrate, but also sugar, starch, added flavour, mineral oil and 4 different food dyes.
Why not just eat REAL fruit? All fresh fruits are kosher for passover: no special supervision is required. Dried fruits would also make a great substitute but are often coated with starch to prevent sticking, thus require a special kosher for Passover certification. The downside is that all kosher for Passover dried fruits on the market contain unnecessary, added preservatives. If you are looking for something packaged and great for on the go…try a banana.
Focus on eating whole foods as much as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meat/poultry/fish, eggs, nuts. Try to stick to whole grain matzah and matzah products to avoid constipation. For any specific kashrut concerns, contact your rabbi.
Have a healthy and kosher Passover!
For a selection of healthy, Passover-friendly recipes, check out The Organic Kosher Cookbook - Holiday Edition. Currently on sale for 50% off while supplies last!
Rabbi Wayne Allen is a recognized authority on Jewish law. www.rabbiwayneallen.ca
Aviva Allen is a Toronto-based nutritionist.