While it was easy to be seduced by the samples of heimishe potato kugel, deep-fried fish, hot dogs, and deli, visitors to Kosherfest 2018 also encountered food that was decidedly lower in cholesterol, less-processed, and maybe, even, sorta healthy.
Some of the 300 vendors at the annual kosher products trade show in Secaucus touted healthy foods with natural ingredients. Who can argue, for example, with the vendor hawking medjool dates who extolled the large amount of potassium in each dried gem?
Some 5,000 people attended the Nov. 13-14 show, open specifically to kosher industry professionals and members of the press, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. While many vendors were from the New York metropolitan area, there were also representatives from Israel, Japan, London, Italy, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, the Philippines, India, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Curacao.
Among the 42 vendors from New Jersey — which included food purveyors, alcohol distributors, cookware companies, and more — were several stand-out small businesses that sold products ranging from Moroccan sweets to artisanal chocolates, gourmet cheeses, and specialty challahs.
“There’s nothing you can’t eat or get kosher anymore,” said Shani
Seidman, director of marketing at the Newark-based Manischewitz. Staffers were busy giving out snack-sized bags of the traditional Tam Tams crackers but with a twist — Sriracha and barbecue flavored.
Convenience for consumers is also a driving factor in their products line; for example, the company now sells bags of pre-sliced frozen (and gluten-free) gefilte fish that are kosher for Passover. “It’s a different landscape” for the kosher consumer now, Seidman said.
While large companies such as Manischewitz and Royal Wine Corp., with headquarters in Bayonne, may have had prominent spots at Kosherfest, other smaller N.J.-based companies made their own (sweet) mark.
One new vendor, Meska Sweets, won Kosherfest’s Best “Sweet Snacks and Cookies” category this year for his Moroccan-style cookies flavored with orange blossom water and almonds. With roots in Casablanca, the company specializes in almond crescent-shaped cookies, macarons (not to be confused with the coconut-flavored macaroons popular during Passover), biscotti, and the honey sesame chebakia, a fried, flower-shaped cookie soaked in orange blossom-flavored honey and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. Gluten-free products are also available.
Produced in Totowa, the pareve products only recently become kosher under OU supervision. General manager Mehdi Menouar is not Jewish himself, but received many requests from suppliers to become kosher; his products are not sold in stores but are available through catering facilities, restaurants, and online at meskasweets.com. He acknowledged the limits of his niche “in the sense that all there is is chocolate chip cookies and brownies in the marketplace today,” but believes his products, which contain no preservatives or food colorants, will bring in “a whole new set of flavors” for discerning consumers.
Also playing to the sophisticated kosher palate is Vintage Cheesecrafters, based in Long Branch.
Customers are “looking for more unique types of dairy and this is something different,” said Jonah Shemueli, brother of the company’s president Avi Shemueli.
The two-month-old business is a spinoff of the family’s Deal-based catering company and store, Rivka’s Catering and Sarah’s Tent. Among the products showcased in a platter at Kosherfest were Syrian, fresh mozzarella, and string cheese — not the stick that comes in a plastic sleeve but a vacuum-sealed braided mass of white deliciousness that can be shredded into strips.
The dairy products were initially sold at Sarah’s Tent and their original recipes are inspired by the family’s Syrian grandmother. “Everything we make is authentic,” Jonah said. Flavorings such as mahleb (derived from cherries) and black nigella seeds are added to the basic cheese recipe of skim milk, vinegar, and salt.
Now the cheeses are produced at a plant in Secaucus with machinery that “replicates the hand-made process,” said Jonah, and the string cheese is hand-braided. The plan is to launch a line of Greek and Italian cheeses under the purview of cheesemakers from the Mediterranean.
The popular Yoni’s Pretzel Challah, locally sold in ShopRite in flavors such as whole wheat, jalapeno, olive and za’atar, and chocolate chip, has expanded its glutinous line to sliced bread under the brand name Yoni’s Brooklyn Bakery (based in Fair Lawn).
Sliced bread varieties include French peasant and sourdough, and all products contain natural ingredients, including fermented wheat and vinegar as preservatives.
For Dana Siletsky, developing a product with a “clean label” was a priority to meet customers’ demands for what they perceive as healthy foods. Siletsky is company adviser and wife of Yoni Siletsky, proprietor of the rising dough empire.
“The more we learn about food ingredients, the more important they become to us to set a standard to what should be acceptable,” she wrote in an email to NJJN.
About unhealthy ingredients, she wrote, if “[I] wouldn’t feed it to my baby, I certainly would not feed it to my customers.”
For Paterson-based Kontos, a manufacturer of flatbreads and other Mediterranean-style foods, adhering to Jewish and Muslim rules regarding food signifies more than the application of religious strictures.
According to Demetrios Haralambatos, corporate executive chef of Kontos, “We feel that by being certified kosher and certified halal that we are proving to the consumer that the product we’re providing is pure, it’s healthy, and it’s clean.”
NJJN Managing Editor Shira Vickar-Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Deputy Managing Editor Lori Silberman Brauner can be reached at email@example.com.