The Kosher World of Dr. Pepper
By Beatrice Sky - THE CLOCK DIAL
Nearly six million American Jews will observe Passover beginning April 15 and the eight-day celebration will not be without the traditional fares of kosher foods and beverages including Dr Pepper.
Kosher certification of all food products is necessary for adherence to strict Jewish dietary laws. Since 1970, Dr Pepper packages advertised or sold under kosher label have carried the circle K symbol, testimony that an Orthodox rabbi or group of rabbis has properly researched, evaluated and certified the ingredients as kosher.
For Passover, additional requirements must be met in order to display the capital letter P next to the circle K mark. These kosher letter designations were applied to labels that were affixed to one gallon jugs containing Dr Pepper syrup concentrate made in Dallas in late January.
Authority to declare the syrup kosher an effect the labeling was undertaken by Rabbi Bernard Levy, of New York, president of one of the leading non-profit organizations in the U.S. which certify kosher foods.
Rabbi Levy’s group is The Committee for the Furtherance of Torah Observance and its OK Kosher Certification certifies food products with the familiar letter K inside a circle. (Torah is the body of wisdom and law contained in Jewish Scripture.)
There is a fee for kosher and Passover certification and Dr Pepper is one name on a lengthy and growing list of food manufacturers that buys the service for identification in reaching the large Jewish consumer market.
Seventh Day Adventists and other religious groups also believe strongly in certain aspects of Jewish dietary laws. They recognize and buy quality foods bearing the circle K symbol, according to Rabbi levy. Other food manufacturers with products carrying the OK Kosher Certification seal include Kraft, Hunt-Wesson and General Foods.
Several times a year and preceding Passover, Rabbi Levy is a familiar figure in Dr Pepper’s Dallas syrup facility. His most recent visit revealed a unique aspect of Dr Pepper syrup preparation; one with a specific consumer audience in mind that projects the product’s image far beyond its customary reputation of a good-tasting, quality soft drink.
A mashgiach or “watcher” of food kosherness for 15 years, Rabbi Levy reflects extraordinary interest in his work as a spiritual leader and a professional who understands the complexities of food processing and manufacture.
His scurrying gait and head-down concentration typify an intense duty. His precise tasks are apparent as he peers into open stainless steel containers, pokes his fingers into pipes and faucets, sniffs certain compounded materials and tastes others with the investigative manner of a laboratory Sherlock Holmes.
He could be mistaken for a federal, state or local inspector by watching him probe, touch and examine every point of contact for the kosher product. His inquiry, however, is probably as comprehensive as one devised by any battery of inspectors. Rabbi Levy’s knowledge of food technology is current to the latest information on natural and synthetic flavorings and compounds and he has considerable knowledge of beverage chemistry.
“There are no ingredients in Dr Pepper that would make it non-kosher,” the rabbi observes.
His principal concerns are that regular and Sugar Free Dr Pepper concentrates contain no animal derivatives, mixtures of meat and dairy products or ingredients that are unfit, according to Jewish dietary laws. Preparation vessels and mixing tanks are purged with boiling water and witnessed by Rabbi Levy. Cleansing agents must not contain animal derivatives.
There is one primary distinction for Passover concentrate compared to kosher designation, according to the rabbi. Concentrate with the capital P symbol requires the substitution of caramel coloring in both regular and Sugar Free products.
“Dextrose-base caramel, ordinarily used in both products, must be replaced with a sucrose derivative,” he explained. “This simply means the substitution or corn sugar caramel with caramel with caramel made from cane or beet sugar.” (The ¼ calorie per oz. In Sugar Free Dr Pepper is from the caramel coloring required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.)
Rabbi Levy also insures that no grain alcohol is used in the preparation of ingredients. Again, grain derivatives are forbidden. Synthetic alcohol is used as a solvent in the preparation of certain ingredients but is not found in either Dr Pepper or Sugar Free Dr Pepper formula, assures Charles P. Grier, Dr Pepper vice president-manufacturing. Grier is with Rabbi Levy during the kosher preparation of both concentrates.
Without adding to the cost of kosher-prepared Dr Pepper concentrates, the certification service does give Dr Pepper a marketing advantage, Rabbi Levy added.
As he spoke, one gallon jugs of concentrate, with the appropriate kosher Passover seals, were being crated for shipment to Northeast U.S. markets. Labels showed that primary deliveries would be to New York and Philadelphia bottlers.
During his two days in Dallas, the rabbi certified enough concentrate to make nearly a million gallons of kosher Passover Dr. Pepper.
The business of kosher food certification is a serious one and if foods are advertised or promoted as kosher, they must be prepared under the rigid Jewish dietary laws. Stringent federal and state laws govern the use of the word kosher on package labels as well as preparation of foodstuffs in accordance with Orthodox Hebrew religious requirements.
Rabbi Levy’s Dallas visit attracted the curiosity of a TV reporter with the local PBS (educational) station who had seen a New York Times story (May 18, 1975) on the rabbi’s work. The story contained reference to kosher Dr Pepper and since June of last year, the reporter has been trying to interview Rabbi Levy. On this try, the interview was made, a film story was shot which aired in the Dallas market two nights later.
Media attention is not unusual for Rabbi levy. He attracts onlookers wherever he goes. That includes the Soviet Union and many other countries of the world where clients employ his company’s service.
If Dr Pepper’s international market ever expands to include Israel, the first shipment of concentrate will most likely be escorted by a smiling, black-hatted, bearded rabbi. He does have the inside on at least two subjects.