For thousands of years we have survived without swine. But there seems to be a growing fascination with the pig’s forbidden fruits — in the United States that is.
Last year saw the publication of Geila Hochenbaum’s Kosher Modern. The cover shows prosciutto-like meat, with the blurb boasting that Hochenbaum went “traif for a period giving her first-hand knowledge of the tastes and textures she is aiming to replicate”.
Once upon a time — and for those of a certain generation, still — traif consumption was done at the shadiest tables in premises so off the beaten track you were not at risk being glimpsed by passing Cohens. It was not something of which you were out and proud.
Hocherman’s book includes some delicious recipes including peshwari challah, middle eastern courgette cakes with tahini sauce alongside more traditional favourites. And there is a range of recipes emulating non-kosher dishes, such as crab cakes (using crab-flavoured seafood substitute Surimi), lentil soup with “ham” made from smoked turkey leg, and the aforementioned prosciutto, made from duck breast.
Her view is that she is simply using kosher ingredients appearing in gourmet stores in her native New York. “Jews have always had a tradition of adapting food from places we’ve lived,” she asserts, adding: “There is nothing wrong with kosher food. It just could be better.”
Hocherman’s book is part of a bigger trend. The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper has carried a series of bacon-related articles. One highlighted Californian Rabbi Menachem Creditor who had posted a Facebook picture of the Torani brand “bacon-flavoured syrup” with the comment: “This is hechshered bacon-flavoured syrup. Not sure where to begin”.
Kosher bacon syrup? The traif tasting syrup was inspired by a craze among trendy US barmen for using bacon flavour in cocktails. The mixologists achieved this via a process called “fat washing” — bourbon is infused with bacon flavour by freezing it with rendered bacon fat. Once the flavour is absorbed the alcohol is strained and used to produce porcine cocktails. Yeuch.
According to the Forward, syrup manufacturer Torani jumped on the bandwagon, adding bacon to their repertoire. Its syrups are kosher and Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, who licenses them, visited on the bacon flavour’s production day. Relishing the opportunity to taste bacon, he apparently went the whole hog and slapped a hechscher on it. The syrup’s smokey bacon flavour is derived from smoked soy and wheat. Recipes on Torani’s website include a stomach-churning Bacon Shake and unappetising cocktails Bacon Alexander and Porkbelly Popper.
In California, kosher catering company Epic Bites, run by Yitshak Bernstein and Eitan Esan, is making pancetta from lamb and veal lardons and duck ham, cut paper thin. It has even developed a bacon jam.
Like Hocherman, Esan had moved away from a previous observant life and eaten ham and bacon. He has again embraced Jewish dietary restrictions but says he “is not about to give the [traif] stuff up”.
Epic Bites uses it own blends of seasonings to achieve the flavours. “It’s all about the fat-meat ratio and the salty, smoky, sweet savoury, slightly acid taste,” it says. Bernstein is now taking his kosher traif to New York where demand is high.
With the speed of the internet, this news will percolate through Jewish society as fast as a bubbe on a skateboard, and for certain groups of people, the opportunity to taste and eat previously forbidden food types will be an event. After all, the contents are not forbidden — it is merely the conception and the surrounding Jewish din. Many US trends cross the Atlantic, so will those porky products arrive here? It does not look like it.
A member of staff at Golder’s Green store Kosher Kingdom said they “used to stock bacon bits but their customers found it so offensive they removed it from their shelves”. Similarly Torani’s UK distributor has no appetite for the swine-inspired syrup. “We have some weird products but not that, not ever.”