Kosher consumers don’t just worry about mixing meat and milk, or avoiding meat that hasn’t been slaughtered according to Jewish law. The Torah also forbids eating insects. Israel, with its warm climate and location at the crossroads of three continents, has a large variety and I have found them in almost every food at one time or another.
Grains and leafy vegetables, most likely to attract bugs, are often not eaten at all. Romaine lettuce, served as a bitter herb at the Passover seder, has tiny green insects that cling to its leaves.
Around twenty years ago, farmers in Gush Katif, the region of Jewish settlement in Gaza, developed techniques to grown produce with a minimum of insects. Before marketing, a sample would be taken and checked. If ten percent was found to be insect-free, the produce could be labelled as such.
Since Gaza was transferred to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 a large number of companies have continued the bug-free industry. Many rabbinates require restaurants only to use certified bug-free produce.
In honor of Passover, the rabbinate sent 22 brands of “bug-free” lettuce and celery to a laboratory to check for insects. Unfortunately they did not publish the laboratory results, only this recommendation:
- 4 types “should be soaked in soapy water as directed on the package”
- 11 types “must be soaked in soapy water”
- 7 types “must be soaked in soapy water and checked leaf by leaf”
Insect-free produce is often of lower quality, and always more expensive, than regular. Clearly there is no point in buying “bug-free” produce that needs to be checked.
A few months ago, a group of rabbis declared some of the bug-free produce “non-kosher” because of the amount of pesticides. According to a letter accompanying the PDF file, the rabbinate is awaiting results on the pesticide levels of the produce. But to be fair, the pesticide levels would need to be compared to those in uncertifed produce.
Insects Keep Falling on My Head (on Sukkot, that is)