Believe it or not, Coke makes a special version of their drink for Passover. It’s called Kosher for Passover Coke! Why is this a big deal? Keep reading…
Passover is a Jewish holiday that marks the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. The story can be found in Exodus 12, where God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites during the final plague of the 10 Plagues of Egypt, the killing of the first-born. On the night of that plague, the Jews smeared their doorposts with the blood of the Passover sacrifice and were spared.
Passover is an eight day holiday which begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and concludes on the 22nd. In English, that would mean that this year Passover runs from April 13-20. During this celebration, the diets of those who observe the Jewish faith are more restricted. Leavened bread, or chametz, is off limits. Jewish law prohibits one from owning, eating, or benefiting from any chametz during Passover.
For something to be considered chametz and off limits it has to either be one of the five primary grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats) or needs to have fermented in contact with water for 18 minutes. Often some additionally refrain from a group of foods called kitniot This includes rice, corn, lentils, and beans.
What’s the issue here? Well, since 1985, after the New Coke disaster, Coke did a sneaky little thing. Prior to this date, regular Coke was sweetened with sugar. Then they rolled out New Coke, which used the same sweeter formula as Diet Coke (except that New Coke used high fructose corn syrup as its sweetener, while Diet Coke used aspartame). The public reacted, New Coke was mocked, and Coke brought back the original formula as Coca-Cola Classic.
With one small change!
They replaced the original sugar formula with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Today, that sweetener is used in pretty much all soft drinks in the U.S. Why? Two reasons (if you believe the commonly held political explanation). The first is cost. HFCS is cheaper thanks to subsidies that the government provides to grow and use corn. The second is tariffs that are placed on the purchase of sugar, which makes it more expensive to buy. This is why sugar is still used in Canada and other countries to sweeten soft drinks, but everything in America uses high fructose corn syrup.
Technically speaking, because of the use of HFCS, most soft drink products are not considered “Kosher for Passover” during this time of year. To solve this problem, Coke actually manufactures some of their products with real sugar to meet the Jewish market demands. They don’t use cane sugar in this process, but rather Sucrose, which is the refined white sugar you get when you process sugar beets. This is the type of sugar you’d find in cooking sugar, like the stuff made by Domino. Chemically, beet sugar is the same as cane sugar, but it’s more expensive and provides a different aftertaste. Some niche drink companies use cane sugar to differentiate their products. Also, Coke made in Mexico (which has become a very popular import these days) uses cane sugar because it’s easily available and cheap.
Chicagoland has a pretty substantial Jewish population, especially on the North Shore. As such, Kosher for Passover Coke is in ready supply here. Why would someone like myself, who isn’t Jewish, even care? Because this is Coke made the way it was originally made… with sugar! It’s ideal for a soda enthusiast who would like to try something a little different from the norm. In this case, it’s actually authentic! So the other day I drove to a Kosher supermarket in Skokie to pick up some Kosher for Passover Coke.
This supermarket, called Hungarian Kosher Foods, is the Midwest’s largest Kosher supermarket (yippee!). It’s under direct supervision of the Chicago Rabbinical Council when it comes to determining what you can/cannot eat this time of year. CRC is the largest Orthodox regional Rabbinical organization in North America.
As I walked through the place, it was odd. Attached to the category listings and aisle numbers above each aisle were signs that read “This aisle is Kosher” and “This aisle is NOT Kosher”. In the back were the “CRC-approved” bottles and cans of Coke. You could tell these were different because the had the CRC logo… and also listed “Sucrose” instead of “High Fructose Corn Syrup” as the primary sweetener. 2 liter bottles of this type often have yellow caps. There wasn’t much to differentiate the 6-packs, however.
Amy and I decided to taste test standard Coke against Kosher for Passover Coke. (For the sake of this test, I’ll refer to the normal Coke you can buy anywhere as “HFCS Coke”). We poured a glass of HFCS Coke and a glass of the crazy Passover stuff. Right away you could tell something was different. The “bouquet” was obvious, if you’d like to make a parallel to champaign. Kosher for Passover Coke had very tiny, small bubbles… whereas HFCS Coke had very large bubbles.
We took sips of each glass, separated by eating crackers to cleanse our pallets. The result? Kosher for Passover Coke is freakin’ awesome! It SOOOO rocks! HFCS Coke has somewhat of a bitter aftertaste. According to Amy, with HFCS Coke you could taste the sweetener, even if it wasn’t something odd used in diet drinks. By contrast the Kosher for Passover Coke had a very natural sweet flavor. It was nicer and less “chemical” tasting, if that makes any sense. It’s the drink you’d probably want to have out of the two if given the choice.
Overall, we were blown away by the drastic difference between Kosher for Passover Coke and the regular drivel that’s on the shelves the rest of the year. Stock up now if you have the chance and enjoy some carbonated soda goodness!