Keep The Schmaltz, Hold The Trans Fat


My Most Favorite Food, a popular kosher restaurant and bakery in mid-Manhattan, next week joins the likes of KFC, Burger King and the manufacturers of Girl Scout cookies in looking for a new ingredient. All they want is a fat chance: an ingredient that does not contain trans fat, that is.

With a ban on trans fat looming over all New York City restaurants, My Most Favorite is about to experiment with an oil (without trans fat but with an acceptable kashrut heksher) that will be used in most of its pareve bakery products, said Scott Magram, chief executive officer.

"We have been very active in looking into this," he said.

The ban, which was the subject of a city Board of Health public hearing on Monday and would go into effect next July, would prohibit some 20,000 restaurants in the city from serving food that contains more than a minute amount of artificial trans fats, chemically modified ingredients commonly found in baked goods, salad dressings and frying oils.

Most kosher food firms here will feel minimum effect from the ban under consideration by the Bloomberg administration, either because they have already changed their ingredients to comply with the proposed regulation, or because traditional (that is, Ashkenazi) food like deli meats and knishes, while high in calories, rarely contain trans fats, said Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today magazine and founder of the Lubicom marketing firm."

Kosher eateries surveyed by Kosher Today say that they had already considerably reduced the use of trans fats ingredients," the magazine reported last year. The publication quoted the owner of one Manhattan glatt kosher restaurant as stating "Our customers have sent us the message that they want diversity in the menu, usually meaning less fats."

The primary change at kosher restaurants would be the oils used for frying, or for making some non-dairy baked goods.

Magram said he found through an Internet search an acceptable oil to replace the margarine that is now used in many of his restaurant’s baked goods. "I’m not 100 percent sure how this is going to translate into recipes," he said, adding, "It should not be a difficult transition. I think we’ll be fine with it."

The proposed ban, part of a national trend toward more nutritious ingredients and additives, has already affected such major companies as KFC, Burger King and the makers of Girl Scout cookies, which have already switched or are about to switch to frying oils and ingredients without trans fats.

For kosher firms like My Most Favorite, the main problem posed by the local ban will probably be finding an acceptable oil that is kosher for Passover, Magram said. "For Passover, I don’t think there are any products out there."

The ban may prove difficult for some smaller restaurants, but no more for kosher firms than for non-kosher ones, said Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus magazine. "We have the same problem that they do.

"I don’t believe that the Jewish diet is more prone to [health risks posed by trans fats] than the non-kosher diet," Rabbi Wikler said. "There are those establishments that serve healthful foods, and those that serve food filled with high-calorie contents."

Despite its unhealthful reputation, the Jewish fare that has come to be known as traditional Jewish food poses no special problems for local restaurant and bakery owners who may have to adapt their offerings to conform with the ban, according to kosher industry experts.

"I don’t think kosher cuisine is especially susceptible" to problems caused by the mandated changes, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrus Division. "I don’t think there is anything unique to the Jewish stores."

"It’s more of an annoyance" than a major imposition, said author-chef Jeffrey Nathan.

"It will be a little harder in the pareve baking," where trans fat oils are thought to improve the quality of the product, said Nathan, of Abigael’s on Broadway. "In general, restaurants that serve desserts [in which] butter is replaced by shortenings or margarine that have trans fat will have to find another kind of shortening.

"I don’t fry anything in oil that has trans fat," he added.

Physicians and nutritionists believe that trans fats, invented in the early 1900s as a substitute for such natural fats as butter and lard, increase the risk of heart disease. They are less expensive than natural fats and have a longer shelf life.

A sampling of kosher restaurant owners and managers contacted by The Jewish Week said they were not fully familiar with details of the proposed ban. Most said they believe they are already in compliance. "I’m already trans fat free," said Nissim Douek of The Wok, a fast-food Chinese restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens. "I don’t have to make any changes."

"I think [the trans fat ban] is not going to affect chain restaurants," but may be more difficult to enforce at small, mom-and-pop restaurants, said a manager at Broadway’s Jerusalem II who gave his name as Al. "It will definitely affect us," particularly in finding new oils for frying and baking.

Sam Gross, a manager at Kosher Delight in midtown Manhattan, said the ban would be noticed only in the selection of a new oil for deep-frying items like french fries or egg rolls. Rabbi Wikler said consumers can avoid the problems associated with trans fat-laden foods by turning to another traditional Jewish food, which does not contain the additive. "Chicken soup is not affected by this."