In the world of processed foods, keeping kosher is a complicated process that can involve individually certifying as many as 100 chemical compounds just to make a single flavoring agent that meets kosher standards.
The problem is where the compounds come from. In the 1930s, Atlanta-area Rabbi Tobias Geffen was asked to help make Coca-Cola kosher. In the process, he realized that glycerin, a chemical additive used to disperse flavors evenly through the soda, was made from rendered animal fat—and there was no clear way to tell whether the fat came from a kosher animal. Geffen decided that even the molecules mattered. Coca-Cola made their kosher brew with cotton-seed oil glycerin instead, and other rabbis have followed Geffen's lead.
Today, you can spot kosher-for-Passover soda by the distinctive yellow cap. In this case, sucrose subs in as the sweetener, in place of corn syrup, as corn is a banned grain during the Passover holiday.
Chemical and Engineering News: Favored Flavors
(Thanks, Aaron Rowe!)
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Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.