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Kosher Coke bubbles up for Passover

Shopper SelmFeder checks out latest shipment kosher Coke with Hungarian Kosher Foods employees Sanford Abramowitz Caryn Bean (right). | Phoby

Shopper Selma Feder checks out the latest shipment of kosher Coke with Hungarian Kosher Foods employees Sanford Abramowitz and Caryn Bean (right). | Photo by George Schaefer

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Updated: April 14, 2014 2:36PM

Kosher Coke. It’s the real thing.

The weekend before Passover begins, it flies off the shelves at stores such as Hungarian Kosher Foods in Skokie.

For Passover, which begins Monday evening and ends April 22, Coca-Cola produces limited batches of its soft drink in accordance with kosher standards — using a blended natural sweetener derived in part from sugar cane instead of high fructose syrup made from corn, which is forbidden during Passover because it is considered a leavening agent.

But even people who aren’t Jewish pour out in droves to pick up the limited kosher bottles. “At Passover, we see a lot of customers that we don’t normally see throughout the rest of the year,” said Caryn Bean, an employee at Hungarian Kosher Foods. “They come in specifically for kosher Coke because they know it’s made with natural sugar.”

The first batches of the season arrive around the first or second week of March. Two-liter bottles sealed with a bright yellow cap (as opposed to red) sell for $1.99 each, the same price as the regular two-liter of Coke.

Although many North Shore locations carry kosher Coke during Passover, it’s not always easy to find elsewhere. In California, for instance, kosher Coke was a no-show the last two Passovers, which was partly due to a tug-of-war over packaging requirements.

There are even those who hunt down Coca-Cola made in Mexico to obtain that classic taste but with natural sweetening. But that’s not the same as kosher Coke. The difference, a Coca-Cola representative said, is that although the batches are made with cane sugar, unlike kosher Coke, Coca-Cola from Mexico does not contain a blend of sweeteners and there is no rabbi who approves the product as kosher.

That process all started in the 1930s when Tobias Geffen, an Orthodox rabbi and dedicated Coke fan, scoured through Coca-Cola’s secret list of ingredients to determine if the recipe and production process was kosher-compliant. Geffen lived in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola is headquartered.

His research and advocacy inspired changes at Coca-Cola that are still in motion today. For products that are kosher for Passover, all ingredients and manufacturing processes are under rabbinical supervision to assure the Jewish population that certified ingredients and processes are used in the products, according to Coca-Cola. In the United States, the Coca-Cola Co. has contracted with the Orthodox of Union of Jewish Congregations to certify its concentrates and syrups as kosher.

But not everyone is satisfied with kosher Coke as is. Lately, there’s been some demand for variety. “More and more people come in looking for caffeine-free kosher Coke,” said Hungarian Kosher Foods manager Sanford Abramowitz.

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