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By Leon Cohen
The three varieties of kosher for Passover horseradish made by Silver Spring Foods.
Wisconsin didn’t exist when ancient Jews celebrated the first Passover seders. But today, a company in the state helps many U.S. Jews with an essential part of the ceremony.
That part is the horseradish that often is used for the moror or bitter herbs, whose taste is supposed to suggest the bitterness of ancient Egyptian slavery.
The company is called Silver Spring Foods, located in Eau Claire. In fact, “We’re the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish” in general, said Shawn Kapanke, the company’s vice president of manufacturing operations, in a telephone interview on March 13.
This company has existed since 1929. That is when Ellis Huntsinger founded Huntsinger Farms, of which Silver Spring Foods is a subsidiary.
Today, the farm owns about 9,000 acres in Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to Margot Dahling, a food scientist at the company.
And the company has been providing kosher foods since the mid-1950s, according to Amber Leininger, the company’s assistant marketing manager.
The root of the plant contains oils that provide the “hot” taste. This characteristic of the plant apparently has been known for centuries, and the ground roots have been employed as a condiment and a medicine.
However, horseradish root quickly loses its potency after grinding if it is not stored properly or is exposed to air. So it has to be processed by combining it with vinegar, plant oil, salt and other products.
Rabbi Reuven Drori
This is where Silver Spring Foods comes in. And keeping its production kosher, including kosher for Passover, is where Rabbi Reuven Drori of St. Paul, Minn., comes in.
In a telephone interview on March 13, Drori said he has been working as a kosher supervisor since 1985. The Orthodox Union hired him to be a “rabbinical field representative” to work with food processing plants in Minnesota and South Dakota as well as Wisconsin.
Drori said he supervises some 80 such operations in his region. He also said he has been working with Silver Spring Foods for between 15 and 20 years.
Part of the year
The company’s officials said many of the firm’s products are kosher for yearly consumption — not only horseradish but the mustards and sauces that Silver Spring also makes.
Making kosher for Passover horseradish, however, requires special preparation and scheduling.
The company takes orders in late December from distributors who provide the processed horseradish to stores. “Most of our volume goes to the east coast, the New York and Pennsylvania areas,” said Kapanke.
Once the orders are in, a section of the plant is segregated for kosher for Passover production.
The machines used have to be cleaned and made kosher for Passover. Drori supervises this process.
He said the machines have to be cleaned and sanitized; but then they have to be allowed to sit idle for 24 hours so lingering flavors from the earlier production are allowed to dissipate.
Then the parts of the machines are dipped into boiling water in a tank. “That takes a few hours, depending on what equipment they want to use,” said Drori.
Depending on the number of customers ordering, the cleansing and koshering process can take anywhere from three days to a week, Drori said.
Then the ingredients for making the mixture are assembled. “We have only certain ingredients we can use during Passover,” said Dahling. Moreover, the production room “is essentially on lockdown and only Passover ingredients that are clearly marked are allowed in that room,” she said.
Drori explained further that there are five grains — wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt — products from which cannot be used for Passover food preparation.
In addition, in the Ashkenazic (eastern European) Jewish tradition, products derived from some other grains and from legumes are also forbidden.
What this means for kosher for Passover horseradish processing is that the ground horseradish root cannot be combined with oils like the soybean oil (soybean is a legume) used in other Silver Spring horseradish preparations, nor with vinegar fermented from alcohol resulting from fermented grains.
Instead, Silver Spring mixes the ground horseradish with kosher for Passover cottonseed oil and vinegar. Drori said he inspects these and all other ingredients “before they even come to the plant.”
Company officials said it takes about a week to make enough kosher for Passover horseradish to fill the orders. During that time Drori watches the whole process.
“You have to make sure nobody is going to bring in something not kosher for Passover,” he said. “When the workers take a break and have lunch and things like that, you have to make sure they wash their hands and sanitize” before they return to work.
The company makes three varieties of kosher for Passover horseradish — “Prepared Horseradish,” “Prepared Horseradish Extra Hot” and “Prepared Horseradish with Beets.”
On the company’s website, information about these items is displayed along with kosher for Passover recipes for other foods using the horseradish as one of the ingredients.
The website also includes lists by state of stores at which Silver Springs Foods products can be bought. One can check the list for Wisconsin and contact individual stores to see if they are available there.