What can possibly be not kosher in Sugar?
Well, apparently not very much – at least not during most of the year.
Some years ago, while visiting a Chinese sugar factory, Rav Avraham Rubin, head of the Rechovot Mehadrin kashrut organization, discovered that milk protein was being used as a filtering aid in producing sugar. This finding triggered sensational headlines in some Jewish news sources and stirred up speculation as to the need for increased supervision in the production of kosher sugar.
However, Rav Zvi Goldberg, Kashrus Administrator at the Star-K, points out that the use of a milk derivative as a filtering aid in producing sugar is not as serious of a concern as it may seem at first. In an article published on the Star-K website, Rav Golberg claims that the milk protein used in filtering is removed from the sugar together with the impurities that it absorbed. The amount remaining in the sugar is minuscule and does not affect the kashrut status of the sugar. Also, this use of milk protein in the production of sugar is a rare practice. In the US, for example, such cases are non-existent.
Nevertheless, Rav Golberg agrees that in the wake of Rav Rubin’s discovery, kashrut agencies should be on the lookout for such practices.
There are other seemingly problematic kashrut issues with sugar such as the use of electrically-charged pieces of burnt cattle bones in the discoloration process or the common use of anti-foaming agents derived from non-kosher animals. But Rav Golberg explains why these issues are really not problematic and rules that “the kosher consumer may purchase any pure cane or beet sugar even without kosher certification.“
While the above may be true during most of the year, on Pesach (Passover) there are more serious problems especially in the use of confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar). Often cornstarch is added to the powdered sugar as a free-flow agent to ensure that it does not clump. Cornstarch is considered kitniyot which is off-limits to Ashkenazic Jews on Pesach. Some companies use wheat starch as the free-flow agent which renders the powdered sugar chametz, making it entirely forbidden on Pesach. Moreover, during the manufacturing process, small quantities of the wheat starch may find their way back into the regular sugar. Although this is not a concern for most sugars manufactured in the US, it is best to use only sugars with reliable Pesach certification.
Why doesn’t the prohibition of bishul akum apply to sugar? Why is sugar not subject to the laws of terumot and maaserot? The answers to these and other questions, as well as sources and contact information for further inquiries, can be found in the article entitled ‘Raising Cane: The Kashrus & Other Halachic Issues of Cane Sugar’ on the Star-K web site .
Animal Blood used in Sugar Refineries – by Rav Syshe Heschel, zt”l, Orthodox Union