Kosher distillers corn oil opens market prospects for glycerin

By Ron Kotrba | June 29, 2016

With nearly a fifth of the U.S. biodiesel feedstock market share today, distillers corn oil (DCO) derived from the ethanol production process is contributing more glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel production, to the marketplace. But, according to Rabbi Abraham Juravel, the rabbinic coordinator of technical services for the Orthodox Union, if that DCO is not kosher, then the food-market opportunities for its glycerin are limited.

What defines kosher is a set of rules laid out in the Torah in the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible and researched in the Talmud, one of the central works of Judaism. The Torah dictates what types of food can and cannot be eaten and how they must be prepared in accordance with Jewish law.

Juravel spoke on the importance of glycerin being certified kosher to open market opportunities for producers during a panel June 21 at the National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo in Milwaukee, co-located with the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.

“Crude vegetable oil by its very nature is kosher,” Juravel said. “To refine it, however, we have to qualify the refining process to make sure it’s kosher. You can’t kosherize a deodorizer.” Juravel said some vegetable oil refining operations—but not many anymore—refine both animal fats and vegetable oils. These operations would not qualify as kosher. “There are strict rules on meat,” he said. “There is no animal fat or edible tallows on the market that are kosher.”

He noted the unique case of the Super Tomato, which had an animal gene inserted in it to give it longer shelf life. “Jewish people questioned, ‘Can I eat this because it has an animal gene in it?’ For questions like that, we go to the senior rabbis. If you plant a pig and it grows out of the ground, it’s considered a vegetable and therefore it can be eaten. What the senior rabbis determined is that the first generation Super Tomato with the animal gene in it could not be eaten, but subsequent generations that grew from the ground could.”

Juravel said many of the big players, including Proctor & Gamble, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, produce kosher glycerin. “If it’s not kosher, the market is much more limited,” he said.

Glycerin is a ubiquitous food additive used in a variety of products from Raisin Bran cereal to certain types of bread, Juravel said. “It’s all over,” he said. “So that’s why you need to be in the kosher business.”

Ethanol producers extracting DCO for the biodiesel market should consider what demulsifiers they use in the extraction process and how this might affect marketing of DCO and resulting glycerin from biodiesel production, Juravel said. “Sometimes the process involves demulsifiers, which help separate the oil from the distillers grains,” said Juravel, adding that polysorbate 80, which may or may not be kosher, is often used. “Polysorbate 80 could be from animals or vegetables,” he said. Juravel noted there are several demulsifier suppliers including Croda and Fremont Industries that have kosher options for demulsifiers.

Juravel concluded that, in order to open market opportunities, “The biodiesel industry should be careful to make sure they’re producing kosher glycerin.”