Take a Pass on Passover Markups

by Margie Fishman on 16 April 2011 1 comment
Photo: SpecialKRB

The Jewish holiday of Passover (April 19-26 this year) celebrates the exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt, when they filled their baking pans with unleavened dough and left slavery behind for the wide-open possibilities of the desert.

But that doesn’t mean modern-day Jews need to be slaves to exorbitant kosher-for-Passover markups. Passover food tends to run 20% above already inflated kosher prices. We’re talking $5 jars of jelly and $6 boxes of cereal. Sure, the certification process is time-consuming, requiring around-the-clock supervision, sterilized production equipment, and rabbi-approved individual ingredients. But with limited competition, food companies are taking full advantage.

In the early 1990s, the three major Passover food manufacturers — Manischewitz, Streit’s, and Horowitz — were implicated in a price-fixing scheme. Fines were levied and kosher food donations secured, but little has changed despite mounting complaints.

The time has come for consumers to take back the leaven-free holiday. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Learn to Cook

Hit up your grandmother for some of her favorite kosher-for-Passover recipes, roast your own veggies, bake your own apples, or buy some matzo meal and go to town. I know it’s time-consuming, but do you really want to pay $12 for a Passover fruit cake that tastes like yard art? Buy cheaper cuts of meat or, better yet, go fish. (See also: How to Shop for Fresh Fish)

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2. Be Label-Conscious

Depending on your Jewish sect and observance level, not every food item needs a kosher-for-Passover seal of approval. Fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, fresh meat and fish, as well as detergents and scouring powders are certified kosher year-round. Even unopened packages of coffee, pure white sugar, spices, honey, milk, butter, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and baking soda are perfectly fine if they were purchased before Passover, according to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Committee on Law and Standards. Combine these ingredients with the tip above, and you’ll have enough money leftover for a fancy-schmancy Seder plate.

In general, the following items always need a kosher-for-Passover label: baked goods, wine, candy, canned tuna, and bottled juices. For a complete list, check out this article on what to eat and not eat during Passover. Certain foods are banned entirely, including leavened bread, cakes, crackers, wheat, barley, and oats. Beware of matzah that is not marked kosher-for-Passover (yes, people really do eat matzah at other times of the year). Some Jews even feed Fido table scraps and matzo farfel or loan him to a non-Jew during Passover to avoid the inevitable dog-food conflicts.

3. Jump on the Gluten-Free Bandwagon

Our gluten-intolerant friends really paved the way for Passover cuisine. The holiday’s dietary restrictions are largely gluten-free. Trader Joe's has a huge selection of tasty, non-wheat goodies without the Passover price tag. Just be sure to check the ingredients. If you have wheat allergies, remember that the reverse isn’t always true — just because something is OK for Passover doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free. (See also: Homemade Gluten-Free Noodles and Homemade Gluten-Free Bread)

4. Buy in Bulk

More is less when it comes to buying Passover food in bulk. Join a food co-op through a Jewish organization or hightail it to Costco. The major discount chain has significantly expanded its kosher and kosher-for-Passover offerings in recent years, including its private-label Kirkland Signature brand. The largest selection is still concentrated in the northeast and in South Florida. Costco’s location in Lawrence, NY, for instance, has been dubbed the Costco Kosher Capital.

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J.

Processed Passover food is expensive and usually unhealthy (cottonseed oil! terrible.). So cook with fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, simple dairy products, and extra virgin olive oil. Cheaper, healthier, better tasting. Chag Sameach!