Starbucks Refreshers: Kosher?
Updated: Jun 24
The hot summer days bring with them all sorts of exciting refreshing drinks… and a plethora of contemporary halachic concerns. A little bit of education can go a long way in ensuring the kashrus of your next Starbucks coffee run.
The following is a loose transcription of an insightful conversation between Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger and Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Director of Kashrus for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, and the Executive Director of AKO. Enjoy the Q&A in which they discuss a rather un-refreshing discovery.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Thank you Rabbi Fishbane for joining us again. Another popular topic is refreshers in Starbucks. Yes, no, maybe? What's the story?
Rabbi Sholem Fishbane: So, believe it or not, refreshers mean a lot of things.
There's not one answer that all refreshers are off the table. But, the more popular ones are actually problematic, and I'll tell you a story. A couple months back, one of my cousins texted me, "Are Starbucks refreshers kosher?" I wrote back, "No." She wrote back, "Well, my friends are all drinking it." I typed back, "It's still not kosher." She asks, "Why not?" I wrote back, "Because it has white grape juice concentrate." Her next response jolted me, it was a good wake up call, she wrote back, "What's wrong with that?"
I was so stunned! Because you know how it is when you're in an industry and you take for granted that everybody else is familiar with the things that you are? If you're in computers, you assume that surely everybody else knows what a motherboard is. So I explained to her the concept of stam yeinam that pertains to grape juice and Baruch Hashem, she and her friends switched their “Refreshers” to something halachically more refreshing.
But, I started asking around, and I found that so many of our Bais Yaakov girls and our Yeshiva graduates didn't know that grape juice is a highly sensitive Kashrus ingredient. It is used widely in many products, especially in products that producers are trying to lower the sugar content. In cookies for example, they'll throw it in because it gives it some sweetness; my inquiries revealed to me that the oilem just didn't know it was non-kosher.
The white grape juice concentrate is part of the drink’s base, you won’t see it of course, but it’s there. It can also show up in Starbucks’ lemonade.
Rabbi Hisiger: You won’t see anyone squeezing grapes in the store.
Rabbi Sholem Fishbane: Exactly, but since we know what the ingredients are, we’re familiar with the issue and it’s something people are simply not aware of.
I have had many instances where I walked into a Starbucks and saw unzere menschen having that and I’d go over to them and tell them, "Listen, I don't like to intrude, but I must tell you that this drink is not kosher." And they’re shocked.
I will also tell you, one of the things that they'll throw into a refresher many times is a cut lime or lemon. Since it's a davar charif, (‘a sharp item’) it has to be under supervision. A davar charif cut with a knife that's not kosher, becomes non-kosher.
Rabbi Hisiger: That touches upon the whole Starbucks keilim issue, pertaining to the utensils being used behind the counter.
Rabbi Fishbane: Oh, It's a whole other topic, we could be here for hours to talk about that… While there’s much to be enjoyed at Starbucks for the kosher consumer, there are also a host of other issues to be aware of, many of which are really major problems.
I’ll add another thing. It’s also a different topic but since you mentioned squeezing grape juice, it brought to mind another important issue.
You know, sometimes you go into these supermarkets and they'll prepare a freshly squeezed fruit drink for you? They'll take the orange, a pineapple or whatever and that can possibly be fine. However, if they're also adding grapes to the mix, and they're making juice for you, that's actually stam yeinam right in front of their eyes! You’d think it's fresh, what can be wrong?
Rabbi Hisiger: So, limaaseh, stay away from refreshers?
Rabbi Fishbane: Yes, and also understand why. We need education about what goes into our foods. Just because you see that someone else is drinking it, doesn’t give it a stamp of approval. People are pashut unaware of the issues.
I mentioned the story to a friend of mine, and he says, "Oh my, I drink that! Whenever my wife goes to a Starbucks I ask her to bring one home too." His wife was also shocked. She said, "I didn't know! All my friends have been drinking it."
So, association and thinking that because other people are enjoying something it’s automatically kosher. That's one of the problems that we're trying to tackle, and R’ Yitzcok, thanks to you for bringing awareness. People have to understand what it is that goes on behind the scenes, and then they’ll have a different mehalech, a different outlook, and hopefully we'll all keep a higher level of Kashrus.
Yitzchok Hisiger: We want to help the consumer become “an educated consumer”. Rabbi Fishbane thank you for enlightening us.
Rabbi Fishbane: Thank you.
The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the presenters & authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of other halachic opinions or the entities they represent. The mission of the Kashrus Awareness Project is to inform and educate the kosher consumer to know what to look out for and what to inquire about. The Kashrus Awareness Campaign receives guidance from AKO, an umbrella association of kashrus organizations. For all questions you have regarding halacha, please consult with your own morei derech. We recommend our readers to double check and seek out the latest information available.