Passover is two weeks away and Kosher for Passover Coca Cola has been flying off the shelves, both by Jews and non-Jews alike. This begs the question: Why is Kosher for Passover so popular? The answer lies in Coca Cola’s history and a decision that has affected nearly every other soda manufacturer.
Coca Cola, contrary to popular knowledge, only became Kosher in 1935 thanks to an Atlanta Rabbi named Tobias Geffen, the founding Rabbi of the Shearith Israel Congregation in Atlanta. In the early 1900s, Coke was enjoying its newfound fame and Jews wanted to be able to drink Coke like everyone else. Geffen contacted the company and asked about its list of ingredients and convinced the company to replace its single non-kosher ingredient – beef tallow - to cottonseed oil. This allowed Jews to drink Coke year round. But what about Passover?
If you didn’t know by now, Passover is the holiday where Jews don’t eat anything made from grains other than Matzah, that flat bread that is sometimes compared to cardboard. Technically, the prohibition applies to food that can rise and is known as “Chametz” in Hebrew. However, the prohibition wasn’t only limited to grains such as wheat, barley and spelt. It was also extended in some Jewish communities (mostly Askhenazi) to foods such as corn and beans. This posed a problem for Jews since the original Coke formula contained traces of alcohol.
Coke, seizing upon the notion of millions of Jews buying their product, replaced another ingredient - traces of alcohol - with beet and cane sugar and permanently solved the problem. Coke quickly became the top selling soda in the US and around the world and Jews were able to indulge themselves with Coke year-round. However, in 1987, Coke announced that it was replacing the sugar with the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup in order to save money. Most soda manufacturers followed suit. Once again, Jews were faced with the problem regarding drinking Coke on Passover.
In response to this problem, Coke began running its original Kosher formula just before Passover with a yellow label and the phrase “Kosher for Passover” in Hebrew and English on the cap. When news broke, it spread like wildfire since the Passover Coke was a break from the corn syrup which is now known to be source of all kinds of illnesses in addition to making people fat. That is why Passover Coke is popular – it’s somewhat healthier and is the original formula.