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Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
Is there a concern of bishul akum on crisped rice? The finished product is clearly not oleh al shulchan melachim, but we’ll see that there’s an interim stage in the production which raises an issue.
To create crisp rice, one must first inject water into the rice and then heat or puff it. In many companies, this is accomplished by first cooking the rice with steam or water, and then putting it into an oven to get it to ‘pop’ (like popcorn). Others add the moisture in a highly-pressurized container, and then they suddenly release the pressure which causes some of the water in the kernels to boil/expand thereby causing the whole kernel to “pop”. This second method creates a somewhat less crunchy finished product than the first one does.
How cooked does the rice get during the first stage? Based on technical research and information from a knowledgeable person at a cereal company, we determined that after the first stage of creating crisped rice (described above), the rice has a “clean rice flavor” but is somewhat tougher than regular rice as it is hasn’t yet absorbed as much moisture as traditional fully-cooked rice.1
Thus it seems that after the first stage, the rice is cooked k’ma’achal ben drusai and should be subject to the prohibition of bishul akum (as per Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 113:9). Does that mean that the rice crispies are also forbidden? [If the rice was cooked with live steam, then Rav Schwartz has ruled that there is no concern of bishul akum, and the question focuses on cases where the rice is cooked in water].
Some contemporary Poskim take the position that it depends on how the rice crispies are produced – if the two stages of production (cooking and crisping) are done in one long process then bishul Yisroel isn’t required but if they are two separate processes then they must be bishul Yisroel. As noted, there are different methods of producing crisped rice, and according to this approach some would require bishul Yisroel and others wouldn’t.
Others content that since the company’s initially cooked the rice with the specific intention of creating a food that’s not oleh al shulchan melachim, the food is permitted even though it passed through a stage when it was edible and potentially oleh al shulchan melachim.
The many halachic angles to this question require further research before a final determination can be made.
1 As rice cooks it absorbs water, starting at 12% moisture and reaching 58-64% moisture in a fully cooked rice product. In this sense, the moisture level is somewhat of an indicator as to how well cooked the rice is. After the first stage of creating crisped rice, the rice has approximately 30% moisture. This explains why it is edible but not yet fully cooked.