We recently got an email from Dave:
Stumbled across your blog a few days ago, have been pouring over your archives ever since. My wife and I are in the process of converting to a much more natural and healthy diet with less reliance on prepared foods. She says that Hebrew Nationals are better for you than regular hot dogs because they’re kosher. I disagree. Can you clear this up for us?
Great to read that you are switching to less prepared foods. Which brings up the question – why eat hot dogs? They are a v-e-r-y processed meat product. But let’s assume this is a once in while treat, and you want to choose the least worst option.
First let’s understand what kosher means. It’s a set of religious dietary laws followed by observant Jews, regarding what animals can be eaten, and how those animals are slaughtered. Pork is not kosher. Chicken and beef, slaughtered by a religious Jewish slaughterer (Shochet) and inspected for absence of certain impurities, is considered kosher meat. There are other kosher rules, but we won’t get into them now.
The way the animal was raised, the food it ate, or how fatty it is, don’t factor in to it being kosher or not. However, there is a growing perception, amongst both Jews and Gentiles, that kosher is cleaner, purer, and safer – thus overall better. Sales of kosher products have grown accordingly. In fact, only 15% of people who buy kosher food, buy it for religious reasons.
But the few studies on the matter showed that Kosher is not a guarantee. Salmonella has been found in kosher meats too.
Now back to hot dogs: Hebrew National started out as a kosher brand for Jewish people. But once it was acquired by Con-Agra almost 20 years ago, it began national distribution and grew in sales.
We compared Hebrew National Beef Franks to Oscar Mayer’s Beef Franks (owned by Kraft) to see if there are any nutritional differences…
What you need to know:
This is what Hebrew National boasts: No artificial flavors. No artificial colors. No fillers. No by-products. Made with premium cuts of 100% kosher beef. US inspected and passed by Department of Agriculture.
And Oscar Mayer: Now even better! No artificial flavors, colors, fillers or by-products. U.S. inspected and passed by Department of Agriculture.
Very similar. Except that Hebrew National boasts “premium cuts”. Is that why it charges 87 cents per hot dog vs. only 25 cents by Oscar Mayer?
Nutritionally the hot dogs are also similar – 130 calories for Oscar (1.6 oz) vs. 150 calories for a lightly larger Hebrew(1.7 oz). 12 and 14 grams of fat respectively. 6 and 5 grams of saturated fat respectively (about 25-30% of the daily max). Sodium is about 20% of the daily max for both.
Here is Hebrew National’s ingredient list:
Beef, Water, Contains 2% or Less of: Salt, Sodium Lactate, Spice, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Paprika, Sodium Diacetate, Garlic Powder, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavorings.
And Oscar Mayer Beef Frans ingredient list:
Beef, Water, Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Diacetate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Extractives of Paprika, Dried Garlic, Spice, Sodium Nitrite.
We marked in bold all the identical ingredients. The most concerning are salt and sodium nitrite – a naturally occurring mineral used as a preservative in meat products against bacteria that cause botulism. Unfortunately sodium nitrite is a precursor of carcinogenic nitrosamines, which are especially reactive in young children.
Some of the other ingredients have a similar use: Sodium Erythorbate is used in Hebrew to accelerate the curing and retain the pink coloring. In Oscar, ascorbic acid does the same.
Bottom line: There is no substantial difference between the brands nutritionally. Hebrew National’s use of more expensive cuts should make it more palatable, but many people don’t notice the difference. And if you’re going to use a premium cut of beef, why put it in a blender to create a hot dog? Would you rather not have a steak?
Note: both brands of hot dogs offer lower fat versions of their franks.
What to do at the supermarket:
Try to buy meat in it’s original form – that way you know what you are getting. When you buy ground beef patties or hotdogs, you really can’t be assured what pieces went in there.
If you do buy hot dogs – choose ones without mechanically separated meat. Choose lower fat options. Make sure the sodium level per serving is below 500mg (400 is even better).
The big beef we have with hot dogs is their potential carcinogenic effect due to the nitrites. Unfortunately, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find hot dogs that don’t use them.