Are Hebrew National Kosher Hot Dogs Healthier than the Rest?

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?

Sure Dave.

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.

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  • http://www.workathomemom.typepad.com jill

    We LOVE hotdogs in our house but because we value health as well, we save the Hebrew National delicious dogs for special bbq’s and use organic hot dogs, whcih contain far less fat, cals, and soldium for everyday. We also serve the organic chocken dogs which are good too.

  • Katie @ Healthnut Foodie

    Our family loves Applegate Farms uncured grassfed beef hotdogs. Because they are made without the addition of nitrates or nitrites, they do tend to spoil quicker so we individually freeze them for nights that dinnertime gets crazy! You can read more about the dangers of nitrates on http://healthnutfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/06/food-for-thought-nitrates-and-nitrites.HTML

  • Lanette Lepper

    Oscar Mayer (I *think* that’s the brand) has come out with no-nitrate hot dogs, except for what naturally occurs in celery juice. I have seen them in our (small) commissary, which means they shouldn’t be that hard to find in the big box stores.

  • Dave

    As the author of the email, belive me, it is just a once in a while treat. A rare summer barbecue or a baseball game. 4-5 times a year, tops.

  • http://www.ruralvotes.com/thebackforty LayMondegreen

    I’m surprised that you make no distinction between a hotdog that contains two kinds of sugar (Oscar Mayer — corn syrup and dextrose) and one that contains none (Hebrew National). If I were buying hotdogs, which I’m not, that fact alone would steer me to Hebrew National.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      Unlike trans-fat, where even a tiny amount is problematic, the added sugar here truly is minimal. Of all the bad stuff they put in, the corn syrup should be the least of your worries…

  • clc7

    @LayMondegreen
    “contains less than 2% of the following…”
    that amount of sugar in a rare treat is no big deal

  • clc7

    I know “veggie” dogs are a processed food, too (an occasional treat). But how do they fare as the objectionable additives go? They make everything from 45 calorie Smart Dogs to Kielbasa-like flavors. Maybe you could do a post on veggie dogs?

  • http://www.applegatefarms.com Renee at Applegate

    @Katie @ Healthnut Foodie – You are certainly right about nitrates! Read more about our Applegate Standard: http://bit.ly/awRI0D Thanks, Renee and the Applegate Crew

  • Corey

    There are more nitrites naturally in celery and broccoli than many processed meat products, it is important for preservation and microbial safety of the product. Nitrites only go to nitrosamines when the product is cooked to death (close to burning)… this may only cause problems in foods like bacon or if you like your hotdog extra extra done or crispy… otherwise you’re generally okay.

  • J in VA

    I assume they are soy…I would rather have the occasional nitrates that something that’s going to suppress my thyroid, and give my dh, dd and me a bunch of estrogen–and add gmo ingredients.

  • Sharon

    Editorial Staff :
    Unlike trans-fat, where even a tiny amount is problematic, the added sugar here truly is minimal. Of all the bad stuff they put in, the corn syrup should be the least of your worries…

    Oh you’re SOOOO wrong. The corn syrup should be the HIGHEST PRIORITY on your list of ingredients to AVOID. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are deliberately added to foods to make them ADDICTIVE. They are also the LEADING cause of obesity and diabetes. The soy ingredients are GMO and the nitrates will kill you.

    Bottom line… hotdogs… any brand… are CRAP, no matter how “good” they taste unless you’re buying Organic, pasture raised, 100% beef ones.

    Oh… and btw…kosher means jackshit. Read up on factory farms and kosher slaughterhouses. The largest KOSHER slaughterhouse has been busted NUMEROUS times for the inhumane slaughter of livestock and unsanitary conditions. ORGANIC is the only thing that’s clean AND safe.

  • Corey

    @Sharon

    organic does not necessarily mean safe, at least as far as food safety is concerned. There are also more nitrites and nitrates in many vegetables (broccoli, celery) than cured meat products. I would like to see the publications you are referencing, citing your sources for your statements “Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are deliberately added to foods to make them ADDICTIVE. They are also the LEADING cause of obesity and diabetes.” because I believe your statements are unfounded.

  • Shana

    Wow! It seems that the entire meat industry should be looked at here. Where does the majority of meat come from?? ..Industry owned and operated slaughter houses which all take part in inhumane slaughter practices and unsanitary conditions. The only way to be sure your meat is clean/safe is to kill and cook the thing yourself which the majority of people aren’t willing to do. Hot dogs no matter where they come from are terrible for you. For a reduced risk its better to indulge in organic ones or make your own. Most people in america arent self sufficient and rely on corporations to fill there needs and often times provide a “quick-fix”. They make more money and we get more sick.

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea

    Sharon :
    Oh… and btw…kosher means jackshit. Read up on factory farms and kosher slaughterhouses. The largest KOSHER slaughterhouse has been busted NUMEROUS times for the inhumane slaughter of livestock and unsanitary conditions. ORGANIC is the only thing that’s clean AND safe.

    I think that the Fooducate editors know that “kosher means jackshit” and about Agriprocessors. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean safe either. The bit you quoted was a subjective opinion, IMO.

    Sharon :

    Bottom line… hotdogs… any brand… are CRAP, no matter how “good” they taste unless you’re buying Organic, pasture raised, 100% beef ones.

    With all due respect, this seems contradictory. My issue is with “unless”. Hot dogs are crap, yes. Are organic, pasture raised, 100% beef any better? Find me a hot dog without nitrites and filler. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, I’m saying that I don’t know of any.

    In any case, we pick our poisons and hopefully eat consciously and mindfully.

    Fooducate asks,

    Is that why it charges 87 cents per hot dog vs. only 25 cents by Oscar Mayer?

    I can’t tell if you’re serious or not but I’m going to answer anyway: No, it costs more because kosher costs more. And kosher organic? Even more so. (I can talk at length about this.) I say this as a selectively observant Jew (more Canadian conservative than orthodox): Being observant costs a lot of money. (Again, I can talk at length.) Shochets cost money and I suspect that kosher food companies take advantage of their niche market for financial gain.

    Obviously this is a topic that people are passionate about. Good conversation.

    • mgdt

      I found Coleman makes a natural hot dog, all beef, no sodium nitrites, etc. They are found in the “Natural Meat” section of your local supermarket (here it is Giant Eagle) – NOT in the Hot Dog section. You have to look for it, but it’s there with cajun chicken sausages and the like. You HAVE to eat them within a few days because they will go bad, since there are NO chemicals of any type in them. I love them, and that is all I feed my 6 year old daughter. Since her first bit of food at 4 months, she has eaten only all-natural, all organic, whole foods as close to their original source (ground, pasture, tree, whatever) as I can get. I have committed myself to keeping 99% of toxins out of her little body until she grows up and moves out. She is so healthy in her 6 years of life, I am proud to say she has NEVER been prescribed antibiotics – much to the surprise and bafflement of her pediatricians. She has never been sick a day in her life. I attribute it to her extreme healthy diet! which is why when she wants something more processed, like a hot dog, I give her Coleman hot dogs.

      • Clinton

        I’m so surpised people can’t find a nitrate free hotdog. Oscar Myer sells them now everywhere and they have plenty at EarthFare and have for a long time. It has been over 3 years since we have had lunch meat/bacon/hotdogs with nitrates however we eat things things often.

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea

    @Andrea
    (Oops, looks like I failed to close a blockquote tag. I hope it’s still readable.)

  • Miryam

    Two aspects of “kosher meat” that you failed to include in your analysis are:
    1) an animal must be healthy in order to be judged “kosher” so if an animal is found with disease, parts of that animal may actually be allowed by U.S. law to be used in processed meat, but under religious law must not be eaten.

  • Miryam

    (I didn’t finish and hit enter by mistake)
    A Sub-issue to #1 is that under U.S. law, there are minimums of things like mice tails and bug parts that are allowed to be included in the manufacturing process. Those things are not “kosher” and presumably a kosher processor should be taking pains to make sure that none of those things get into the meat — an expensive “sift” that Oscar Mayer doesn’t need to go through. (I don’t >knowknowmore< healthy than any other brand of hotdog that is kosher, but kosher over all would be a healthier and more reliable meat product in my mind due to that supervision, beyond what is required in the U.S. Agriculture handbook.

  • Miryam

    @Miryam
    My comment did not complete properly. I’m disappointed….

  • daniel

    oi! as a jew this article bugs me quite a bit. first off, hebrew national hot dogs are not totally kosher. most jews that keep kosher cannot eat them. the reason they are not is because they do not check the animal after it is slaughtered for potential diseases— typically one would check the lungs for adhesions. if the animal had no adhesions, the meat can be salted and sold as glatt kosher, which is the standard by which most american jews eat by. unfortunately, the disease checking process actually clears out about 60% of cattle— these cattle cannot be sold as glatt kosher and are sold to non-kosher meat processing plants. hebrew national is not glatt kosher, but simply ‘kosher’, meaning the meat was salted to remove blood and the animal was slaughtered properly.

    secondly was the comment about mechanically separated meat. mechanically separated beef is illegal in the united states, so obviously the beef hot dog would be the better choice, no? also mechanically separated chicken and turkey are not what many describe them to be, with bits of toes and eyes and whatnot— that’s complete nonsense. have you ever seen a rotisserie chicken? basically what MSC is, is that they take the part of the chicken which is edible (what you buy in the market as a ‘whole chicken’, even though it is obviously not a whole chicken), and they slice off the good cuts, the breast, wings, thighs, legs, etc. what you are left with is what happens when you end up with a rotisserie chicken everyone has taken a piece of— the carcass is left with a good bit of meat still on it. they then grind up the carcass with the meat, and then filter out the bones. this is still undesirable, but it’s not the terrible travesty many would have you think it was.

    • Tami

      Is illegal I don’t think so pick up a pack of Jennie o anything and you will see

  • Enyduke

    Does anyone carry Specials which are thicker than hotdogs or franfurters and served with beans?

  • Rozy00vadasy

    should i be finding white particles in the Hebrew National hot dogs 97% fat free beef franks i just bought? what are those white particles.. thank you. My kid had one and noticed it and he stopped eating it… please help ..

    • michaelj2

      this is exactly what I noticed. its really obvious, looks like fat pieces, pretty noticeable large white things in there, not really particles, but white pieces of something in there, throughout the hot dog, does not seem healthy to me at all.

  • rozy

    i’m about to run back to the store where i bought it from to see if they can open another package, and if that one doesn’t have it … i’ll at least know to take him to the hospital

  • http://profiles.google.com/kevinbieruta Kevin Bieruta

    Hebrew National’s ingredient list says flavorings what is that suppose to mean and second why do they need to add Hydrolyzed Soy Protein.

    best just to stay away from hot dogs period and get me a nice juicy steak!!

  • Juliehzrd

    Just in case you didn’t already know, Oscar Meyer now offers nitrate and nitrite free hot dogs made of pork and beef.  Just make sure to keep them in your freezer since they don’t keep as long in the fridge as a regular hot dog that contains nitrates and nitrites.

  • Tracy

    I buy Applegate Farms organic uncured beef hot dogs. My son is super picky and won’t eat meat regularly. These are a good choice for us, I believe. The ingredients are beef, water, salt and spices. Celery powder is used for preservation. These are by far the best that I have found.

  • Wagon4000s

    If you boil your hot dogs, the cheap ones float and the Kosher ones sink. 

  • Gravities
  • Mlazco

    Hebrew national ingredint statement says they don’t add fillers to their hot dogs.
    What is hydrolized soy protein??
    What is hydrolized soy protein used for??

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gale-Teschendorf/1049049945 Gale Teschendorf

    Isn’t pork better for the environment and your health?

  • Mlazco

    I’m confused?? The ingredient statement for the Hebrew National All Beef Franks say’s it has hydrolized soy proteinin them. Isn’t soy protein used as a filler?? They make a statement saying they use no fillers .Can anyone tell me if soy protein is a filler? If so how can they make such a statement ?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KQKDFRB7QCLWS52XD6T6KUBCC4 mooba

    Oscar Mayer sells hot dogs that have no nitrates, nitrites or preservatives such as Oscar Mayer Angus Beef Hot dogs:

    Ingredients: ANGUS BEEF, WATER, CULTURED CORN SUGAR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF CORN SYRUP, SALT, CULTURED CELERY JUICE, VINEGAR, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, CHERRY POWDER, LEMON JUICE SOLIDS, EXTRACTIVES OF PAPRIKA, FLAVOR.

    I think they also sell Natural Oscar Mayer Beef Franks:

    INGREDIENTS: Beef, Water, Contains Less than 2% of Sea Salt, Potassium Lactate (from Corn), Evaporated Cane Juice, Celery Powder, Flavor, Lactic Acid Starter Culture.

    • Jay

      Just in case you were not aware, ‘Celery Powder’ is a natural nitrate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KQKDFRB7QCLWS52XD6T6KUBCC4 mooba

    Oscar Mayer sells hot dogs that have no nitrates, nitrites or preservatives such as Oscar Mayer Angus Beef Hot dogs:

    Ingredients: ANGUS BEEF, WATER, CULTURED CORN SUGAR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF CORN SYRUP, SALT, CULTURED CELERY JUICE, VINEGAR, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, CHERRY POWDER, LEMON JUICE SOLIDS, EXTRACTIVES OF PAPRIKA, FLAVOR.

    I think they also sell Natural Oscar Mayer Beef Franks:

    INGREDIENTS: Beef, Water, Contains Less than 2% of Sea Salt, Potassium Lactate (from Corn), Evaporated Cane Juice, Celery Powder, Flavor, Lactic Acid Starter Culture.

  • Roger6533

    One thing, that is very important you left out. Kosher meat is processed differently
    than regular meat. It contains no urich acid therefore no gout! Gout is a huge problem for many people, i myself suffered from it till i started eating kosher beef.

  • Steve Thorp

    They put soy filler in the product.This proves they are liars. Time to move on to another product. I will tell my friends- and you should too.

  • Ronald Barboza

    I would like to know if you still make the large dogs.
       thank you Ronald Barboza

  • Robin Tjiong

    what people arent watching out for as bad is the corn syrup in many hot dogs. The hebrew national dont put corn syrup which is part of whats causing so many insulin resistance issues. why do hot dogs need sugar added

  • http://www.facebook.com/DNDRKO Donald Mehl

    “Beef” can cover a wide range of meat. Bull testicles are beef. Kosher (and halal) meat is slaughtered in a specific fashion, a prayer is said then the animal’s throat is cut and the animal bleeds to death removing blood from the meat. In the US the animal has a bolt jabbed into it’s brain. It is bled later. The taste of the meat is very different.

  • BR

    You didn’t even give Hebrew points for not having
    Corn Syrup We already know that we should eat a steak… The question was if we do once in a blue moon eat a hot dog which is better. I say Hebrew is better, better cuts and no Corn Syrup. Nether one is comparable to a steak, but again that was not the question.

    • 1vanessasherry1

      Just tell me they have no gross parts in them. I could care less about the corn syrup

  • Ryan

    I’m disappointed that this article chose not to address the unnecessary and very unhealthy inclusion of corn syrup in Oscar Meyer’s dogs.

    • pbird

      ditto

  • hieagle11

    I wouldn’t trust a jew… as far as I could throw them!

  • pauly

    Good or Not my Family strictly Boycott everything Kosher and/or made in Israel! Until the Terrorist Government of Israel treat Palestinians as Human Beings!!! Stop Murdering and raping Women and Children,stop taking land by Force and send the Nazi,ultra Zionist settlers back out from rightfully Palestinian Lands! Before anyone calls me an “Anti-Semite” please know that I am part Jewish on my Mother’s side of the family!!!

  • connie

    Thanks for the info Daniel. No wonder glatt kosher is so expensive. Unfortunately I can’t afford it. Hebrew National is a big step up in my budget. Coming from someone that used to eat pork and other unmentionables Hebrew National is also a much cleaner step up.

  • BAK

    I believe most of you are missing a couple of important things in this discussion. #1. If a cow is grass fed BUT finished with grain they are eating GMO s. #2.The reason CORN and Soy products are forbidden in my household is that about 80-90% of corn grown in the USA is genetically altered , not sure the percentage of soy.. Research, people. I read that pigs fed corn/soy combined are having issues with their digestive tract dissolving, the percentage of loss is rising with the amount of these items in the diet. What does this say for OUR health if the animals are dying because of it? Most chocolate contains SOY lecithin too(read labels).

    Check with the Justlabelit campaign on facebook.

  • Michelle

    I can personally tell a huge difference in Oscar Meyer and Hebrew National. I wanted to find out if HN is actually healthier which is why I looked up this website. I wish they’d go into a HN factory and video it so we can see for ourselves.

  • Doc

    I’m perplexed how Hebrew National can boast: “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” when the ingredients clearly indicate otherwise “hydrolysed soy protein”. Why is it they are not called out for this blatant false advertising ?

  • Julianna

    Notice the remark: 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.
    So the animals could be raised in despicable conditions and still be considered Kosher?
    Be nice to see what kind of environment they are raised in.

  • Kathryn Aldridge

    There’s a new product in the freezer case: nitrite and nitrate-free corn dogs! I found them at my local Raley’s (So. Lake Tahoe). They’re made by Applegate Farms.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      If they contain celery juice powder, it’s the same as nitrates.