Seeing packs of young girls congregating in front of Giant Eagles across town, flanked by brightly colored boxes, can only mean one thing — and it’s a pretty good thing.
It’s Girl Scout cookie season.
And while that is welcome news any year, Jews who keep kosher have even more to celebrate for cookie season 2016: the iconic and ever-popular Thin Mints are now certified kosher pareve by the Orthodox Union.
All varieties of Girl Scout cookies have been certified kosher-dairy for years, but Little Brownie Bakers, the company that supplies the Girl Scouts with their wares, has changed its recipe to remove dairy products from Thin Mints, which are also vegan.
“I was surprised to find out they were pareve, ’cause we eat a lot of that stuff,” said Squirrel Hill resident Macy Kisilinsky. “Now, on Friday nights after a meat meal, we can have Thin Mints for dessert. I have four daughters, and we buy a lot of chocolate.”
In fact, the Kisilinskys are so passionate about pareve chocolate that four years ago they shelled out more than $650 for six cases of Trader Joe’s pareve chocolate chips after the news hit that the morsels would be changing over to dairy.
“We like the Thin Mints,” Kisilinsky said. “Now, if only they could make them for Pesach, it would be great.”
The cookies received their pareve certification after whey, which is a form of dairy, was removed, and a flavor that contained dairy was replaced with a nondairy flavor.
“The cookie taste and texture are unaffected,” according to the Little Brownie Bakers website.
There is still “a small supply” of Thin Mint boxes that are labeled kosher-dairy, according to Little Brownie Bakers, but the cookies are nonetheless vegan and made without animal-derived products.
“Girl Scouts recognizes that there are millions of people with dietary restrictions, and we wanted to ensure that all customers could enjoy our delicious treats,” said a Girl Scouts of the USA spokesperson. “Our bakers have produced a variety of cookies that take lifestyle changes and dietary restrictions into account, including gluten-free, vegan and kosher options.”
The demand for commercially produced food products that are made with no animal derivatives is steadily increasing, according to Pittsburgher Chani Shusterman, who developed her own line of pareve chocolate chips, California Gourmet, after the Trader Joe’s brand went dairy. She has had a lot of success with her product, which can be found at Murray Avenue Kosher as well as in 170 Jewel grocery stores in Illinois.
“Some people have milk allergies, or for other reasons don’t want milk in their diet,” Shusterman said. “Other people are concerned about the treatment of animals, so they want products that are dairy-free.
“The smartest move I made was to label my chocolate chips vegan,” she continued. “That’s how people identify.”
Options for vegans are increasing because of the quantity of products now certified pareve, according to Jeff Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, an organization that works to promote plant-based diets.
“One of the things that makes going vegan easier than you might expect is that so many items in the supermarket are vegan because of the kosher pareve certification,” he said.
While Thin Mints were one of Cohan’s favorite Girl Scout cookies when he was growing up, he probably will not be stocking up on them this season despite their new pareve/vegan designation.
“We like to eat more of a whole food diet, and try to limit our consumption of processed foods at home,” he said. “It’s much healthier to eat foods not processed and foods that are only partially processed.”
But for Squirrel Hill resident Dan Butler, the pareve designation on the Thin Mints is a “big deal because it increases the window of time the cookies can be utilized, including as part of a meat meal.”
Although the Thin Mints pareve designation is good news, the Girl Scouts could go even further as far as Butler is concerned.
“It would mean a lot more to me spiritually if the Samoas were pareve,” he said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.