“In the Jewish community ‘Kosher’ is a term to describe food that follows the strict dietary principles in traditional Jewish law (1). Keeping Kosher is not just a style of cooking, but about adherence to religious traditions. Not all Jewish communities commit to strict Kosher guidelines, several may only follow some rules and some may follow none at all!
What does Kosher itself mean?
Kosher is a Hebrew word meaning fit or proper as it relates to Jewish dietary law (2). Originally Kosher referred to the way the animal was slaughtered, but these days it can include the suitability for all foods consumed by those who follow Jewish dietary laws (3).
Kosher food categories
Kosher includes three categories; meat, dairy and pareve.
Meat - Kosher meat must come from animals who have split hooves and are ruminants (animals that partially digest their own food and then bring it back up to continue chewing). These animals include cows, goats and sheep. Additionally animals such as certain fowls (for example chicken and turkey) can also be Kosher.
However there are certain rules to how an animal is slaughtered and processed and if these are not followed this can mean the meat is no longer classified as Kosher.
Also, meat cannot be classified as Kosher if the animal dies naturally. Likewise, certain parts of an animal cannot be Kosher. This includes the fat, nerves and blood (4).
Dairy - Dairy products have to be sourced from an animal which is deemed Kosher. Equipment that is used to process and produce the dairy also needs to be Kosher (4).
Pareve - Pareve includes all other food that does not go into the meat or dairy category. It includes fruits and vegetables, packaged food, fish (that must include scales and fins), eggs, pasta, rice, and even coffee (4).
Additionally, there are more principles that need to be followed within these food categories. A few of these include-
Meat and milk products cannot be eaten at the same time, prepared or served on the same dishes or eaten with the same utensils. There also needs to be a certain amount of time between eating milk and meat and vice versa.
Shellfish, crab, lobster/crayfish and shrimp are not Kosher as they do not have scales and fins.
Kosher cheese cannot have animal rennet (an enzyme that comes from the stomach of a cow used in cheese).
Pareve food is generally Kosher if it does not contain ingredients from non-Kosher animals or insects. Additionally if pareve food is processed it needs to have used Kosher equipment (4).
Over and above this there are extra principles applied to the above especially during the religious Passover, where leavened grains (wheat, rye, oat, barley and spelt) are forbidden during this time period (5).
How do I know if my food is Kosher or not?
Modern complex food manufacturing processes can make it difficult to know what foods are Kosher or not. Labelling requirements vary in different countries and are not always mandatory. But being aware of certain certifications can help;
A ‘K’ indicates the food is Kosher certified
When a ‘D’ occurs after a ‘K’ the product contains dairy or has been processed by equipment that handles dairy
Pareve indicates the food is neutral, neither meat nor dairy (4).
Alternatively using the ‘Kosher’ filter on https://mywellabee.com/ can help identify Kosher products quickly and efficiently!
Eliasi, Jennifer R., and Johanna T. Dwyer. "Kosher and Halal: religious observances affecting dietary intakes. (The Business of Dietetics)." Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 102, no. 7, July 2002, pp. 911+. Gale OneFile: Health and Medicine, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A89668293/HRCA?u=anon~eebf359&sid=googleScholar&xid=2b11868d. Accessed 14 Sept. 2022.
Orthodox Union. Kosher Food: The Kosher Primer, 2022. https://oukosher.org/the-kosher-primer/. Accessed 12 Sept. 2022.
Eliasi, Jennifer R., and Johanna T. Dwyer. "Kosher and Halal: religious observances affecting dietary intakes. (The Business of Dietetics)." Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 102, no. 7, July 2002, pp. 911+. Gale OneFile: Health and Medicine,link.gale.com/apps/doc/A89668293/HRCAu=anon~eebf359&sid=googleScholar&xid=2b11868d.. Accessed 12 Sept. 2022.
Danny Bonvissuto. Kosher Food, WebMD, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/kosher-food Accessed 12 Sept. 2022.
Healthline, 2022. Kosher Food: Everything You Need To Know, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-kosher#certification Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.