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Understanding What Makes Kosher Food Kosher

Feb 3, 2022 10:30:00 AM / by FreshByte Software

Even those that are not close followers of Judaism probably know that kosher food pertains to Jewish dietary laws regarding food and beverage.

What exactly makes kosher food kosher, however, is a mystery to many.

“It isn’t a style of cooking. Keeping kosher is much more complex than that. Rules are the foundation of kosher food,” writes Danny Bonvissuto in WebMD.

Origins of Kosher Food: Dietary Laws (Kashrut)

The Jewish dietary laws, known as kashrut, specify what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared.

“The word “kosher”, which describes food that meets the standards of kashrut, is also often used to describe ritual objects that are made in accordance with Jewish law and are fit for ritual use. Food that is not kosher is referred to as treif,” says the Jewish Virtual Library.

There are misconceptions that certain kinds of food are always kosher or always not kosher but that is not true.

“There is no such thing as "kosher-style" food. Any kind of food - Chinese, Mexican, Indian, etc. - can be kosher if it is prepared in accordance with Jewish law,” says the Jewish Virtual Library. “At the same time, traditional Jewish foods like knishes, bagels, blintzes and matzah ball soup can all be treif if not prepared in accordance with Jewish law.”

Breaking Down the Rules: What is Kosher

When it comes to understanding the rules regarding kosher, perhaps the best place to start is a website called kosher.com.

“Kosher food is essentially food that does not have any non-kosher ingredients in accordance with Jewish law,” says kosher.com.

Kosher.com says some core tenets that makes something kosher include:

  • Meat and milk products not mixed
  • Animal products from non-kosher animals (like pork and shellfish) not included
  • Meat from kosher animals slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws

“There are a number of other requirements that need to be met, both in the process of food preparation and who performs the process,” says kosher.com. “Nowadays, because of the complexity of the kosher requirements and modes of food production, kosher certification is needed to check all the criteria for kosher have been met (leading to the misconception that food needs to be “blessed by a rabbi”),” says kosher.com.

Keeping Kosher: Meat and Seafood

When it comes to eating meat, Jewish dietary laws say only animals with cloven hooves and that chew their cud can be eaten, which is why pork can never be kosher.

Cattle, sheep, goats, and deer, on the other hand, do qualify to be eaten.

As for seafood, anything with fins and scales may be eaten, such as salmon and tuna. Shellfish, on the other hand, such clams, crabs, shrimp, oysters, and lobsters are not permitted.

“Jewish dietary law governs the method of slaughter and processing and the slaughterhouse equipment. Meat isn’t kosher if the animal died naturally. Certain parts of an animal, including types of fat, nerves, and all of the blood, are never kosher,” wrote Bonvissuto.

Keeping Kosher: Dairy, Fruits, Vegetables and Other Food

Orgain, which manufactures kosher food, says there are a number of ingredient requirements that must be met in order for something to be within kosher law.

“Because of this, today, types of food that are kosher are marked by the kosher certification agency (the largest and most common being OU kosher) to make the process of finding kosher food items a bit easier,” says Orgain.

Some of the specifications for kosher food, according to Orgain, include:

  • Dairy: All dairy products need to come from a kosher animal, and all equipment and ingredients used to produce dairy products also need to be kosher.
  • Fruits and vegetables are already kosher but must be washed to remove any insects before consumption.
  • Nuts and seeds are already kosher, but if they have been processed in any way, they must be certified kosher.

Dairy can be a tricky topic for those keeping kosher with certain rules such as:

  • Dairy products must never be mixed with any meat products or meat product derivatives. Hard cheeses, for example, often are mixed with gelatin, which is an animal-derived enzyme, and can render the product non-kosher.
  • Dairy products must also be prepared using kosher equipment and utensils, which means the utensils must be used strictly for dairy and not also used with meat products.

Kosher Food is Soaring in Popularity

While the dietary laws surrounding kosher food can be complex, it has not prevented kosher food from soaring in popularity.

The BBC reported in 2020 that while only 2 percent of Americans are Jewish, approximately 7.5 million, some 41 percent of all packaged food in the U.S. is certified kosher.

“Explanations for this include a perception that kosher food is cleaner or healthier, or people's desire for assurance that a product does not include potential allergens such as shellfish. It also offers certainty for vegans, such as in the example of Oreo cookies, which prior to their switch to kosher in the late 1990s contained lard (pork fat),” said the BBC.

The demand for kosher food is not slowing down since that report with a study in November estimating that the global kosher foods market will grow by $13.73 billion during 2021-2025, progressing at a rate of 7.48 percent per year.

All this means is that you can expect to see more kosher certification symbols on products at your local grocery store.

Tags: Lifestyle

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