What Is Kosher

What Is Kosher?

Kosher is a Hebrew word that means fit, proper or correct. Nowadays, it is mostly used to describe food and drink that complies with Jewish religious dietary law.

For a product to be kosher certified each ingredient, food additive and processing aid used in its production must also be kosher. Additionally, the production process must be suitable for kosher requirements and therefore it must be approved by a kosher auditor. Products may be rendered non-kosher if their production lines and equipment are also used to manufacture non-kosher products.

Learn more about kosher certification.

Kosher definitions

MEAT & POULTRY

As instructed in the Bible, not all animals and birds are kosher. Common animals that are kosher include: cow, goat and sheep. Common animals that are not kosher include: pig, horse, camel and rabbit. The same applies to birds. Most poultry is kosher. This includes: chicken, turkey, goose and duck.

In order for meat and poultry to be kosher there are additional requirements. These include slaughter in accordance with Jewish law and removal of blood via salting or roasting. This must all be done under strict rabbinical supervision. Retail products containing any animal or poultry derived ingredient are assumed to be non-kosher unless certified by a reputable kosher agency.

DAIRY
Dairy products must come from kosher animals. In countries where the source of milk is guaranteed by civil law (e.g. in the EU and USA), some Jewish authorities allow milk products without full-time kosher supervision. Some communities still require their milk to be fully supervised; and this is known as Cholov Yisroel. Cheese products do not fall under the general dairy category, and require full-time kosher supervision because rennet is often derived from an animal source.

EGGS
Eggs are only kosher if they are from a kosher bird and do not contain any blood spots.

FISH
Kosher fish are species that have fins, and scales that are easily removed. Common examples include: salmon, tuna, sole and plaice. The scales of a sturgeon are extremely hard to remove – hence it is deemed to be not kosher. Common examples of non-kosher fish include: all shellfish, eels, shark, monkfish, huss and catfish. Roe and fish derivatives such as fish oil and gelatine must come from kosher fish.

PAREV
Food that does not contain any meat or dairy ingredients is known as Parev. For a food to be certified as Parev it must also not share production equipment with meat or dairy products when these are produced at a temperature above 40°C. Parev foods may include egg and fish.

On the whole, parev foods present fewer kosher complexities than either meat or dairy foods.

INSECTS
All insects are considered strictly non-kosher. To ensure the absence of insects fruit and vegetables have to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned. Use of pesticides may be insufficient as these may kill the insects but not remove them.

PASSOVER
Every spring, the Jewish people celebrate the festival of Passover for 8 days. During this time Jews may not eat any leaven or fermented food or drink made from the following five grains: wheat, barley, oat, spelt and rye. Jews also may not use dishes, utensils or cookware that have been used for these grains.

Many Jewish communities also refrain from ‘Kitniyot’ during the Passover period. These are legumes or pulses which include corn, soy, rapeseed, peanuts, beans and rice.

Therefore, there are two standard for Passover products:

  • Kosher for Passover – does not contain any of the ingredients above
  • Kosher for Passover Kitniyot – only excludes the five grains but may contains legumes and/or pulses

WINE AND GRAPE PRODUCTS
All products made from fresh or dried grapes such as grape juice, wine and wine vinegar, must be supervised for the entirety of the manufacturing process and handling must be done exclusively by Jews in order for it to be kosher. All products with grape flavouring or additives must have a kosher certificate.

BISHUL YISROEL
Certain cooked foods require a Jew to be involved in the preparation in order for the product to be kosher for example by turning on the oven. These include rice, eggs and meat.

BREAD
In addition to the regular kosher standards and requirements, kosher bread, or bread-like products have two levels of kosher certification.

  • Pas Palter – bread produced by a (non-Jewish) professional baker
  • Pas Yisroel – “Jewish” baked bread

Pas Palter is the basic kosher standard, which would suffice for the general kosher market. However, there are those who are stricter and would only eat Pas Yisroel. There are a number of simple ways to achieve Pas Yisroel status without constant onsite supervision.

Glossary

HALACHA
A Hebraic word which literally means ‘walking’. It is generally used to denote compliance to Jewish Law.

HASHGACHA
Supervision or certification.

HECHSHER
Certification of a kosher product or ingredient.

KOSHER DAIRY CHOLOV AKUM (also known as Cholov Stam)
This refers to the kosher certification of dairy products without a kosher inspector being present throughout the production.

KOSHER DAIRY CHOLOV YISROEL (also known by some as Dairy Super Kosher)
Cholov Yisroel refers to all dairy productions, which have been under constant kosher supervision from milking until packaging.

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