What Does Kosher Food Mean?

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People of the Jewish faith have traditional rules for storing, preparing and eating food. Kosher is the word used to describe food and drink in keeping with the Jewish law, koshrut. Foods that are not kosher are dubbed “treif.” While modern day society makes it difficult to follow the ingredients of all processed foods, kosher butchers and markets are available, and many foods in regular grocery stores are certified and labeled as kosher.

Considerations

One of the simplest koshrut rules to follow is dairy and meat separation. Dairy foods, like milk and cheese, cannot be consumed with meat from mammals and birds. Three to six hours must pass between eating meat and dairy products, depending on interpretation. After consuming dairy, rinsing the mouth and eating bread or another neutral food, there is no waiting time for meat. A kosher diet allows dairy foods to be eaten with eggs and fish. Some interpretations deny fish with meat.

Fruit and Vegetable Guidelines

Insect-free fruits and vegetables are kosher. They must be checked before eating and may have a kosher inspected label in the grocery store. Items deemed kosher are stamped with a symbol, called a hekhsher. Grapes have special meaning in the Jewish faith, and are kosher. Products made with them, however, are only kosher when made by Jewish people. This includes wine, grape juice and cream of tartar.

Rules for Meat

There are extensive rules regarding meats. Consumption of certain animals and their by-products is not allowed. Pigs, camels, rodents and amphibious creatures are among them. Cattle, goats and chicken are not. Kosher butchers are a reliable source of proper meat. Numerous specific rules apply to the slaughter practices of kosher animals, and must be followed. Certain animal fats and organs, like liver, are forbidden.

Function

In order for kosher foods to stay kosher, many rules apply to the use of dishes, cookware and utensils. Separate sets for meat and dairy must be maintained when heat is used. For example, once you use a spoon to stir hot chicken soup, it is considered meat. You cannot next use it in sour cream, a dairy. Cold cuts and sliced cheese, however, are not an issue as long as utensils are washed in between.

Significance

Maintaining a kosher household or diet has many caveats attached. Depending on which Jewish sect a person practices, regulations may vary. Availability of kosher food may also affect a person’s observations, although it does not change the existence of the koshrut laws. For example, according to the National Jewish Population Survey, about 17 percent of American Jewish families always eat kosher meat.

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