The word kosher, when defined in English, means "fitting" or "appropriate," applies to foods that are harvested and prepared according to rules laid out in the Torah. If your only exposure to kosher foods is traditional dishes like gefilte fis_h and _matzo ball soup, pay a visit to a kosher restaurant or pick up a kosher cookbook. You'll discover succulent meats, garden-fresh vegetables and tempting treats.
1) Kosher Definition
Kosher refers to a set of dietary rules that apply both to food and the way it's prepared. The laws are set out in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses — the first five books of Hebrew scripture. The laws laid out in the Torah form the basis of all Jewish practices. Many of them, such as the restrictions on pork and shrimp, are familiar, while others may be more obscure.
Rules also cover the way kosher animals, or animals that are permitted for use as food, are killed. Shechitah, the process of dispatching the animal according to strict Jewish law, is performed by a shohet, or ritual slaughterer.
Certain parts of kosher animals, including some fats, sinews and veins, are not considered kosher. They're removed before the animal can be prepared.
In addition to the restrictions on eating certain foods, some kosher foods, such as meat and dairy, can't be eaten in combination.
The name is derived from the word kashrut, which means "fit" or "proper."
Kosher is not a style of cooking, like Tex-Mex or Mediterranean. While some recipes may seem to be typically kosher, the word applies to the ingredients and the method of cooking, and both Mediterranean and Tex-Mex also can be kosher, as can almost all cuisines.
2) A Kosher Food List
Animals that chew their food (ruminants) and have split hooves such as cows, goats and sheep, are kosher. Because of the rules regarding the removal of veins and sinews from the hindquarters of animals, these cuts usually aren't kosher due to the difficulty in removing them.
Fish with fins and scales are kosher.
The Torah lists many birds that aren't kosher, but there is no hard and fast rule about what makes them non-kosher. Generally, the list of kosher fowl includes turkey, chicken, duck and goose. Eggs from kosher birds are allowed as long as they don't contain any blood.
Dairy products derived from kosher animals are acceptable, but they must not have been processed with a meat product like animal fat.
Any fruit or vegetable that grows in the ground, on a tree or bush, or on a plant is kosher as long as it isn't a hybrid or infested with insects. Fruit must come from trees planted at least three years earlier.
Nuts and honey are allowed.
Wine from grapes must be made following strict regulations to be kosher.
Most beverages are kosher. Some that may contain non-kosher ingredients, like energy drinks or fruit punches, may not be.
3) What Foods Aren’t Kosher?
Pigs and rabbits, for instance, aren't kosher because they don't have split hooves.
Shellfish and mollusks, because they have neither fins nor scales, aren't kosher. Shrimp, mussels, lobster and crab are among the prohibited foods.
Most birds of prey and ratites (emu and ostrich) are off-limits.
All insects, with the exception of grasshoppers and locusts, are non-kosher. However, some insect products, such as honey, are kosher.
Blood is prohibited. For this reason, the blood is drained from animals during the slaughtering process.
4) Reading Kosher Food Labels
Kosher-certifying agencies use symbols to indicate food is kosher. Look for a letter K in a circle, triangle or star, or the letter U on the food packaging. These are not the only symbols used; each certifying agency creates its own logo.
The word "dairy" or the letter D next to the kosher symbol on the package indicates that the food has some milk or milk product.
The word "pareve" means that neither meat nor dairy is present in the food.
"Meat," the letter M or the word Glatt indicates kosher meat or meat products.
The letter F shows that the fish is kosher.
The letter P indicates that the food is kosher for Passover.
Some companies use the letter K in an effort to mislead consumers about whether the product is kosher. The letter K by itself doesn't really indicate anything.
People with food allergies, particularly to dairy products, use kosher labeling to avoid products that might cause a reaction.
5) Passover Seder Ideas
Passover, a seven-day remembrance of the journey from slavery to freedom, begins on the 15th day of Aviv on the Jewish calendar. A Seder, or ceremonial dinner, is served on the first night of Passover. The food is, of course, kosher, and the meal includes rituals laid out in a book called the Haggadah. For instance, the youngest child asks four questions, and the Passover story is read in response.
While there are variations in the recipes for all of the traditional dishes, the Seder meal always begins with haroset, a mixture of fruit and nuts ground into a paste.
Unleavened bread, traditionally made with matzo meal, symbolizes the haste with which the Jews fled Egypt – they had no time to allow bread to rise. It's featured in rituals and made into matzo ball soup.
Matzo meal is combined with eggs and rendered chicken fat, formed into balls, and simmered in boiling water to cook. The finished soup can be as simple as matzo balls in chicken broth, or you can add chicken and vegetables like carrots.
Beef brisket, slow roasted in the oven for hours and served with a potato gratin or kugel, is a typical main dish. Roast chicken or duck can substitute for the brisket. Tzimmes, a combination of cubed carrots, sweet potatoes and fruit like dates and apricots, is a sweet and savory side dish.
6) Kosher Treats
Many candies are kosher, but consumers need to check for kosher-certified labeling on packages because not all ingredients are always listed. Non-kosher ingredients may be hidden under the "natural flavors" umbrella designation.
Because nothing that uses wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt can be consumed on Passover, desserts may be flourless cakes, macaroons or chocolate matzo brittle. Matzo meal can be used in place of flour, but the results are denser.
Dietary law requires that cakes and cookies that contain dairy can't be eaten within six hours of eating meat. If you don't want to wait for your dessert after dinner, make cookies and cakes without dairy products.
7) The Kosher Kitchen
One of the mandates that affects kosher kitchen design is the stricture to keep meat and dairy separate. This extends to the dishes and flatware used in meals. The well-equipped kitchen has two dishwashers, two ovens and two sinks, one for the dishes, pots and pans used in preparing and serving meat, the other for the items used in dairy preparation. Dishes are stored separately, and they may be color coded for their use — for instance, red for meat and white for dairy.
Items that have been used for non-kosher foods must be koshered, or kashered, before use with kosher foods. This involves submerging the item in boiling water. Countertops and sinks can be thoroughly washed before pouring boiling water over them, so if you're designing a kosher kitchen, choose materials such as stainless steel and granite that will stand up to this treatment.
A neutral area for pareve foods is designated for preparing kosher products that are neither meat nor dairy and can be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes. Fresh vegetables, eggs, flour and sugar are pareve.
All cooking for Shabbat, or the Friday meal, must be done before sundown.
A mashgiach, or supervisor, makes sure that everything in a commercial kosher kitchen follows the dietary laws.
8) More Kosher Diet Questions
Is vegan food kosher? Vegan food, in its purest form, doesn't contain any ingredients that are considered non-kosher unless insects or insect parts are present. However, if you go to a vegan restaurant, the food may not have been prepared according to dietary laws. It may also break the rules that cover bishul akum, the preparation of food by non-Jews.
What about vegetarians? Vegetarians who do not prepare any meat at home don't have to keep two sets of dishes, utensils and cookware because there's no possibility of mixing meat and dairy. At a restaurant, a kosher vegetarian must be aware of the same conditions that may break dietary law.
Can you eat non-dairy food that was cooked in a dairy pot with meat? You may pair pasta, for instance, that was cooked in a pot normally reserved for dairy, if the pot wasn't used for cooking dairy in the previous 24 hours.
How can honey be kosher? Because of the restriction against eating insects or insect products, it seems logical that honey would be prohibited. It isn't, because the honey isn't strictly produced by the bee.
How do I keep kosher when I'm on the road? If there's a K-Cup-style coffee maker in your hotel room, you can kosher it by running one cycle with hot water and no K-Cup in the receptacle. Pack nonperishable, kosher foods like dry soup mixes and peanut butter. When you make your airline reservation, ask for a kosher meal onboard.
9) Common Misconceptions About Kosher Food
Kosher food is not blessed by a rabbi because a blessing would not make the food kosher. The dietary rules define kosher, and a blessing is not among them.
Not all kosher food certifiers are Orthodox rabbis, though a majority are. Rabbis of any denomination can certify foods as kosher.
Passover is not the only time observant Jews keep kosher. The rules for Passover are more stringent, but people who keep kosher follow the rules year-round.
All Jews do not follow all of the dietary restrictions. In fact, in a Pew study, 17 percent of Orthodox Jews, the strictest division of Judaism, don't keep kosher.
Kosher food isn't hard to find. Package labels designate food that is certified kosher, and many supermarkets have an ethnic section stocked with kosher items. Across the world, there are more than 3,400 kosher restaurants.
- Kosher Certification: What Does Kosher Mean?
- My Jewish Learning: Kosher Slaughter, An Introduction
- Kashrut.com: Recommended Soda & Beverage List
- Texas A&M University: Kosher Foods
- Montgomery College: Special Interest Statements, Kosher
- Kenyon College: Kashrut, Jewish Dietary Laws
- Chabad.org: What Is a Seder?
- Western Seminary: Celebrating Passover
- Western Seminary: The Passover “Seder” Service
- Fine Cooking: A Traditional Passover Dinner
- Epicurious: The Classic Passover Seder Menu Everyone Will Love
- Chicago Tribune: Passover Desserts Rise Above Limitations
- Broadway Basketeers: What Makes Something Kosher?
- OUKosher: The Halachot of Waiting Between Meals
- Washington Jewish Week: How to Design a Kosher Kitchen
- Chicago Rabbinical Council: Kosher in the Kitchen
- aish.com: Food Cooked in a Dairy/Meat Pot
- aish.com: Honey
- aish.com: Kosher Travel
- The New York Jewish Week: Nearly 1 in 5 Modern Orthodox Jews Don’t Keep Kosher
- The Jewish Woman: 5Misconceptions about Keeping Kosher
- Kosher Certification: Keeping Kosher When Vegan
- Kohn’s: How to be a Vegetarian and Remain Kosher