Kosher is a Hebrew word meaning “fit”. The Torah lays down guidelines for what’s fit – kosher, for a Jew to eat – and what’s not. Kosher is divided into three categories: Meat, dairy and pareve.
All meat and fowl and their by-products, such as bones, soup or gravy are classified as meat. In order for items to be designated as kosher meat, they must meet the following requirements:
Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. (Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; rabbits, kangaroos, lions, tigers and fox are not).
Kosher fowl are the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet (ritual slaughterer), a G-d fearing individual extensively trained in the rituals kosher of slaughtering. All utensils used in slaughtering, cleaning, preparing and packaging must be kosher.
Not all parts of kosher animals are permitted to be eaten. The permissible portions , which is the front half of the animal and fowl therefore must be properly koshered before cooking.
Koshering is the process by which the blood is removed from the flesh of meat and fowl before it is prepared for eating. The koshering process, known as melichah (salting), entails the following steps: washing or rinsing off the meat; soaking it in water for a half hour; salting it for an hour; and rinsing it very well three times.
All foods derived from or containing, milk are classified as dairy, including milk, butter, yogurt and all cheese – hard, soft and cream.
Dairy products must meet the following criteria in order to be certified kosher:
They must come from a kosher animal.
All ingredients must be kosher and free of meat derivatives. They must also be produced, processed and packaged on kosher equipment.
Cholov Yisroel (literally Jewish milk) dairy products mean that a Jew was present from the milking of the cow until the supervision of the bottling of the milk or the packing of the Dairy product.
MK-Dairy means that the dairy products are kosher but not necessarily constantly supervised and are NOT Cholov Yisrael.
Kosher fish must have fins and scales. The scales must be visible to the naked eye and must be easy to remove from the skin of the fish, either by hand or with an instrument.
If the scales can be only be removed after soaking the fish in scalding water, there are differing views as to whether the fish is considered kosher. Sturgeon is one such fish, and, in practice, it is not considered kosher.
If a fish is not completely covered in scales – it only has several scales – it is still considered kosher.
Pareve foods that are neither meat nor dairy. Common pareve foods are eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables, grains, unprocessed juices, pasta, soft drinks, coffee and tea and many candies and snacks.
It is to be noted that foods may lose their pareve status if processed on meat or dairy equipment or when additives are used. Pure Chocolate, cookies and other snacks may not be processed with meat or meaty foods unless they are certified pareve.
Eggs: Eggs must be checked for the presence of blood spots, which are not to be used.
Wine: A special rule governs the production of wine. Even if all the ingredients in wine are of kosher origin, it is kosher only if production was done exclusively by Torah-observant Jews.
KOSHER FUN FACTS
– When boiling eggs, you need to boil at least three at a time. This is so that if one egg has blood in, it would still be considered Kosher when cooked with another two, as the majority of eggs had no blood.
– Wine must be made by Jews for it to be Kosher. This comes from the fact that wine was often used in pagan ceremonies and was sanctified during the preparation process.
– Liver is not made kosher by soaking and salting like other meats, because it contains so much blood. Other meat is soaked and salted, but liver can only be made kosher if (broiled) grilled, so that the excess blood can drip out of it.
– China is a big producer of kosher ingredients and finished products.
– There are about 1500 kosher food certifying bodies in the world, the majority of which are headquartered in the U.S.
– Food coloring and food made with coloring like maraschino cherries have to be certified Kosher as some may be made with carmine, which is a red dye made from a certain beetle and since we are forbidden to eat insects, this would render the coloring not Kosher.
– An animal that dies by natural means, or is killed by another animal or a hunter, may not be eaten. Meat from a sick animal may not be eaten.
– No amphibians or reptiles may be eaten. Examples of these are frogs.
– From the time of slaughter, kosher meat and poultry must be properly supervised until it reaches the consumer. A metal tag called a plumba, bearing the kosher symbol is often clamped on the meat or fowl to serve as an identifying seal of supervision. Alternatively, the meat or fowl is packed in tamperproof packaging with the kosher logo prominently displayed.
– All fillings, cremes, and fudge bases must be certified kosher because they may contain fats, emulsifiers, gelatin stabilizers and flavors.
– There is a mistaken notion that natural products are inherently kosher. In fact, all non-kosher food items are natural, and therefore natural has no bearing on the kosher status. This applies to ‘natural’ or ‘pure’ health food products.