What Does Kosher Mean?

What does kosher mean? There are several aspects to kosher dietary rules that determine whether or not a food can be classified as "kosher."

Rules for meats

In the Jewish Orthodox faith, the laws of the Torah are very clear: Meat may only be eaten from animals with "cloven hooves" and that "chew the cud." Both standards must be met in order for the meat to be allowable per Jewish law. Cattle and game are acceptable, but pigs are not, even though they have a split hoof, because they do not chew the cud.

Rules for slaughtering

The Torah also establishes laws that dictate how acceptable meats must be slaughtered. A "shechita" is a ritual slaughtering that prohibits causing any pain to the animal. Unconsciousness must be immediate and death instantaneous for the slaughter to satisfy the law. Immediately after death, a kosher supervisor and a team of workers perform the following steps:

  • Remove specific forbidden fats and other parts in a process called 'nikkur.'
  • Soak the meat in water at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Place the meat on special salting tables where coarse salt is applied to both sides for one hour.

Rules for fowl

In the Book of Leviticus 11:13-20, the Torah speaks directly to the consumption of fowl. Birds like geese, ducks, chickens and turkeys are allowable for kosher consumption, but others-such as eagles, owls, swans and pelicans (including their eggs)-are forbidden. Even eggs from acceptable fowl must be examined individually for any traces of blood, or they cannot be eaten.

Rules for dairy products and derivatives

Naturally, because the rules for kosher meats are very specific, any dairy products must also be derived from an acceptable kosher animal. Dairy products cannot contain nonkosher additives, nor can meat products or derivatives. An example is cheese that is manufactured with animal fats or items processed using small portions of milk products like whey. Food labels do not always list all derivatives; however, even in tiny doses, these products would not be considered a kosher product.

Rules about combining meat and milk

Another kosher law follows the Torah from Exodus 23:19: "You may not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother." This is interpreted to mean that dairy products and meat cannot be mixed together, cooked together, served on the same table or even eaten at the same time. In strict Orthodox Jewish households, even utensils may not be shared among these foods, and some individuals wait at least one hour after eating a meat meal to consume a dairy product. However, no time is necessary after consuming a dairy product and then meat.

Other Kosher food rules

  • While any fish with fins and scales may be eaten, shellfish like shrimp, crabs and lobster is forbidden.
  • Fruits may not be eaten from young trees planted within three years.
  • Kosher wine cannot be made with gelatin or casein, and only cleansed utensils may be used during the harvesting of grapes.
  • Grape or grape-based derivatives in drinks are allowed only if the grapes originate from a kosher winery that has rabbinical supervision.

In the United States, kosher products are consumed by millions of non-Jewish people because of the higher processing standards. Vegans, vegetarians and Muslims are groups that are turning to certified kosher labels when buying their foods.

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