Kosher symbols

What is Kosher?

Kosher is a term that applies to foods that are fit for consumption by Jews in the observance of Jewish dietary law. These dietary laws originate in the Bible and have been observed by Jews for over 3,000 years. The laws relating to kosher foods are detailed and intricate, but a few basics can be easily understood.

Foods can be grouped into three broad categories:

  • Innocuous: Some food items are always acceptable as kosher. Generally, these would be foods like fruits and vegetables that are not further processed.
  • Kosher when supervised: Other foods may be kosher if the ingredients and process used meet kosher definitions and when supervised by a reliable kosher authority.
  • Never Kosher: Some foods may never be kosher. Examples include shellfish and pork, both of which are prohibited by Biblical edict.

The foods that can be kosher when supervised are those of most concern to food processors desiring to carry kosher certification for their products. Contrary to a common myth, a Rabbi does not “bless” a food to render it kosher. To produce a kosher product, all of the component ingredients must be kosher certified – including any processing aids that contact the food. The equipment on which the product will be made must be kosher as well.

In order to identify the finished product as kosher, many certification agencies have trademarked symbols that indicate the kosher status of a product as well as identifying the agency certifying the food. Some products intended for use only on the industrial market (not for retail sales) do not bear a kosher symbol and are certified by letter instead.

Certifications will indicate the kosher nature of a food as well as the food’s kosher status:

  • Dairy – Milk and milk products like cheese must come from a kosher species of animal in order to be kosher. Milk derivatives like casein are considered dairy when used in kosher foods, even though the US Government may allow something to be called non-dairy.
  • Pareve – Foods that contain neither milk nor meat are called pareve, or neutral. Fruits, vegetables, and fish are all considered pareve.
  • Meat – foods made from meat or meat byproducts are certified with this status. Only meats from kosher species of animals or fowl are permitted, and then only if properly slaughtered and processed. Kosher species include cattle, sheep, chicken and turkey. Following ritual slaughter by a properly trained and endorsed specialist, blood must be removed from the meat through a process of cutting out major blood vessels, soaking in water and salting.