What is Kosher?
Have you ever wondered what’s kosher about salt, or what kosher food is? Maybe you saw a small kosher label on the back of your food, and you want to know what kosher even means? Perhaps you have a friend celebrating Passover and you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of what exactly makes something a kosher food?
The Hebrew word "kosher" translates to mean “fit,” as in the foods that are fit for a Jewish person to eat. Kosher food and drinks are foods that the Jewish dietary laws allow a person to eat. These rules specify the types of foods one can and can’t eat as well as the suitable preparation techniques. Because these laws are strict and their adherence tightly monitored, the word “kosher” has come to refer more broadly to anything that is “above board” or “legit.”
Kosher certification means that each ingredient, even food additives, meets strict regulations. This labeling is also helpful for people with food intolerances and those following a vegan diet, because kosher certified foods must note when the food contains – or shared processing equipment with – meat or dairy.
Kosher certifications are on the packaging of any product considered kosher. While there are many agencies which provide this oversight, the most common in the US are the OU (trademark of Orthodox Union Kosher US), Kaf Kosher (trademark of KOF-K Kosher Supervision NJ), OK (trademark of Organized Kashrus Laboratories NY), and Star-K (trademark of Star-K Kosher Certification MD) as seen in the photo above.
When there's a "D" after the symbol it means the product contains dairy or that processing equipment that handles this food also handles dairy. The rules for dairy products apply when these foods are eaten. The word "pareve" or "parve" after the kosher symbol means it's neutral -- not dairy or meat, and kosher. A "P" means the product is kosher for the Jewish holiday Passover, which has its own dietary laws.
Kosher foods fall into three categories: meat, dairy, and pareve (neutral). There are multiple layers of laws beneath these three. Here are some basic highlights.
The meat, milk, and eggs of certain species of animal can be eaten, while others are forbidden. Laws also govern how the animal should be killed and which parts of the animal can be eaten.
Meat and dairy cannot be combined. Separate utensils must be used for each, and a waiting period is required between eating them.
Pareve covers everything from eggs and fish to fruits, vegetables, pasta, coffee, and packaged foods. These foods are considered neutral (pareve) and can be eaten with dairy and meat; however, only fish with scales and fins are allowed. (Shellfish, mollusks, and catfish are not kosher.) Plant-based foods have their own set of kosher guidelines.
Grains used to bake bread are kosher, but bread is only kosher if it’s certified kosher. This is to make sure the baking process didn’t add non-kosher ingredients and the equipment used for baking wasn’t greased with fats or oils from animals.
Fresh produce is pareve but must be checked for insects before eating because insects aren’t kosher. If you find any, you can wash them off. Canned or frozen produce isn’t kosher if it was processed using non-kosher equipment or ingredients.
Nuts and seeds are kosher in their natural form. But if they’ve been processed, they must be certified kosher. Oils have to come from ingredients that were kosher in the first place, then be certified kosher to ensure they didn’t come in contact with non-kosher ingredients when they were processed.
Extra restrictions apply during the Jewish holiday of Passover. In addition to all the other kosher guidelines, Jewish people don’t eat anything with grain that has risen or fermented. Foods that aren’t kosher for Passover include breads, pastas, beers, liquors, as well as meats that have come into contact with these products.
Kosher salt is extremely versatile. It's usually not iodized and it's very versatile. If you're going to have one type of salt on hand, let it be kosher salt. Its coarse texture and quick-dissolving qualities make it ideal for use before, during, and after cooking.
Its name comes from the ancient Jewish practice of using coarse-grained salt to drain blood from meat, as eating meat containing blood is forbidden in certain Jewish traditions. However, not all kosher salt is technically kosher — for it to be considered kosher, it needs to be manufactured under a certain set of guidelines and standards. If you're looking for kosher kosher salt, look for a package that is labeled "kosher-certified."
Quality Kosher Products at vomFASS
When a company wants to have their food labeled as a certified kosher food, they must follow these all the kosher rules and have the food properly inspected to gain the seal of approval. vomFASS Madison has over 60 products which carry Kosher certifications, including many of our fruit balsamics, our nut/seed oils and extra virgin olive oils and our spirits. For a complete list click here.