The Kosher diet isn’t a cooking style. It goes beyond this, as it’s deeply rooted in a set of dietary rules of Judaism, which are known as kashrut. Not all Jews follow them, but for those who do, it’s a way of showing reverence to God and connecting with their faith and their communities.
The word “Kosher” is derived from the Hebrew root Kashér, which means “proper”, “pure”, or “fit for consumption”. The basic rules of this diet are of biblical origin, and it consists of only those foods that comply with the established precepts, which are called Kosher or Casher. Those that don’t comply are called Trefah, or Taref.
Would you like to know more about it?
Although the laws of Kosher are extensive and complex, below we’ll explore this type of diet and talk about who can apply it.
What’s the Kosher diet based on?
The laws for following a Kosher diet are collectively known as Kashrut and are found within the Torah, the first part of the Jewish Bible. Dr. David Kramer says that instructions for the practical application of these rules are passed down through oral tradition.
Specifically, they define which foods a person may or may not eat, and how they should be produced, processed, and handled before consumption. It also determines which combinations of foods should be avoided. Practicing Jews are convinced that following a Kosher diet is fulfilling God’s will.
The three categories on which this diet are based are the following:
- Meat and poultry
- Dairy products
- Pareve, which includes fish, eggs, and plant foods
One of the most important rules of this diet is that a person should never combine meat with dairy. In addition, separate utensils should be used for meat and dairy, and care should be taken not to wash them in the same water.
If eating meat, wait until the next meal before eating dairy products, and vice versa. The foods called pareve can be combined with either of these options.
Foods to avoid on the Kosher diet
The Kosher diet is likely to be one of the strictest, and therefore, it includes many restrictions. Here are certain foods that aren’t allowed within this diet.
- Animals that don’t have cloven hooves and aren’t ruminants. For example, pigs, rabbits, hares, squirrels, cats, dogs, camels, kangaroos, and horses are all prohibited.
- Fish and shellfish that don’t have fins or scales. Shrimp, prawns, octopus, crabs, oysters, and lobsters are not allowed. At the same time, whales, sharks, swordfish, and dolphins also aren’t allowed.
- Birds of prey. Owls, hawks, gulls, vultures, eagles, ostriches, and pheasants are also prohibited.
- The hindquarters of authorized ruminants. This includes flank cuts, short loin, leg, and tenderloin.
- Most insects aren’t considered Kosher, so fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly checked and washed before eating.
- Fat around the vital organs or the sciatic nerve of animals that are considered Kosher.
Foods allowed in the Kosher diet
Foods that meet the precepts of kashrut are considered Kosher. The following are the foods of animal and vegetable origin permitted within this type of diet.
There are certain special characteristics that meats must possess to be considered Kosher foods, ranging from the species, slaughter, and preparation. Within this context, edible meat refers to the meat of certain mammals and birds, or their derivatives, such as broth, sauces, or bones.
A paper from Esther Altmann, Ph.D. mentions that the following criteria must be met:
- They must be animals with cloven or split hooves, such as sheep, cows, goats, lambs, oxen, and deer.
- Only the forequarters of these ruminants may be consumed.
- Domesticated birds, such as geese, quails, pigeons, turkeys, and chicken can also be consumed.
- They must be slaughtered through a ritual slaughter known as Shechitah, which is led by the shechet, who’s trained and certified by Jewish law.
- The meat must be soaked to remove all blood before preparation.
- All utensils must be Kosher, that is, only used for meats and meat products.
Milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese must comply with specific rules to be within the Kosher context. This includes the following:
- They must be obtained from a Kosher animal.
- They can’t be mixed with any meat derivatives. For example, gelatin (which is made from collagen) or rennet (an enzyme found in the stomach of mammals that’s used to obtain hard cheeses).
- The utensils for preparing and consuming them should be exclusively for dairy products.
Fish and eggs (Pareve)
Both fish and eggs have their own rules but are classified in the same group “pareve” or “neutral” because they don’t contain meat or milk.
To be considered Kosher, fish must have fins and scales, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, or halibut. It doesn’t require exclusive utensils for its preparation, and can even be eaten with meat or dairy products.
Eggs can be obtained from poultry and kosher fish but without traces of blood. Therefore, a good inspection is required. They can also be eaten with meat or dairy.
Grains and derivatives in the Kosher diet
For grains and grain products to be considered Kosher, the processing equipment and ingredients must be on the Kosher list. For example, if baking pans or other equipment are greased with animal fats, or cooked on equipment where meat or dairy is prepared, then the cereal derivative doesn’t fit within this diet.
If the bread’s prepared with animal-based lard, instead of oil or vegetable shortening, it also ceases to be a Kosher product. As these processing methods aren’t specified on product labels, certification’s required.
Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits, being natural foods, are considered Kosher. However, as they can be invaded by some insects or larvae in their habitat, they require inspection for their presence before sale or consumption.
In cases where fruit and vegetable derivatives are processed on non-Kosher equipment, or where milk or meat has been processed, they can no longer be considered Kosher.
Nuts, seeds, and their derivatives
Some complications during the processing of nuts, seeds, and oils can make them non-Kosher, due to possible cross-contamination when meat and dairy products are used in the same equipment.
As referred to by some experts through Advances in Biochemical Engineering / Biotechnology, oils are highly processed foods, since it’s necessary to eliminate some harmful substances to make them edible.
Therefore, to be part of the Kosher diet, each stage of processing must be monitored. This ensures compliance with the stipulations.
Wine and the Kosher diet
As in the previous cases, wine must be prepared with Kosher equipment. Of course, this also includes its ingredients. As Bernard Kenner explains, this beverage is one of the most demanding products, as it’s part of many Jewish religious rituals.
That said, it should be noted that the entire Kosher wine production process is developed and supervised by observant Jews. If not, it’s not allowed.
During the religious activity of Passover, many more Kosher dietary restrictions apply. For example, it’s tradition for all leavened grain products to be forbidden. These grains are called “chametz” and include wheat, oats, barley, rye, and spelt.
Some of these grains are sometimes permitted, provided they aren’t in contact with moisture for more than 18 minutes and don’t contain leavening agents such as yeast. An example of this exception is matzah, an unleavened flatbread, which isn’t considered chametz, even though it’s made from wheat.
Kosher food certification
The complexity of modern food processing requires advocates of the Kosher diet to make sure they consume food that meets the level of stringency stipulated by their laws. For this reason, systems have been established to certify some of their products.
Those certified as Kosher must carry a label on the packaging indicating compliance with all the requirements. There are different certifying organizations. If the food’s certified for Passover, there will be a separate label to indicate it.
The level of precision and stringency of the Kosher diet’s clear. Many Jews choose this diet because it allows them to be more connected to their religious heritage. But despite the restrictions, a Kosher diet can offer variety and nutritional balance. In addition, certification’s been a great help in simplifying their purchasing process.