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What is Kosher? Understanding Kosher Foods and Ingredients

Kosher is a word that literally means “fit,” but has come to mean much more.

It refers generally to anything above board or legit and can be applied beyond the food you eat every day. Howver, the laws of kosher define what foods are fit for consumption by Jewish people only; certain species of animals (and their eggs and milk) are permitted while others such as pork and shellfish have been outlawed since biblical times because they were considered unclean under those ancient dietary guidelines in Leviticus 11:1-47. Meat cannot ever touch dairy products so this law was written into Judaism’s basic teachings about living an ethical life with “respect” towards all creatures on Earth including ourselves.

In Judaism, strict rules have been established to ensure that food is kosher in and out of the home. Utensils are cleaned and separated for each type of food in order to avoid cross-contamination. Separate utensils are used for meat than what’s used for dairy products because a waiting period must be observed after eating one before being able to eat the other.

The animals from which foods like meat or poultry come from, such as cows and chickens respectively, must also meet specific requirements; they can’t be fed anything non-kosher while alive nor killed by any means but shechitah – an ancient method involving drawing blood out with veins intact so it doesn’t touch their organs.

Fruits, vegetables, and grains are basically always considered as Kosher and while they do not need any special preparation to consume them, they must always be insect-free to be Kosher.

Kosher Wine has different rules

Wine or grape juice, however, must be certified kosher. Kashrut (Kosher) laws involving wine are concerned more with who handles the wine and what they use to make it. For wine to be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and handle the entire winemaking process. This includes crushing grapes to make wine, which has been a tradition for centuries in Jewish religious culture.

Because of wine’s special role in many non-Jewish religions, and because wine was used in the sacred service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the kashrut laws specify that wine cannot be considered kosher if it might have been used for idolatry.

When kosher wine is yayin mevushal (“cooked” or “boiled”), it becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolater. All ingredients used in this process are also required by law to be certified as Kosher, including yeasts and fining agents that may have come into contact with alcohol during production processes.

Kosher wines [Image by kosherwineguy & kosherwinegirl | Instagram]

Which animals are kosher?

Kosher fish at Krudo Fish Market, North Miami Beach, FL

Mammals: kosher mammals must have split hooves and chew its cud. It must have both kosher signs, one alone will not suffice. Examples of kosher mammals include: cows, sheep, goats, and deer; Non-kosher mammals include: pigs, rabbits, squirrels, bears, dogs, cats, camels, and horses.

Birds: The Torah lists 24 non-kosher bird species – mostly predatory and scavenger birds. Examples of kosher birds are the domestic species of chicken, duck, geese, turkey, and pigeon.

Fish & Seafood: Any water creature can be kosher if it has both fins and scales. Kosher examples include: salmon, tuna, pike, flounder, carp, and herring; Non-kosher seafood include: catfish, sturgeon, swordfish, lobster, shellfish, crabs, shark, eel, and all water mammals like dolphin and whale.

Reptiles, amphibians, worms and insects: With the exception of four types of locust, these are all not kosher to consume.

Kosher Rules for Animal byproducts: Milk, Eggs, and Honey

A rule of thumb cited by the Talmud is: What comes from a kosher animal is always considered to be kosher. Milk and eggs that originate from kosher animals (see above) are always kosher. Honey has its own set of standards; it does not fall into any kind of “animal” product groupings, and are considered kosher, although bees are not kosher.

What is Kosher Certification?

Kosher certified foods and products are not “blessed” by a rabbi. Rather, kosher certified foods are merely approved as kosher by rabbis who specialize in understanding all of the intricacies of kosher laws. Their certifications are a stamp of approval that that product was produced using kosher ingredients and kosher methods of slaughter, if applicable, without any cross-contamination from non-kosher products, whilst adhering to the separation of dairy & meat.

There are many kosher certifying agencies around the world that serve their local or national Jewish communities, or can be global with a few examples. Although rules for kosher are cut and dry, there are stringencies and leniencies within it and not every kosher certifying agency holds by the same standards. Thus, you’ll find numerous kosher agencies that often certify the same product.

For more on the subject of what is kosher, read here.