Origins & Information - (A-Z) Kosher

It seems to me that a lot of people get confused when the word "kosher" is used. Admittedly it's a confusing topic and not one that people will take the time to explain thoroughly. What you'd probably get when inquiring further is, "food that Jewish people are allowed to eat." But what does that encompass? What is it that you can and can't offer to your Jewish friends when they come over? Kosher actually means "fit" or "proper" and in reference to food, is a part of Kashrut, the overseeing law governing food consumption and preparation.

In food, there are three main areas to understand: meat, dairy, and parve. Meat must come from ruminant, split-hooved creatures (animals that chew cud and have split hooves) that are not predators or scavengers; this includes meat from cows, sheep, goat, deer, and oxen among other types. There is also kosher poultry such as chicken, goose, and turkey. All of the animals must be slaughtered via certain humane methods (shechita) by a specialist (shochet) and examined afterward (by a bodek) to make sure that its organs (particularly the lungs for Glatt kosher) are in kosher-designated condition. Though the meat can be eaten, blood is not allowed to be consumed. Dairy must come from kosher animals and cannot be combined with meat/poultry. Parve would encompass all other foods. Fruits and vegetables that are unaltered are naturally kosher and certain grains are, though not all grains are kosher during Passover. For fish, they must have fins and scales, which eliminates fish like catfish from being called kosher. It should never be mixed with meat, and shellfish is forbidden.

A very important part of eating kosher, however, is also how the food is prepared. Equipment that has touched non-kosher, or treif, foods cannot be used again to cook kosher. Utensils have the same rule. So you can see that kosher foods do not have to be just Jewish dishes. There are several other cuisines and restaurants which can and do cook kosher. There are also Jewish places that don't cook kosher. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a place claiming to serve kosher-style most likely will not be kosher. When trying to eat out, it may be difficult because you are not in control of what has touched what nor do you know if the ingredients they used are plant or animal based. On the other hand, eating kosher can also be easy because a lot of products nowadays are kosher including Philadelphia cream cheese and well-known cereals. You can determine kosher or not if it has specific symbols on the packaging!

Kosher items can be quite appealing to those who aren't even Jewish. In fact, only about 20% of the consumers of kosher foods are Jewish. Because the foods are put through various inspections and are meant to be "clean," they are generally high quality and healthier than the average food product. All food must be strictly supervised. Animals are slaughtered humanely without shock or pain which arguably prevents bad toxins from releasing into the meat. So perhaps you can start about eating kosher every once in a while (or forever!) for some healthy eating.

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!