All You Need to Know About a Kosher Diet

If you’re not Jewish or eating kosher, then you might be full of questions regarding the kosher diet. Kosher is a term used to describe food that complies with the strict dietary standards of traditional Jewish law. For many Jews, kosher is about more than just health or food safety. It is about following religious tradition. That being said, not all Jewish communities adhere to strict kosher guidelines. Some individuals may choose to follow only certain rules, or even or none at all. Curious about the kosher diet? Here’s what you should know:

What Exactly Does Kosher Mean?

The laws that provide the basis for a kosher diet are collectively referred to as kashrut and are found within the Torah, the Jewish book of sacred texts. Instructions for practical application of these laws are passed down through oral tradition. Kosher dietary laws are comprehensive and provide a rigid framework of rules that not only outline which foods are allowed or forbidden, but also mandate how kosher foods must be produced, processed, and prepared prior to consumption.

Some Food Combinations Are Not Allowed

Now that you have the gist of what kosher means, it’s time to move on to learning about food combinations. Some of the main kosher rules ban certain food pairings – particularly that of meat and dairy. These are the 3 main kosher food categories:

  • Meat: Mammals or fowl, as well as products derived from them.
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt.
  • Pareve: Any food that is not meat or dairy, such as fish, eggs, and plant-based food.

Any meat-related foods may never be served or eaten at the same meal as a dairy product. Additionally, all tools and equipment used to process and clean meat and dairy must be kept apart, and must be washed in separate sinks. After eating meat, you must wait a certain amount of time before consuming any dairy products. Pareve food items are considered neutral and may be eaten alongside either meat or dairy. However, if a pareve food item is prepared or processed using any equipment used to process meat or dairy, it may be reclassified as meat, dairy, or non-kosher.

What About Plant-Based Foods?

Like fish and eggs, plant-based foods are considered pareve, meaning that they don’t contain meat or dairy and may be eaten with either of those food groups. Although somewhat less restrictive than meat and dairy, these foods also have their own set of kosher guidelines – especially regarding how they’re processed.

In their purest form, grains and grain-based foods are considered kosher. However, certain processing methods may ultimately deem them not kosher. Processed grains like bread may not be kosher due to the equipment on which they’re processed or the ingredients used. If an animal-based shortening is used, the bread may not be considered kosher. Bread and grain products must be certified kosher to ensure that the food complies with kashrut.

Similar to grains, fruits and vegetables are kosher in their unprocessed form. However, because insects are not kosher, fresh fruits and vegetables must be inspected for the presence of insects or larvae prior to sale or consumption. Fruit and vegetable products that are produced using non-kosher equipment are also not considered to be kosher.

Can Wine Be Kosher?

Absolutely – like food, wine must be produced using kosher equipment and ingredients to be deemed kosher. This includes any tools used to harvest and prepare the grapes for fermenting. Because wine is significant to many Jewish religious occasions, stricter rules are imposed. In fact, the process must be carried out and supervised by practicing Jews, otherwise the wine cannot be deemed kosher.

How Does Certification Work?

Because of complex modern food production practices, ensuring that the foods you’re eating are kosher can be very challenging. That’s why systems are in place for certifying specific food products. Foods certified kosher feature a label on their packaging indicating that they’ve met all of the necessary requirements. If you keep kosher, be sure to look for appropriate labels when you shop, as kosher foods often show a certification to guarantee they follow kashrut.

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