“Are your products kosher?” I ask.
“Yes, our products are kosher. All the ingredients are kosher. We just haven’t gotten the Rabbi to bless them.”
This is the response I get from some vendors, when I visit their booths at foodie trade shows like Natural Products Expo East, in Baltimore. I try to give them a quick description of what it means for a product to be certified kosher. And no, it doesn’t involve getting a Rabbi to “bless” the product.
Is sushi Kosher? Sometimes. If it is made under the supervision of a Mashgiach (Kosher supervisor) with the right ingredients and with Kosher utensils, then yes, it can be.
The Jewish kosher dietary laws are very complex, and there are many books written that interpret these laws. A few examples of kosher laws are:
– You cannot mix milk and meat. This comes from a law in the Torah which says that you cannot cook a calf in its mother’s milk. This law has been expanded to include a huge number of rules, including not serving milk and meat at the same meal, waiting a period of time (6 hours, in many traditions) after eating meat, before you can eat milk products, and using separate dishes and utensils for meat and milk products.
– Kosher fish must have fins and scales. So tuna, trout, and salmon are kosher, while shellfish (lobster, crab, clams) are not.
– Kosher animals must have split hooves and chew their cud. Cows, goats and sheep are kosher, while pigs are treif. (That’s the opposite of Kosher)
– Animals (birds and mammals) must be killed in a certain way in order to be kosher.
– Produce is fine but needs to be washed and inspected for bugs, which are not Kosher. Lettuce, for example, needs to be checked obsessively for possible infestations.
The above are only a few of the many laws of kashrut (kosher laws).
But Wait…There’s More
In addition to a food satisfying all the kosher laws, in order for it to be kosher, it must not be processed on machinery that has been used for non-kosher foods, and it must not be cooked in an oven where non-kosher foods have been cooked.
Because the kosher laws are so complex, and some foods are made by combining many different ingredients together, people who keep kosher will only trust that foods are kosher if they have been certified by a kosher agency to be kosher. Much research and oversight goes into certifying the kashrut of products. A Rabbi, or a reliable kosher agency, will certify that all the ingredients of a product are kosher, and the product has been produced in a manner that satisfies all the kosher laws.
For consumers wishing to find out more about keeping kosher, you can find lots of information on aish.com, a great website for people wanting to learn more about Jewish observance. See ABCs of Kosher
You can also find more information on the O-U’s website, one of the largest kosher supervising agencies. See The Kosher Primer. This is a great resource, both for companies interested in getting kosher certification, and consumers who are curious about what it means to be kosher.
A Sign, Oh L-rd
There are hundreds of different kosher supervising agencies. Many of them are considered to be reliable by the majority of people, while some are not considered reliable. There is a website that many people trust, that gives a list of kosher symbols that are considered to be reliable, and are approved by Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz and the Kosher Information Bureau. See Rabbi Eidlitz’s page on reliable kosher symbols and agencies.
Some Kosher symbols that are widely considered acceptable (Courtesy Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz)
I attend many trade shows, in order to find great products to tell my readers about. I do like to ask the vendors whether or not their products are kosher, so that I can make them aware that kosher certification would increase the interest in their products. And if they have little or no knowledge about what “kosher” means, I like to try to educate them.
Please note that I am not an expert on the laws of kashrut. I am just a kosher veggie girl. I keep kosher, I’m health-conscious, and I’m always on the lookout for great products which happen to be kosher.