“Kosher” is a term used to describe food that is prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. In order for one to understand kosher food labels and thus choose the appropriate foods, they must first understand what foods and food practices are considered kosher. According to the Jewish faith, foods that may be eaten include:
Water-dwelling animals with fins and scales
Cloven animals that bring up their cud (e.g. cows, sheep, deer)
- Most poultry chicken, duck, goose, and turkey
- Milk and eggs from a kosher animal
- All grains
- All fruits
- Coarse kosher salt
Foods that may not be eaten include:
- Grapes or products derived from grapes that were not prepared by a Jew
- Pigs, camels and hares
- Flying insects
- Domestic animals
- Sturgeon and swordfish
- Most hard cheeses
- These rules also apply to food containing a byproduct or derivative of a non-kosher item
Rules applying to kosher food are:
A food labeled “kosher” was supervised by kosher professionals. A certified kosher item will have marking labeling it as such. If an item was reviewed by the Orthodox Union and was deemed kosher, the item would be marked “OU.” Many food manufactures are honored to be flagged with the “OU.” The Orthodox Union label is considered by Jews and non-Jews alike to be one of the best verifications of a product’s quality and purity. Other kosher foods might be labeled:
- OK (Organized Kashruth)
- Star with a “K” in the center
- ARK (The Association for Reliable Kashrus)
- CHK (Bais Din of Crown Heights)
- Ribbon with a “K” in the center
- U (The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations)
- KO (Kosher Service)
- A “K” with two flags on one side (Kosher Supervision Service)
- A triangle with “CRC” in the center (Chicago Rabbinical Council)
Foods marked with a “D” indicate dairy; “DE” means that though the food contains no dairy, it was prepared using dairy equipment; “P” designates food that is suitable all year, including the time of Passover. Food labels vary widely by geographical location.
Surprisingly, most foods are considered kosher, simply because they naturally do not violate kosher guidelines. For instance, most meats are not packaged with or prepared using dairy, and fruits and vegetables are neutral, as are all grains. Few common foods exist that are not a grain, fruit, meat, or vegetable-based. Cheese, however, can be another matter.
Hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss) is often prepared using rennet (a curdling agent taken from the stomachs of kosher and nonkosher animals). Therefore, the origin of these cheeses must be carefully researched before consumption.
Many people, including those who are not Jewish, praise the quality of kosher foods. Because these foods are prepared in a very pure fashion, they are often revered for their high quality, taste, and wholesomeness.