What is Kosher? Here’s What You Need to Know

Learn all about the dietary practice.

<p>Nicolae Toma/Getty Images</p>

Nicolae Toma/Getty Images

Calling something “kosher” may seem like an American colloquialism, but the origins date back thousands of years, to a religious dietary practice upheld by Jewish people through today. 

Kosher refers to a culinary custom and religious practice, rather than a cuisine or style of food. In fact, kosher food exists all over the globe, from Argentina, to India, to New Zealand, and kosher food can be prepared in any cuisine. 

And while there are almost as many different ways of keeping kosher as there are Jewish people, there is a basic set of rules to follow, as written in the Torah—the Hebrew Bible which holds the commandments to which Jewish people adhere. Keeping kosher is one of them, and here’s what that means:

What Does Kosher Mean?

Kosher, or kashrut, is a set of dietary restrictions followed by Jewish people around the world. The opposite of kosher food is traif, which is all food that is not kosher. 

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What Is a Kosher Diet?

A kosher diet is one that adheres to the rules of kashrut, often called “keeping kosher.” Jewish people who keep kosher typically refrain from eating pork and shellfish, mixing dairy products with meat or poultry, and follow the laws of a kosher diet that have existed for generations. Observance of a kosher diet can differ by Jewish sect, family, and personal observance.

What Makes Food Kosher?

Kosher food follows a set of laws laid out in the Torah, and further interpreted and explained by rabbis for modern implementation. Kosher food must also be overseen by a mashgiach or mashgicha, who has been trained to supervise a kitchen or production site to ensure that all food being prepared meets these guidelines. A few restrictions of a kosher diet include only eating seafood that has fins and scales (no bottom feeders, no catfish, etc), only eating red meat that chews its cud, has split hooves (beef, lamb, goat, and venison all fit this category) and is slaughtered and treated in a certain way, not consuming eggs with red blood spots (as seen in the yolk upon cracking), poultry that is raised and slaughtered in a specific way (no birds of prey) and several more regulations.

All kosher food must not be cross-contaminated with non-kosher food, or even utensils that have touched unkosher food, or else the food is no longer kosher. People who keep kosher also only drink kosher-certified beverages and kosher wines. 

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How Is Kosher Meat Different?

Kosher meat is meat that is slaughtered and butchered according to kosher laws. Kosher meat, of course, must come from a kosher animal and be killed by a shohet—someone who is trained to slaughter kosher animals according to Jewish law. Once the animal is slaughtered, the meat is soaked, salted (or brined) and triple washed, to remove any blood, which is also not kosher to eat.

What Is Kosher Salt?

Kosher salt is a type of processed, coarse culinary salt, sometimes called kitchen salt. It gets the name kosher salt because this type of salt is used in the process of kashering meats, but it can be used in several home recipes. Kosher salt is typically pure white, unrefined, and does not contain anti-caking agents or iodine, which table salt is often fortified with.

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How Do You Know If Food Is Kosher?

All Kosher food is marked with a hechsher, a symbol of rabbinic approval that indicates the food meets the standards of kashrut, often printed on the box or label of any packaged food product. Kosher markets sell exclusively kosher food, while many supermarkets all over the world have kosher sections with designated hechshered products. The hechsher symbol varies regionally, as it’s not a universal standard. Typical hechsher symbols look like an OU, OK, KSA, and many more.

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