Everything You Need to Know About Kosher Cooking
"Kosher" is a Hebrew word that means "fit," as in "fit to eat." It sounds simple—but the rules about kosher cooking might surprise you.
Kosher food is food that follows Jewish dietary laws. The laws of keeping kosher, or kashrut, involve not only what you eat, but also how you eat it.
Truly keeping kosher requires rigorous adherence and, in the case of restaurants and commercial kitchens, the careful watch of a religious supervisor to make sure all rules and spiritual laws are followed. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to kosher cooking and what makes food kosher.
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What Foods Are Kosher?
Ever wonder what’s off-limits if you’re kosher? Here’s a breakdown of what you can and cannot eat if you’re planning on keeping kosher. Keep in mind that kosher rules can be more or less strict based on different Jewish ethnic cultures and branches of Judaism. And kosher doesn’t just refer to the type of animal: It also matters how the animal is killed.
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Popular kosher foods:
- Beef: Look for cuts like chuck, rib, brisket and plate. Other cuts may or may not be kosher depending on the preparation.
- Fish with fins and scales
- Fish without fins and scales, including shellfish like crab and lobster
- Birds of prey
- Ingredients derived from animals that aren’t considered kosher, such as gelatin
- Meat and dairy served together
Kosher Food Symbols
When buying food (like kosher snacks), look for a kosher symbol on the label. There are several kosher symbols: “K” or “OU” are two common ones. These markings by themselves can indicate that the food is pareve, which means it does not contain meat or dairy. Here are a few additional symbols to look for:
- “M” or “Glatt”: The product contains meat.
- “F”: The product contains fish.
- “D” or “DE”: The product contains dairy or was made in an area that handles dairy.
- “P”: The food is suitable to consume during Passover. Sometimes you’ll see “kosher for Passover” spelled out on a package.
Kosher Kitchen Rules
It’s not only about what animals are kosher, but how they’re prepared. From the slaughterhouse to the kitchen, strict rules of preparation must be followed to ensure food remains kosher. For example, meat and dairy products must never be combined—or even touched by the same utensil, even if that utensil has been washed.
As with kosher foods, these kosher kitchen tips vary by branches of Judaism, as well as an individual’s personal observances.
How to keep your kitchen kosher:
- Use separate meat and dairy dishes, utensils, and cookware and store them in designated cabinets. We recommend labeling your cookware or using designated color themes to help separate the two.
- Prepare meat and dairy dishes on different countertop spaces.
- Store open containers of meat and dairy products on separate shelves in the fridge or freezer.
- Avoid using the oven or microwave for meat and dairy dishes at the same time.
- Don’t wash meat and dairy dishes at the same time—and use separate cleaning tools.
- If using a dishwasher, don’t load in meat and dairy dishes at the same time.
- Use separate tablecloths, napkins and other place settings for meat and dairy meals.
Who Keeps Kosher?
As with every religion, there are those who follow the text literally, those who loosely follow it and those who don’t follow it at all.
Orthodox Jews are more strictly observant, while Conservative and Reform Jews interpret the laws in different ways and have different levels of observance.
Kosher Rules for Passover
During the holiday of Passover, an additional set of kosher rules apply, which are primarily to avoid any food that contains leavening. Matzo is eaten during Passover because it’s unleavened bread.
In addition, to be kosher for Passover, food purchased from a store must be certified as “kosher for Passover,” and food that is not kosher for Passover must be kept separate from food that is.
Any Cuisine Can be Made Kosher
Kosher food doesn’t have to be Jewish, and Jewish food—like matzo ball soup, brisket, bagels and lox—doesn’t have to be kosher. Pretty much any style or type of cuisine can be made kosher with the proper ingredients and setup in the kitchen.
“Kosher-Style Cooking” Is Different Than Eating Kosher
There’s also kosher-style cooking, which you can think of as “kosher-ish.” Kosher-style cooking can include any dish that celebrates Jewish culture or that you might associate with Jewish cuisine, but may not follow traditional kosher rules.