The rules that govern kosher cooking and eating are detailed—and we mean detailed. 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.
When it comes to keeping kosher, there are plenty of surprises for the uninitiated. Here are just a few:
1. Not all foods are kosher foods
You might know that those who keep kosher avoid eating pork, since pigs don’t qualify as kosher. But sea creatures without fins and scales are off-limits, too. This means no lobster, crab legs or beluga caviar (it comes from whales—no scales). Birds of prey also make the nonkosher list, as do any foods derived from animals that aren’t considered kosher. Gelatin, for example, can be problematic if derived from pigs or horses.
2. Preparation is key
It’s not only about what foods are kosher, but how they’re prepared. From the slaughterhouse to the kitchen, strict rules of preparation must be followed to make sure a food remains kosher. For example, meat and dairy must never be combined—or even touched by the same utensil, even if that utensil has been washed.
Some kosher salt, despite the name, may not be certified kosher at all. Instead, it gets its name from originally being used in the process of koshering meats. (Anything store-bought must be certified as kosher to be certain.)
3. Not everyone keeps kosher
As with every religion, there are those who follow the text literally, those who loosely follow it and those who fall somewhere in between. In the U.S., 22% of Jewish people consider themselves Orthodox—a group that knows the rules and follows them to the letter.
Others identifying as Conservative know the rules and follow many, making exceptions as necessary. Reform Jews may or may not know the rules, and follow them according to what feels appropriate in a given context—or not at all. (Reform Judaism is the religion’s most populous denomination in the U.S.)
4. There’s an additional level of kosher for Passover
During the eight days of Passover, an additional set of kosher rules apply, which are primarily to avoid any food that contains leavening. Matzoh 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 segregated from food that is.
5. Rules schmules…
Kosher food doesn’t have to be Jewish, and Jewish food doesn’t have to be kosher. Pretty much any style or type of cuisine can be made kosher with the proper ingredients and set-up in the kitchen. In fact, you can find kosher Chinese restaurants in New York City, where there are hundreds of kosher restaurants.
There’s also kosher-style cooking, which you can think of as “kosher-ish.” Think brisket, bagels and lox. Think deli sandwiches, although generally, “kosher-style” does still segregate milk from meat during a meal and eschews forbidden foods. But kosher-style cooking can include any dish that celebrates Jewish culture or that you might associate with “Jewish” cuisine. Any of these Jewish foods would be considered kosher-style, and we think they’re delish!