What does kosher mean?
The word kosher literally means suitable, convenient (from Hebrew). In fact, when a food product is produced under the supervision of a rabbi and complies with the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut, it is considered suitable to be eaten by Jews.
The truth is that there are millions of people around the world who respect the laws of kashrut. Some – because of religious beliefs, others – to ensure that the products they consume are under constant control and that they will not have any unwanted ingredients. Therefore, kashrut is often associated with the concept of healthy eating.
Knowledge about each of the ingredients used in the making process and of the manufacturing process itself is needed in order to achieve full control and the special kosher requirements. Many international food product manufacturers have come to the conclusion that kosher control is a reliable assessment of food quality.
What makes a product kosher?
• Mammals. The basic requirements for the physical characteristics of mammals are two:
a) to be cloven-hoofed (their hooves are divided);
b) to be ruminant (to have four stages of digestion).
There are three types of domestic animals that are kosher: cattle, sheep and goats. Although not very widespread, deer, bison, gazelle, antelope, giraffe, etc. are also included in this category.
Although there are no clear requirements in Torah for what a bird should be in order for it to be kosher, the Talmud gives us rules to understand this. Nowadays we can not claim that we have enough experience to apply these rules, and that is why we only eat species that have been consumed by the generations before us. These include all types of known chickens and hens, domestic ducks, geese, pigeons, etc. In some communities quail is also considered to be kosher.
Torah allows us to consume only fish that have fins and scales. Some have very few scales or lose them when taken out of the water, but they are nevertheless allowed. All other swimming animals are not considered kosher. There are hundreds of species that are considered kosher: carp, mackerel, cod, anchovies, herring, salmon and more.
The Rabbanut will soon publish a list of kosher fish that are widespread in Bulgaria.
All insects, whether large or small, are NOT kosher. Food products (even vegetables) that are likely to be attacked by insects, should be examined in order to avoid their presence in food.
All mammals and birds, considered Kosher (as described above) must be slaughtered ritually. The slaughtering is carried out by a specially trained person – shohet. It is done in a way that quickly disables the nervous system of the animal in order to reduce suffering. Criticism of this Jewish ritual often comes from the lack of knowledge in regards to animals’ biology and the procedure itself. Often these criticisms are driven by different motives than those on animal rights, as alleged.
After it is killed, the animal is checked by a professional called a Bodek to see if it didn’t have any flaws. Specific portions of the fat and tendons are removed because they are forbidden. This again is a task that requires special skills.
Since in Torah it is forbidden to consume any blood (even from kosher animals) all slaughtered animals must undergo one final step called Melicha. It includes washing the meat, salting its whole surface and re-washing it. The only way to make the liver kosher is to complete cook it.
• from mammals:
Milk is only allowed if it comes from animals that are considered kosher. If we strictly adhere to the law, a person qualified to control the process must be present during the milking of the animals to ensure that the milk is from kosher animals. Many countries can rely on state supervision, if any. For products derived from milk – butter, yogurt, cheese, sweet or sour cream and other, it is required that a trained for this person supervises their manufacturing. He must check the machines and equipment used for the manufacturing of the products, as well as any additional ingredients that may be added during that same process.
• from fish:
Eggs and caviar are allowed for consumption only if they originate from kosher fish. A qualified kosher observer must certify from what fish the products originate from.
• from birds:
Allowed for consumption are only eggs from kosher birds. Even if the egg is from a kosher bird but there is blood on it, it is not fit for consumption (often the case with brown eggs).
SEPARATION OF DAIRY AND MEAT. WHAT IS PARVE (PAREVE)?
A basic and important rule in kashrut is the separation of dairy foods from those containing meat. Kosher kitchen requires that the cutlery made from specific materials is not used for both types of food. Therefore, some utensils must exist in two sets – one for each type of food (dairy and meat). All products that do not contain milk and meat – fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, cereals, etc. are considered parve.