Although the word kosher (KOH-sher) has come to mean many things, the true meaning and definition is “proper.” Those of us who are not Jewish are most familiar with it in regards to salt, as kosher salt has become a household ingredient, valued for its larger, coarser crystals. Derived from the Hebrew word for “proper,” kosher refers to foods that adhere to Kashrut, Jewish dietary laws that date back to the time of Moses. Kashrut dictates what can be eaten, how it’s prepared and how it’s consumed. Most of the principles were set down in the Bible.
The basics go something like this: Kosher meats include beef, lamb, venison and most poultry. Pork is out. Ditto for horse, rabbits and birds of prey. All animals must be free of disease, well fed and ritually slaughtered. Fish is acceptable only if it has “fins and scales,” so for the observant, shellfish is taboo.
Since Deuteronomy says, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk,” meat can not be consumed with dairy products; that is, no cheeseburgers. After consuming dairy, you can eat meat after cleansing your mouth, but if meat precedes dairy, there’s a wait of anywhere from one to six hours depending on where you’re from. In a strictly kosher household or restaurant, separate cooking utensils and plates ensure that dairy and meat never meet. Fish, eggs and vegetables are considered neutral and can be consumed at will.
To be labeled kosher, foods must be produced under rabbinical supervision. “Kosher for Passover” adds the additional stipulation that food cannot have come in contact with leavened grains, a remembrance of the Exodus when the hurried flight from Egypt didn’t allow time for bread to rise.
—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary