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Kosher Food: Everything You Need to Know

“Kosher” is a term used to describe food that complies with the strict dietary standards of traditional Jewish law.

For many Jews, kosher is about more than just health or food safety. It is about reverence and adherence to religious tradition.

That said, not all Jewish communities adhere to strict kosher guidelines. Some individuals may choose to follow only certain rules — or none at all.

This article explores what kosher means, outlines its main dietary guidelines, and gives the requirements that foods must meet to be considered kosher.

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What Does Kosher Mean?

The English word “kosher” is derived from the Hebrew root “kashér,” which means to be pure, proper, or suitable for consumption (1).

The laws that provide the foundation for a kosher dietary pattern are collectively referred to as kashrut and are found within the Torah, the Jewish book of sacred texts. Instructions for practical application of these laws are passed down through oral tradition (2).

Kosher dietary laws are comprehensive and provide a rigid framework of rules that not only outline which foods are allowed or forbidden but also mandate how permitted foods must be produced, processed, and prepared prior to consumption (2).

SUMMARY“Kosher” is a term used to describe foods that comply with dietary guidelines set by traditional Jewish law. These laws determine which foods may be consumed and how they must be produced, processed, and prepared.

Certain Food Combinations Are Strictly Forbidden

Some of the main kosher dietary guidelines ban certain food pairings — particularly that of meat and dairy.

There are three main kosher food categories:

  • Meat (fleishig): Mammals or fowl, as well as products derived from them, including bones or broth.
  • Dairy (milchig): Milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt.
  • Pareve: Any food that is not meat or dairy, including fish, eggs, and plant-based foods.

According to kosher tradition, any food categorized as meat may never be served or eaten at the same meal as a dairy product.

Furthermore, all utensils and equipment used to process and clean meat and dairy must be kept separate — even down to the sinks in which they’re washed.

After eating meat, you must wait a designated amount of time before consuming any dairy product. The particular length of time varies among different Jewish customs but is usually between one and six hours.

Pareve food items are considered neutral and may be eaten alongside either meat or dairy. However, if a pareve food item is prepared or processed using any equipment used to process meat or dairy, it may be reclassified as meat, dairy, or non-kosher.

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