What Is Kosher Food?

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Kosher food is not a style of cooking or a cultural menu (like Chinese or Italian food). Instead, "kosher" refers to foods that adhere to the dietary laws of Judaism, also called "kashrut," as described in the Torah.

While some of these guidelines infer health benefits, others seem to have no connection to health and are followed simply because they are mandated in the Torah.

Many of the rules relate to animal products, which are called out in the Torah based on where the animal dwells. Not only can the meat of these forbidden animals not be eaten, but the flesh, organs, eggs and milk are also prohibited.

Land mammals: In order to be kosher, land animals must have cloven hooves and chew their cud. This means that meat from cows is kosher, while that of camels, rabbits and pigs is not.

Sea animals: Kosher sea dwellers must be equipped with fins and scales. So, while salmon and tuna are fit for consumption, lobsters, clams and oysters are not.

Flying animals: The Torah provides a list of forbidden birds, but does not specify why these particular flying creatures are outlawed. Permitted birds include chicken, geese, ducks and turkeys.

Even foods that are allowed must be prepared in a particular way to be considered kosher. This preparation has nothing to do with cooking style or added spices, and instead relates to the slaughter and subsequent handling of the animal.

Because the Torah prohibits the consumption of blood, the blood of the slaughtered animal must be removed — through draining and boiling out — and this must be done within 72 hours of slaughter.

Other criteria laid out by Jewish law require "no contact" utensils. In other words, utensils cannot be used to prepare kosher meats if they have interacted with dairy, eggs or nonkosher food. In fact, Jewish people who follow kashrut avoid eating meats and dairy products together, and some even wait a certain amount of time before consuming one after the other, according to the Biblical Archaeological Society.

In addition to meats and other foods, to be considered kosher, wines and grape-based products must be made by a Jewish producer.

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Michelle Bryner
Michelle writes about technology and chemistry for Live Science. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and a degree in Science Journalism from New York University. She is an active Muay Thai kickboxer at Five Points Academy and loves exploring NYC with friends.