Quite simply, kosher food is food that is prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary rules. The word kosher is derived from a Hebrew word, kashrut, meaning “proper” or “fit.” These ancient guidelines came from a biblical source and have been further defined by rabbis through the ages. Kosher food is not food that has been “blessed” by a rabbi. Although rabbis can be used in the kosher certification process, food can be kosher without a rabbinical presence. Kosher food is classified as meat, dairy or pareve (which means neutral and can be eaten with any food). Food that is not kosher is trief.
Kosher is not a term that is used like Cajun, Chinese or Mexican. Food of those ethnicities may be prepared in a kosher method. And similarly, many traditional Jewish foods can also be qualified as non-kosher.
The most basic of kashrut rules is the separation of meat and dairy. Not only may meat and dairy not be served together, but they must be prepared separately with separate pots and utensils and served on separate plates. Someone following kashrut must wait several hours between eating meat and dairy. Quite often, those keeping a kosher home will have two sets of plates, utensils, towels, pots and pans and also have two dishwashers or at least two separate dish racks.
While the following list has been watered down some for simplicity, some other kashrut rules are:
1. Certain animals may not be eaten at all. Shellfish, hare and pig are some of the common animals that are forbidden. This also includes their organs, fat, milk and eggs.
2. Of the animals that can be eaten, they must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, which means animals that died of natural causes or other methods are not permissible.
3. Fruits and vegetables are kosher.
4. Grape products, specifically wine and grape juice (not whole grapes), must be prepared by a Jew.
In a grocery store, many products have been certified kosher. A symbol on the package defines what the type of certification process. Commonly seen symbols are a letter U with a circle around it or a plain capital letter K. There are many other trademarked symbols in use and the certification methods used by the owners of those trademarks will vary. A letter D next to the symbol means it contains dairy and a capital letter P denotes that the product is kosher for Passover. It is important for those keeping a kosher home, kitchen or diet, to read product labels for small traces of ingredients.