Kosher translates to mean “appropriate” or “fit.” In the context of food, kosher means anything that fits the requirements of Jewish laws. Basically, kosher food is food that is fit for a Jew to it, the rules of which are based in the Hebrew Bible. Of course, because dietary needs and realities change from generation to generation, the application of rules for what is Kosher food has also evolved throughout the years. What a Jewish deli would serve as kosher today may not necessarily fit the bill several decades ago.
But the basics remain the same. There are three categories when it comes to kosher food: meat, dairy, and pareve.
Meat is essentially animal products—including their by-products. For meat to be kosher, it has to come from an animal that has split hooves and that chews its cud. Cows, goats, and sheep are considered kosher. Meanwhile, rabbits and kangaroos are not. Fowls such as chickens, hens, turkeys, and geese are kosher. However, scavenger birds and predatory birds are not kosher.
All kosher meat, in addition, should be slaughtered in accordance with kosher rituals. All traces of blood should also be removed before cooking it.
All food items from or that contain milk are considered as dairy. Butter, yogurt, milk, cheese are all diary—and for them to be kosher, they need to come from an animal that is kosher. They also need to be free from meat, as combining meat and milk products is forbidden and, therefore, not considered kosher. When preparing dairy items and meat items, one has to use different utensils are using the same items for both food products are considered as combining them, thus making them not kosher.
Food items that are not meat or dairy are called pareve. Eggs, fish, fruits and vegetables, pasta—all of these are pareve. Pareve should be processing using equipment that’s been used on meat and dairy products. Eggs are kosher as long as they come from kosher animals and do not have blood spots.
When going to a Jewish deli, make sure they follow the strict rules of the kosher diet. For instance, while fish with both fins and scales is kosher, not all seafood is; catfish and sturgeon, as well as shellfish, are not kosher.
There are also strict rules about mixing meat and dairy together. For instance, meat and dairy should never be consumed together; therefore, mixing them is not kosher. This rule is derived from the Torah wherein it was repeated three times that one should not cook a baby goat in its own mother’s milk. If any food item that is kosher is cooked with a food item that is not non-kosher, then it loses its kosher status.
Take note that kosher food is not a type of cuisine, but a manner of preparing food. Therefore, Asian cuisine or Italian food, for instance, can still be kosher as long as the rules for kosher food are strictly met, hence the varied menu of recent Jewish deli establishments.
Chutzpah is a Jewish deli that brings little New York to Northern Virginia. Contact us for more info or better yet come on down and try our food!