What is kosher food?

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Kosher Food
Slow-cooked brisket with tzimmes. Meat meals are cooked and served in dedicated meat utensils and omits any dairy products in the recipes.

Kosher food is a diet that is derived from the Jewish faith. Similar to Halal, Kosher requires the ritual slaughter of the animal and the prohibition to eat pork. Where this differs from Halal is that certain seafood like shellfish (like mussels and oysters) and crustaceans (like lobster, prawns, shrimps, octopus, and calamari) are also off the menu. We do eat fish, however, they must have fins and scales which excludes shellfish and smooth-skinned fish like shark.

Most people have heard about the seafood rule however there are many other ancient and respected rules to abide by to keep a Kosher diet. For example, only mammals with split (cloven) hooves that chew the cud (that is, animals that slowly chew their partly digested food over and over again in their mouths before finally swallowing) are permitted. Therefore, many locals are surprised to learn we are not allowed to eat camels or drink their milk!

Not many people are bothered by insects being off the menu, but this means that vegetables need to very carefully cleaned and checked to ensure you don’t inadvertently consume insects. Over the centuries, strict protocols have been established for the checking and cleaning of fruits and vegetables which can also be reassuring to consumers no matter what their background. Did you know that broccoli florets and asparagus cannot be adequately cleaned so the practice is to only eat the stems?

An important core Kosher practice is to not mix meat and milk food products. This even extends to utensils, serving dishes and cooking facilities. This means you will not find dishes like steak in creamy mushroom sauce or butter chicken in Kosher recipes. Consequently, many kosher homes like mine install two separate kitchens - one for meat and one for milk to adhere to these principles.

How do you make sure foods are kosher?

While Kosher meals were meant to be prepared in a home, ready-made Kosher meals are a different challenge since you have to intrinsically trust the entire ingredients and cooking process. Foods produced in factories need to be supervised and checked by a Kosher authority to meet the strict standards and protocols. A certificate is usually issued to the manufacturer before any product can be labeled as Kosher. The good news is that it is now possible to find many certified with a Kosher label (hechsher) products imported into the UAE.

Some food products are Kosher and not marked, but there are online or printable Kosher guides that can help anyone interested.

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