A History Of Kosher Cooking
Image Credit: Kosher approved meat, Freepik

Kosher is a derivative of the Hebrew word "Kasher," which means fit or proper. Kosher foods are those that adhere to the dietary regulations of Kashrut. These regulations are biblical in origin, and Jewish people have followed them for centuries. Kashrut laws apply to certain mammals, birds, and fish, thus restricting consumption to those that meet specific criteria. Animals that are valid for consumption under Kashrut laws are to be slaughtered according to a process called "Shechita" for the meat to be Kosher. Also, the blood from this meat is to be completely removed by salting and soaking the meat in water. Blood is not allowed for consumption under Kashrut laws. While all plant-based products like fruits and vegetables are inherently Kosher, some produce grown in Israel is subject to tithing (a form of self-imposed religious tax) before consumption. 

Meat and dairy products must be clearly differentiated by Kashrut laws for them to be Kosher. Kosher meats are beef, lamb, or venison; chicken, goose, duck, or turkey; and meat derivatives like animal gelatin. Non-animal products and equipment used to produce meat or its derivatives are also considered Kosher under Kosher meats. Kosher dairy products include milk, cheese, and butter, and other non-dairy products and equipment that may be used to produce milk and its derivatives are also considered to be kosher. Meat or its derivatives may never be combined with milk or its derivatives, according to Kashrut laws. Pareve is another type of Kosher food that includes neither meat, milk, nor their derivatives. However, they do include certain types of fish, eggs from permitted birds, produce, grain, fruit, and other edible plants. For food to remain kosher, it should never come into contact with equipment used to process meat, milk, or their derivatives. 

Owing to the complexities of modern food production, Kashrut agencies supervise or inspect the production of Kosher food and certify it with a "Hechsher" (a rabbinical certification qualifying items that conform to Jewish law). Kashrut laws stipulate that only animals that chew the cud and have completely split hooves are Kosher and are ritually clean for consumption. Any animals that don't satisfy both these criteria are not permitted. Camel, hyrax, hare, and pig are specifically forbidden according to Kashrut laws. Animals permitted are oxen, cows, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles, oryx, wild goats, antelope, and mouflons. Many biblical scholars believe that these rules were initially made to explain existing taboos, but later some commentators started saying that such classifications were made to prohibit consumption of animals that were worshipped in other cultures. However, current knowledge has made it possible to verify the reasons for prohibitions under Kashrut laws. 

Kosher food, Image Source: Unsplash

Birds of prey, scavenging birds, fish-eating water birds, and bats are specifically forbidden. While the Torah (Jewish religious text) has specific guidelines for determining whether a land mammal is Kosher or not, it only specifies what qualities a non-Kosher bird should have. Birds that hunt other animals for food, like hawks, eagles, owls, kites, and their types, and birds that scavenge and eat carrion, like vultures, crows, and their types, are usually considered non-kosher. Chicken, partridge, quail, dove, pigeons, songbirds, and pheasant—some of these types have been known to be Kosher. 

Fish with fins and easily detachable scales are considered kosher. For example, the sturgeon fish, which has both fins and scales, is not kosher because its scales are very hard to remove. Clams, oysters, crabs, shrimp, seaweeds, and kelp are also non-kosher. Insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts are considered non-kosher. However, some locust varieties are considered ritually clean because of a certain appearance, provided they have a reliable tradition supporting this. For example, Yemeni Jews consider a specific locust species to be Kosher, but these locusts are native to the Arabian Peninsula. Small land creatures that swarm around on all fours or whatever number of legs they have are forbidden. Weasels, ferrets, mice, lizards, shrews, moles, earthworms, snails, snakes, scorpions, beetles, centipedes, and amphibians are some non-kosher small land creatures. 

Kosher kitchens and Kosher kitchen practices are necessary for Kosher cooking. Some of them are: 

1.    Meat and dairy products are never to be combined.

2.  Dishes, utensils, and cookware used for meat and dairy are to be stored in separate enclosures.

3.    Meat and dairy dishes are to be prepared on separate countertops.

4.    Store meat and dairy on separate shelves in the refrigerator.

5.    Do not use an oven for meat and dairy dishes at the same time.

6.    Clean meat and dairy dishes separately in separate utensils.  

7.    Clean the dishwasher between washing meat and dairy dishes.

8.    Tablecloths, napkins, and other kitchen accouterments are to be separated for use with dairy and meat utensils and cookware. 

During the eight days of Passover, there are some more Kosher rules that govern food. These predominantly concern any food that contains leavening agents. Food during this time that isn't Kosher is to be separated from Kosher food.  Also, kosher food doesn't have to be exclusively Jewish. For example, New York City has many Chinese restaurants that serve kosher Chinese food. On the other hand, some restaurants label their Jewish cuisine as being kosher while not following the rules to a T. Kosher cooking differs from kosher eating. There is much to discover and learn in these fascinating traditions for anyone inclined towards food and cultural history.