Keeping Kosher

What does kosher mean?
Kosher does not mean food blessed by a rabbi. The word kosher means fit or proper. The laws for kosher food originated in the Bible. Kosher food is prepared in accordance with the Biblical laws and additional interpretations and decisions by post-Biblical Rabbis. Kashruth is the term used to refer to the observance of the Jewish dietary laws. One key feature of kashruth is the prohibition against the combination of meat and dairy foods that is stated in the Bible.

The prohibition includes not eating any meat or dairy foods or their derivatives together, and not cooking any meat or dairy food together. Cooking refers to baking, frying, roasting, preparing, and so forth. The separation of meat and dairy foods in eating and cooking requires a complete separation of meat and dairy dishes, pots, silverware, utensils, dish sponges, dish towels, tablecloths, dishwashers, and small appliances in the kosher kitchen.

What is a hechsher?
A hechsher is an identifiable symbol or a statement on the label of a product certifying that its manufacture has been supervised by a competent Rabbi and is kosher according to the Rabbi’s standards.

A caterer, restaurant, or other establishment can be supervised by a Rabbi and certified kosher according to the Rabbi’s standards.

For many processed and packaged foods, the presence of a hechsher is required to assure the kosher consumer of compliance with kashruth. It is not sufficient to rely on reading the ingredients on a label or package without a hechsher since:

Processed or packaged food products requiring a hechsher include:

Which foods are kosher?
Kosher foods that are permitted according to kashruth include:


A kosher fowl is one that is not listed among the twenty-four types of fowl forbidden in the Bible and that is traditionally accepted as kosher, including chickens and domestic ducks, geese, turkeys, and doves.

Properly slaughtered and “koshered” animals and fowl
Kosher animals and fowl must be slaughtered according to the complex laws of shechitah (slaughtering) which proscribe the type of knife used, its sharpness, and the manner in which one performs the slaughter.

Kosher animals and fowl must be “koshered”–rinsed, soaked, salted and then triple-rinsed–within twenty-four hours of slaughtering to remove blood.

Dairy food
A kosher dairy food is a milk product from a kosher animal. A dairy food cannot contain any meat or non-kosher substances. Dairy foods include milk, butter, yogurt, cheese (hard or soft), cream cheese, and milk derivatives such as sodium caseinate and lactose.

Kosher fish have both fins and scales and include cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, herring, mackerel, pickerel, pike, salmon, trout, most tuna, and whitefish. Fish is not considered a meat or dairy food. It may be cooked with meat utensils for a meat meal, or with dairy utensils for a dairy meal. It may be served and eaten side by side with dairy foods. For a meat meal, fish must be served and eaten on a separate dish and with a separate utensil than a meat item.

Eggs from any kosher fowl are kosher.

Pareve foods
Pareve foods are neutral, kosher foods that do not contain meat or dairy products. The following foods are pareve if they do not contain dairy or meat products: bread, cake, candy, cereal, cookies, crackers, soft drinks, tea, coffee, noodles, juice. All raw fruits, grains, vegetables, and kosher eggs are pareve.

Which foods are not kosher?
Non-kosher foods include:

Non-kosher animals include pigs, camels, horses, and donkeys.

Non-kosher fowl are any listed among the twenty-four types of fowl forbidden in the Bible and that are not traditionally accepted as kosher, including wild ducks, geese, pigeons and doves.

Non-kosher fish include clams, crabs, lobster, oysters, shark, shrimp, squid, sturgeon, and swordfish.

An egg from a non-kosher fowl is not kosher. A blood spot in any egg makes that egg unkosher.

Insects and rodents
Rodents, worms, amphibians, and creeping, swimming, or flying insects, are not kosher. Fruits, vegetables, or grains are not kosher when worms, insects, ants or mites are present on or in the item.

How can I learn more about kashruth?
The HKA makes available to consumers in Houston a series of educational programs about kashruth. Contact HKA for upcoming classes and visit the Education page for online learning.