One of the most misunderstood of Israeli food and the Israeli culture is what exactly kosher means. When it comes to food, whatever is eaten must be approved by specific Jewish laws and regulation, set forth by the laws of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). As with the Passover, eating kosher is a very important part of the religious culture of the nation and people of Israel.
There are kosher meats, which are from animals that meet two specific requirements: they must chew the cud and have cloven hooves. You may not think of your favorite hamburger place as meeting kosher food requirements, but the hamburger is a kosher food because it comes from a cow. The most commonly known and eaten types of kosher food animals are cows, sheep, lambs, goats, and veal.
But that is not all. The animal must be killed in a very specific way to be kosher (so there goes the kosher Wendy’s burger). For those of you who believe animals should suffer no pain when being slaughtered for food, the Jewish kosher laws agree with you! So everything that is truly kosher meat guarantees that the animal did not suffer in order to give you a tasty meal.
There is also a certain way the meat must be prepared before actually eating it, but the details are a bit too graphic for this blog. What is worth noting is that you can have a sit down with a kosher hamburger but be in violation of Jewish eating laws if you drink anything that is related to milk with the meat. That is because it is forbidden for kosher meat and milk of any kind to be eaten together, or even served at the same table. Again, this goes back to the laws of the Torah.
All fish that have fins and scales can be eaten. But kosher does not allow shellfish such as crabs and lobsters to be eaten. The kosher requirements extend even to fruits and vegetables. There are certain fruits that if contaminated by insects that have many legs or short legs cannot be eaten. There are inspectors that are qualified to determine whether a fruit can be eaten if the insects are removed. If you wonder why companies and farmers use insecticides, it is because they are being kosher in the treatment of their food.
That leads us to the question of those famous kosher wines. The first thing you need to understand about kosher wine is that the grapes it has come from are not the result of any mixing of different grapes or a hybrid type of grape. It is prohibited for grapes that are used for wine to be cross-breed with other plant variations of grapes. This also applies to any type of drink where grapes are used. So grape juice that is kosher will be prepared according to the rules of kosher vineyard care.
If all this sounds like a lot of rules and regulations, and a lot of work, you are not alone. But when you think about it eating kosher has a number of health and dietary advantages. Obviously kosher foods are likely to be more expensive, but you eliminate the possibility of having to ingest unwanted chemicals, additives, or other harmful substances that while well-intentioned (preservatives) may harm your health more over time. The simplest way to avoid any type of food contamination illness is to eat kosher.
This was one of my longer blogs, but it is important to understand that many of the Israeli dishes I love are also foods that are fully kosher! Maybe that is why they always taste so good (even though I will have a non-kosher hamburger with a chocolate milk shake on a hot summer day). If you want to eat healthy and still keep meat in your diet, you can have the both of best world by choosing only kosher foods.
In my next blog we will talk about Israeli foods that are strictly for those of your who want to go 100 percent vegan.