Kosher certified foods are food products that are certified to conform to kosher standards with regard to ingredients and preparation. Certification makes it easier to identify foods that can be eaten without violating Jewish dietary law. These products are labeled with a hekhsher, a trademark that identifies the organization or rabbi who granted certification. The majority of food products have some form of kosher certification, while many major brands also have Orthodox certification.
The body of Jewish dietary law is known as kashrut, a Hebrew term derived from a root meaning fit or proper or kosher in English. Many of the kashrut laws are found in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These laws dictate what animals can and cannot be eaten, how animals are to be slaughtered, and that dairy and meat must be separate, among other rules. Additionally, some foods, like grape wine, must be prepared in whole or in part by Jews, while vegetables have to be checked for any insects.
As more and more food products are processed in factories away from the eyes of the everyday consumer, it can become difficult to discern whether an item conforms to kashrut laws. Kosher certification helps consumers sort through all the available options, making it easier to maintain a kosher diet. Certification organizations charge producers a fee for kosher certification to offset the cost of examining the ingredients and manufacturing process. Manufacturers will pay it because the increase in sales typically offsets this cost.
Certifying a food product as kosher does not involve blessing. Certification organizations carefully examine all ingredients and processes used to make a given product. If the product meets the requirements of kashrut, it will be kosher certified and labeled with the certification organization’s mark, or hekhsher. A certified kosher company’s facilities are thereafter inspected periodically to ensure continued compliance.
In the United States, hekhshers are often registered trademarks that cannot be used on a label without the holder’s permission. There are some exceptions, like the letter “K.” The plain letter is not trademarked and can be used on a label without much restriction. As a result, a food product marked with the plain letter “K” may not have been certified kosher by an organization or rabbi or may have been certified by a rabbi who does not have a trademark. A hekhsher assures certification by whatever organization or rabbi holds the trademark in accordance with its standards, but consumers should note that these standards can vary.
Typically hekhshers will include additional words or letters that designate the category of the kosher-certified food product. For example, the letter “D” designates dairy, while the word “pareve” is used for food that is neither dairy nor meat. The letter “P” is used for products that are kosher for Passover. These categorizations are made according to kashrut law and may conflict with a legal classification.
Not all Jews maintain a kosher diet. Non-Jews may seek out kosher-certified products for many reasons. For example, vegans and people who are lactose-intolerant may look for kosher-certified products that are also classified as pareve as an assurance that they do not contain any animal-derived ingredients.
A kosher-certified food is not necessarily healthier than a non-kosher product, and kosher is not a cuisine. Certification simply indicates that the ingredients and manufacturing process meet the standards established by the certifying body. Many foods are kosher without the involvement of a certifying agency or rabbi. Kosher-certified foods help consumers identify products that are kosher in a world of processed and manufactured items.