FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

The word "kosher" is generally translated as "fit" or "acceptable," and refers most commonly to foods that meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law and tradition. It refers both to the food itself (certain foods being prohibited or conversely permitted) and to the preparation of the food. This is significant for vegan foods, since most vegan foods are inherently permitted, but if not prepared in accordance with the rules, they become prohibited. A summary of the relevant provisions as they relate to vegan foods follows. The rules for meats and dairy are more complex and can be found on the websites of the OU and other supervising agencies.

 

Source

To be kosher, the food itself must meet certain requirements. Meat and fish must be from specific permitted animals, slaughtered according to traditional methods. Dairy foods must come only from kosher mammals, eggs only from kosher birds. For vegan foods, all plants is inherently kosher. However, all grapes and some plants grown in Israel have special use restrictions. Other than these limited exceptions, all raw produce and grains with no additives, flavored coatings or other alterations, are kosher without any special marking. Note that insects that are visible to the naked eye on or in produce are prohibited and can render the item non kosher if they are missed or hard to remove.

 

Processing

However, most foods are not sold raw; most have processing of some sort, and that processing can raise questions about whether the food is still considered kosher. To be considered kosher, kosher ingredients must be cooked on dedicated kosher equipment. In general, processing that does not involve cooking or adding any chemicals, and where only that one food is processed will not raise issues. But many foods are processed alongside or using the same equipment as other foods, and not all of the chemicals and added substances are listed on the ingredient panel. That means that relying on a list of ingredients without knowing more about how an item is processed is not a reliable means of determining whether something that ought to be kosher actually is.

 

Categories

Kosher foods fall into different categories. Foods can be designated as meat, meat equipment, dair, dairy equipment, fish, and pareve depending on the source and processing. True vegan foods would be pareve (neutral). An additional category of Passover indicates that the food may be consumed during the week of the Passover holiday when foods are further restricted. There are subcategories for certain grain and dairy foods that reflect additional strictures observed by some communities. Foods designated as meat or meat equipment may not be eaten or cooked with foods designated as dairy or dairy equipment (some communities are more lenient when the designation is "equipment." Since cooking and serving equipment is also designated as meat or dairy, these can also only be used with their corresponding foods.

 

This impacts vegan foods since they may be processed on equipment used for meat or dairy foods, which even if kosher, may change the designation from pareve to dairy. The most common foods that this impacts are vegan milks and cheese, which are often processed on equipment used for dairy milk and cheese production, or contain enzymes that were created using dairy derivatives. Equipment must be specially cleaned under supervision to avoid the dairy designation. For people seeking to buy vegan milk or cheese in order to eat them with meat, this is a market impediment.

 

Misconceptions
  • Rabbis bless foods to make the kosher. False. It is about the source and processing. The presence of a rabbi or mashgiach is to assure that both are strictly followed.
  • The market for kosher foods is small because only a small segment of Jews (themselves a small segment of the population) keep strictly kosher. False. While the latter clause is true, the number of Jews keeping kosher has grown, and there are many other groups that look for kosher certification to satisfy their dietary restrictions. Seventh Day Adventists and Muslims look for kosher symbols on certain foods, even though their rules differ from kosher.
  • Kosher foods are healthier or cleaner. False. Kosher foods and their plants do undergo additional inspections, but the point is not to improve the quality of the food, it is to assure compliance with kosher rules. Nonetheless, this is a widespread perception and helps sales of kosher foods.
  • All vegan foods are by definition kosher. False. There are definitely fewer issues with vegan foods and it is, generally speaking, less burdensome for a vegan establishment or product to obtain certification, but there are still challenges.

The terms sometimes cause confusion, since both mean a diet that does not include consuming animals. Vegetarians do not eat any animals:

  • Beef, pork, game
  • Poultry, such as chicken, turkey, goose or duck
  • Fish or seafood
  • Insects
  • Animal proteins (such as gelatin or cheese made with animal rennet)
  • Soups or stocks made from meat or bones.
Depending on the type of vegetarian diet they adopt, some will eat animal certain animal products:
  • Most vegetarians eat honey, as well as products that may be processed with animal byproducts but that do not contain them (see sugar, below)
  • Ovo vegetarians eat eggs
  • Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products
  • Lacto-ovo (or ovo-lacto) vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy
Some people describe themselves as vegetarian, but will eat fish (pescatarians), and some keep a mostly vegetarian diet, but will eat meat on occasion (flexitarian). Some who describe themselves as vegetarians will also eat insects.

A vegan diet adds the additional restriction of no animal products or by-products at all, which means no:
  • Dairy of any kind
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Cane sugar, unless it is marked organic or vegan (since it is filtered through bone char; beet sugar is fine)
Note that since the last three items on this list are pareve, this kosher designation is not sufficient to render a food vegan, though it would be vegetarian. Strict vegans also will not wear or otherwise use animal products, such as leather, wool, silk, beeswax, tallow, latex made with casein, or any products tested on animals (such as cosmetics). Both vegetarians and vegans do not want their together with meat (or dairy in the case of vegans), so sharing a deep fryer, grill, or griddle would be a problem.

Some are not be as strict with ovens or broilers, unless there is likely to be cross contamination, but some will even insist that the food not be cooked simultaneously or even that different utensils should be used for non-vegan foods.

No. To be kosher, the food's ingredients must themselves be inherently kosher and also processed in accordance with kosher rules.

Raw (unprocessed) vegan ingredients are almost always kosher, but there are a few exceptions, and processed foods require some level of kosher supervision.

Raw Ingredients
  • Grapes and Grape Products.
    Many vegan foods contain wine, wine vinegar (including balsamic), grape juice, or grape jam. Unless those items are certified kosher, they render the product non-kosher. That is because there are special rules for processing grapes that derive from the use of wine in religious ceremonies (whole grapes are not an issue). Grape derivatives are found in jams and jellies, liqueurs and brandies, salad dressings and condiments, fruit juices, and in natural and artificial flavors used in all foods.
  • Animal Products Used in Production.
    It is possible for very small amount of animal products to be included in a vegan-certified food, and it is not always apparent when an animal product is used. Ingredient lists may not include things like release agents or the details of emulsifiers, oils, flavors, bases, colorings, conditioning agents, etc.

    It is not clear that vegan certifications (self certified or third-party) have the same resources as major kosher certifiers to verify what is being used given the global nature of sourcing. This is especially challenging given that many items come from Asia where it is more difficult to supervise production and packing.

  • Insects.
    In the last several decades, the Jewish community has become more strict about insects commonly found in produce. While vegans also do not want to eat insects, the standards of inspection that are commonly used by kosher inspectors are more strict and thorough than used in for many foods that are claimed to be vegan.

    While there is some disagreement about the level of inspection actually required, in general if an insect is discernible to the naked eye, it would be prohibited and careful inspection is required. The standards for infestation set by the FDA and other countries are often greater than kosher rules allow. Kosher inspectors will clean and carefully inspect produce, and may reject an entire shipment if the infestation is severe. Some varieties are deemed excessively infested either entirely or on a seasonable basis (asparagus tips, artichoke hearts, fresh berries). This is a less significant issue in products that are dried or pureed.

Equipment & Processed Foods

All equipment and utensils used must only be used for kosher foods and of the same category of kosher foods, or the resulting product, even if all the ingredients are kosher, will be rendered non-kosher.

  • Used Utensils.
    Many restaurants have purchased used equipment and utensils and staff may cook non-vegan or non-kosher food after hours. In either case, the equipment could make any food subsequently cooked on it non-kosher.
  • Shared Equipment.
    In a processing or canning plant, vegan foods are often made alongside or immediately after non-vegan foods and even if the equipment is cleaned thoroughly, if it is not done in accordance with kosher rules under supervision, the resulting food would not be kosher.
  • Bulk Shipping.
    Vegetable oils may be shipped in bulk containers that are also used for animal fats. In all these cases, a special cleaning process must take place under supervision to render the equipment kosher.
  • Involvement in Cooking.
    Some foods require that a Jew be involved in the cooking process. Generally, foods that cannot be consumed raw and would be appropriate to be served at a royal banquet fall into this category. There are many such foods in vegan restaurants. The involvement of a Jew in cooking may be as little as lighting the pilot on the stove, but any involvement that is significant and leads to the food being cooked may be sufficient (some communities are stricter).
  • Additional Restrictions for Jewish Owned Businesses.
    For an establishment owned by Jews, there are additional obligations. There are special rules about ritual immersion of certain utensils and certain foods purchased or owned by a Jew during the Passover holiday become forbidden after the holiday (these foods must be disposed of or sold to non-Jews for the duration of the holiday following very strict procedures). there are also special rules for breads and other baked goods.
Dairy Status

Even if kosher, a vegan food might be labeled as dairy rather than pareve by kosher supervision if the equipment was previously used for dairy and does not undergo a purging process between runs of dairy and vegan. It is common for vegan milks to be processed in dairy plants and many brands are marked dairy by the kosher agency. Currently, most cheese cultures that are kosher are certified dairy, so it would not be possible to claim that vegan cheeses made with such cultures are pareve.

Not necessarily.

Pareve is a category of kosher foods. Since meat and dairy are strictly separated in kosher food preparation and eating, foods are classified by whether they can be eaten with or within a certain time frame of meat or dairy. Pareve foods can be eaten with either meat or dairy foods. Produce and grains are the primary foods that are considered pareve.

 

But other items include honey, eggs, and egg-products like mayonnaise, none of which are vegan. Although fish is technically a separate category, it is often treated as if it were pareve. When kosher certified, sugar, maple syrup, gelatin, beer, and wine are also pareve, but may not be truly vegan depending on how they are processed.

 

However, most non-vegan additives, colorings and flavors are also not kosher, and while it is possible to make some from kosher animals (such as kosher gelatin), these are rare in the market. 

Kosher foods are food that meet Jewish dietary restrictions; Halal foods are foods that meet Islamic dietary restrictions.
 
There are some overlaps between the two, but they have different standards and requirements, both for acceptable ingredients and production/processing. While it is true that many Muslims will often look for kosher symbols on products, that will not be sufficient to determine whether a food is hallal or not.
 
For vegan foods, the most significant difference is probably alcohol, which is permitted by kosher law but prohibited in Islam. Halal symbols on food is a growing trend. An indication that a food is halal is not an indication that it is kosher.
 
A more detailed article on the differences and commonalities between kosher and halal foods with respect to vegan and cellular agriculture will be the subject of an upcoming article on Mipikale.

There are lots of terms out there: clean meat, cultured meat (or dairy), cloned meat, lab-grown meat), etc. The most common term in the industry is probably cellular agriculture. A recent study by Wildtype, a cellular agriculture company that is producing salmon, preferred "cell-cultivated."

All of these terms refer to producing agricultural products like meat, dairy, and related items (such as gelatin) using cells that are reproduced using advanced biotechnology.

Proteins, fats, and tissues that would otherwise come from farming animals for meat, dairy, eggs, or collagen, can be produced without using animals. For meats, this is typically done by using cells taken from animal tissue, skin, hairs, or feathers, and getting them to reproduce and grow in a lab. In some cases, yeasts or fungi are manipulated to produce the same proteins or fats that animals would produce, such as milk proteins.

The techniques could produce real meat and dairy products without the environmental or ethical issues with raising, milking, and slaughtering farmed livestock. As the world population grows and the demand for protein grows with it, traditional agriculture is becoming less sustainable, and also faces issues of disease, antibiotic use, ethical treatment of animals, and greenhouse gas and other environmental challenges. As an alternative (or supplement) to plant-based substitutes, cellular agriculture is a promising new way to create meat and dairy products. The appeal to vegans depends on the motivation to reject traditional meats and dairy. 

Maybe.
 
It may come down to whether the source cells are from muscle and fat tissue (probably not), or from feathers, hair, or skin (maybe). This is likely to play itself out in the market and different kosher agencies may arrive at different conclusions. Producers should beware about making claims that are likely to be disputed, particularly if selling in multiple markets.
 
For example, a lenient opinion of even the most prominent authority in one country may be rejected in another. This has been an issue with bovine gelatin sold in Israel for many years that has been rejected in the North American market. We explore this further in our overview article on cellular agriculture.

Sometimes.

Most of the discussion about lab cultured products involve taking cells from animals to create muscle or fat tissue. These would not be considered vegan, although for many people who avoid animal products due to issues of animal welfare, these would be acceptable.

 

However, there are products being produced using genetically modified yeasts and mycelium so that they are coaxed to produce proteins and fats without taking cells from animals. The resulting product is not a GMO. Some of these products could be considered vegan. There are some products coming to market now, including dairy proteins, dairy fat and gelatin.

There are over 1,400 kosher certification agencies, ranging in size from a single individual rabbi to organizations with thousands of employees. Most are local/regional agencies operating in a single city, state, or country. Others have a national or international reach.
 
Not all are equally reliable or trusted by kosher consumers. If a product is regional only, a smaller, local agency may be a better fit, particularly for a small scale business or a local restaurant. Once a product is seeking or has national distribution, including online shopping, it might be better off with certification from a national or independent organization. There are also some agencies that tend to work more with organic and vegan products, that could be a good fit.
 
Regardless, if you are investing in kosher supervision, you want the biggest bang for the buck—it is not good business to spend money on an agency only to find that the market does not accept them as authoritative. Note that not all agencies shown on this Website are widely accepted, particularly when it comes to the restaurant list.
 
We strongly recommend choosing an agency that is generally accepted by consulting an online list with wide recognition. Two we like are Kosherquest or the Chicago Rabbinical Council's Other Agency list. Both of these extensive lists, that include agencies in all areas of the globe, have agencies that have been vetted and are generally accepted. Agencies not on the list may be fine, but using one of the list is a safer bet for general acceptance. There is little point in going to the trouble of obtaining certification if your target consumer won't accept it.
 
Still not sure? Reach out to us and we will try to help.

There are over 1,400 kosher symbols. The most comprehensive list is published annually by Kashrus Magazine. The challenge is not merely to learn all of them, it is determining whether a given symbol is reliable in general, or if it meets a particular level of stringency that an individual or subgroup subscribes to.
 
For example, some people eat only certain breads or dairy foods. So in addition to symbols, many products also state whether the product meets these additional standards (pas yisroel, chalav yisrael, yashon, glatt, etc.). Products that meet the extra stringencies of Passover will also indicate this in either Hebrew or English; many products have a special Passover production run.
 
Community rabbis cannot possibly know every rabbi or agency in the world and what their standards are. So there are people who try to investigate and maintain lists of supervision authorities who meet a certain standard. It is critical to realize that not being on one of these lists does not mean that a symbol is not reliable. It may be that the list keeper was not able to get the information they need, or that a particular standard was not met even though it is not applicable to everyone.
 
However, being on the list means that it will be widely accepted, so companies looking for wide acceptance when they invest in getting kosher approval would be wise to choose someone from these lists.
 
The letter "K" is often used to indicate a kosher product but it is not a reliable indicator. A single letter cannot be trademarked like a logo, so anyone can put a "K" on a package and claim that their product is kosher, leaving it for the consumer to determine who stands "behind the K." Kashrus magazine has published lists, but even this is problematic since the company can change rabbis at anytime without changing the packaging. A label with a trademarked symbol cannot be used if the certification is withdrawn.
 
Today, most kosher supervision agencies are reluctant to use a plain K in place of a trademarked logo and kosher consumers tend be very wary of a product whose supervision is obscure. Note also that many states have disclosure laws about kosher supervision, and one should be sure that kosher claims do not run afoul of such regulations.
 
Commonly accepted lists include Kosherquest and the CRC. Other lists are published by community kosher agencies and many local synagogues. Some of these may include supervisions that the local community accepts, including symbols not on national lists.

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