Spirituality

What is a kosher kitchen

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Learn what a kosher kitchen is and why it is important in the Jewish religion

Many Jews and non-Jews alike have questions about what make a kitchen kosher. Most people  believe that it's all about the food cooked there, but in truth, that's only a part of the answer to what is a kosher kitchen.

To explain all the detail of a kashrut (kosher) cooking and eating would take a library of books of Jewish law. But I can give you a quick overview of the main points.

Kosher food

Prepared or process food

Most Jews who keep kosher insist that the prepared foods they buy to cook at home have a certification from a recognized rabbinic authority on the package.

These emblems, called hechshers, prove that the ingredients and the processing method have been inspected in accordance with the laws of kashrut. Some people prefer certain certifications, while other Jews accept any hechsher as proof of kosher contents.

Produce

In general, fresh fruit and vegetables are considered kosher and have no need for certification. But before the foods can be cooked or eaten raw, each piece needs to be thoroughly washed and inspected for bugs.

Why? Eating bugs is not allowed according to Jewish dietary rules, so every effort must be made to make sure every bug is found and removed...even tiny ones.

There is one exception to the fresh fruits rule. Traditionally, only grapes grown by Jews were kosher, as there was a risk the grapes had been used in idol worship. This rule is still followed by many people who keep kosher.

Meat

Some kinds of animals are considered kosher, while others are not. That's why Jews who keep a kosher home cannot buy or cook certain kinds of meat (like pork) and cannot eat foods that contain even a tiny amount of forbidden meats.

Even among allowable animals, there are certain parts of the animal that are not permitted for human consumption. And all animals must be slaughtered by a shochet (ritual Jewish butcher) to ensure that the method of killing also follows Jewish law.

Dishes, cookware, and utensils
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Another aspect of a kosher kitchen concerns the dishes, silverware and cookware. If a family eats meat foods and dairy foods, they must have a separate set of dishes for each kind of meal. 

According to Jewish rabbinic law, meat and dairy cannot be eaten at the same meal, cannot be eaten from the same dishes, and cannot be cooked in the same pots.

These rules also apply to silverware and cooking tools like spatulas and wooden spoons. Foods that are neither meat nor milk (potatoes, for instance) can be cooked or served in either type of pot or dish. But if meat or milk is part of the meal, the neutral (parve) foods would be cooked and served in the meat pots for meat meals, and the dairy pots for dairy meals.

In many kosher-observant families, there are two more sets of dishes and cookware (one for meat and one for milk) for Passover. This ensures that the dietary laws of Passover (Pesach) are also followed. In a vegetarian kosher home, only one set of everyday dishes is needed, with a second set for Passover.

Appliances and kitchen surfaces

A truly kosher kitchen will also have some separate appliances for meat and milk foods. Things like mixers, blenders, food processors and toaster ovens will be assigned to meat or milk.  If finances permit, separate stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers will be installed as well, although many rabbinic experts do not believe that step is necessary to have a kosher kitchen.

When it comes to kitchen surfaces, every effort to separate meat and milk foods must be made.  Some people designate certain cabinets, counter areas and sides of the sink for each.  Others sterilize the surfaces each time they switch between meat and dairy foods, or cover the counters and shelves with foil or another impermeable material. .

Food styles

Many people believe that certain ethnic styles of cooking are kosher, while others are not. This is a common misconception. Kosher food and kitchens are about the certifications and the tools used, not the region.  So you can have kosher Italian, Chinese, vegan, Latin or all-American foods, and stay within the dietary guidelines.

If you want to kasher your kitchen

Now that you know the answer to the question what is a kosher kitchen, are you interested in making your kitchen kosher? 



If you're building a new home, installing separate cabinets, appliances and sinks might be an option. If you want to kasher (make kosher) an existing kitchen, there are wonderful books on the topic. Or you could speak to your Rabbi.  Many temples and synagogues have a program to help you clean and prepare your kitchen so you can start keeping kosher at home.

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