What does "Kosher" mean?

The Hebrew word "Kosher" applies to food and means fit or proper for consumption.  The word "kosher" refers to the food that Jewish people regard as fit for them to eat.  The generic term that covers kosher foods and their production is "kashrut".  This summary presents an overview of the main features of kashrut.

Categories of Kosher Foods: Meat, Milk & Parve

 

Meat
Beef, veal, lamb and venison are permitted. Meat also includes poultry, ie domestic birds such as chicken, turkey, duck and geese.  Although these meats are permitted, for the meat to be kosher and acceptable for consumption, the animal/bird must have been inspected by a qualified slaughterer (Shochet), slaughtered in an accepted way and then treated so as to remove the blood from the carcass.

Animals such as pigs and kangaroos that neither have a cloven hoof now chew their cud are not kosher.  Birds of prey and scavenger birds are not kosher.

Milk
Milk refers to any food that contains milk or dairy/milk derivatives.  

 

Parve
Parve refers to a kosher food that contains neither meat nor milk.  It is considered "neutral".  All things that grow from the earth are, in their natural state, considered kosher and parve.  

Any fish having fins and scales is also kosher and parve.  Sharks, shellfish and eel are not kosher.  

Processed Foods

Food that is inherently kosher is made non-kosher if it comes in contact with any non-kosher implement, utensil or wrapping.  It is for this reason that the processing of food that is to be certified as kosher is typically done under strict supervision.

Practical considerations related to the handling of Kosher Foods

Meat and dairy must be kept strictly separate.  Utensils and storage devices that have been used for meat cannot subsequently be used with dairy, and vice versa.  Food that is not kosher is called "treif" (pronounced to rhyme with "waif").  Some foods such as pork and lobster are inherently treif.  Other foods are made treif by the ingredients, materials and/or utensils used in the processing.  Materials/utensils that have been in contact with treif food will make treif any other food that touches them.