What Advantage it Offers to a Vegetarian or a Vegan
"Kosher" is meant for observant Jews. How can it help any Hindu or Jain?
The answer is, that the word "Parve" (also spelled as "Pareve" or "Parevine") is very functional. It means a guarantee that the food product does not contain any meat or dairy products, and it has not come in contact with either. So it is very useful for all the vegetarians, and vegans.
It is also important to know and to understand that it has some limitations.
This article is based upon a talk given by Rabbi Yoel Levy, at a workshop sponsored by the Natural Products Expo West, at Anaheim, CA, March 1995. Rabbi Levy is the Kashruth Administrator of the Organized Kashruth Laboratories, or Circle K.
The word 'Kosher' actually means 'fit' or 'spiritually fit', as described in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. As a result of kosher supervision, kosher products are scrupulously clean, and the word Kosher has become synonymous with premium quality. Kosher requirements are far more stringent than U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements.
There are three segments to the Kosher inspection: (1) ingredients, (2) processing, and (3) equipment.
The Organized Kashruth Laboratories maintains a computer data base of 40,000 primary ingredients that come from certified kosher sources. Before visiting a manufacturing plant that has applied for kosher certification, the rabbi checks their ingredients and other factors in the manufacturing process to determine if there is something blocking the products from being certified kosher.
No one thinks of stainless steel equipments as absorbing an odor and therefore being to absorb a non-kosher material, but such is not the case. A stainless steel pickle vat will have a vinegar odor until it is cleaned by boiling water or steam. Vinegar is not necessarily treife (non-kosher), but it proves the point.
Strange situations may arise in the rabbi's inspection while tracing the finished product to its primary ingredients. A tanker ship carrying cooking oil had been properly cleaned with boiling water but its cargo had to be transferred to a shallow water barge tanker, as the ship could not unload in a shallow water port. The barge had previously carried disinfectant. No kosher law had been violated, but after the rabbi discovered the contamination the manufacturer wisely chose not to accept the cooking oil.
A common food product may contain all kinds of kosher as well as non-kosher ingredients. For example, seaweed is a plant product and therefore considered not subject to kosher requirements, but that is not always correct. The seaweed may contain tiny bits of seahorses, which do not have fins or scales, and are therefore treife. A vegetarian does not wish to ingest parts of a seahorse! Therefore, look for the Kosher Parve symbol! Extracts and flavors do not have to be listed on the label as ingredients, but they may be treife. An example is that of a red coloring that may come from an insect and be described as natural.
Fermented products such as miso or soy sauce present such a complex problem that the certifying rabbi must also be a food chemist. For the initial inoculation to start the fermentation process, peptones are needed. These peptones can be of animal origin or soy origin. Soy peptones are made by either the use of hydrochloric acid or enzymes. If enzymes are used, there are 2 types. One is made from papaya, which is a vegetable source, and the other is made from pepsin, which comes from the stomach of swine. The bacteria used in fermentation is stored in a medium of glycerin. The glycerin can be of animal origin, vegetable origin, or synthetic.
Kosher certification is an on-going process. The plant is subject to inspection at any time, (the rabbi has a key), and the entire process has to be repeated at least once a year.
Some Important Limitations
1. Kosher Parve products are allowed to contain, according to Jewish laws, eggs, honey, and fish. So you still need to READ THE LABEL! In this matter, Jews Kosher does not concur with Hindu and Jain Ahimsa. But still it is a good help for buying processed food.
2. Classification "Kosher Dairy" or "D.E." signifies that dairy equipment was used. Still the product may contain no dairy product. Read the label!
3. Not every single item in a generally Kosher Parve product line from a manufacturing plant is necessarily Kosher Parve. Learn the symbols below, and look for one on each product.
The above article is reprinted, with kind permission, from Jewish Vegetarian Newsletter, Spring 1996 issue. For subscription, please write to Isreal Mossman, 6938 Reliance Road, Federalsbufg, MD 21632. For a free sample copy, send a self-addressed envelope with 55 cents stamp. Below is a compilation of several kosher symbols.