Is Kosher Healthier?
There are a reported three to six million Jews in America and estimates suggest that only 15-25% of Jews keep kosher. So how is it that 25% of all new food products are being labeled as kosher? Since 2007 a new food marketing strategy has increased kosher labels by ten times. These foods follow preparation guidelines from Jewish dietary laws which are based on religious principles. The proliferation of kosher labels may lure non-kosher shoppers to certain products. But is there anything about kosher foods that is safer or healthier for those who don't keep kosher?
How To Treat Kosher Meat
Aside from certain meats such as pork, shellfish, and catfish, Jewish dietary laws allow most familiar meats Americans eat. What sets kosher meat apart is how it is fed, killed, and processed. The slaughter process is said to be more humane and the meats are salted which can protect from bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. However, research by the USDA in 2007 showed salting alone did not reduce Salmonella contamination. What also may make kosher meat more desirable is cleanliness; utensils used for processing and cooking, including knives, cutting boards, pots and pans must be kept separate between meat and dairy products as well as vegetables. However, the separation between raw meat and produce utensils is a common practice in the USDA’s food handling procedures for all meat whether it is kosher or not.
What Kosher is Not
While there are restrictions on meat and dairy being eaten together, there is no kosher style of cooking. Therefore, a kosher restaurant refers to the processing practices referred to above, but may not necessarily serve Jewish cuisine. Another misconception is that religious officials ‘bless’ food to make it kosher, but this is not the case. While Rabbinic inspectors do exist, slowly non-Jewish food inspectors are being trained in kosher practices as is the case in New York state. There is no health-related benefit to foods labeled kosher, and although most kosher food, including produce, requires additional inspections than usual, the rules that govern kosher preparation do not make it better than a non-kosher alternative nutritionally. Lastly, many people believe kosher meat is raised and fed differently than regular meat. While many kosher meat producers use hormone-free feed, there is actually no regulation of how kosher meat is fed before its processing at a kosher slaughterhouse. Therefore kosher meat is not necessarily raised cage-free or fed organic feed.
Who Benefits Most from Kosher Labels
Kosher foods are divided into three categories: meat, dairy, and pareve. Some dairy products have meat additives like gelatin, rennet, or food coloring, and kosher dairy would exclude these ingredients. Many vegetarians buy kosher products for this reason and look for foods indicated as "pareve." Those with food allergies may also look for pareve items to avoid dairy. Other religious groups, such as some Muslims, Hindus, and Seventh-Day Adventists, may also look for the kosher label to adhere to similar dietary laws. Aside from this, there are no defining benefits to buying kosher meat.
Which kosher products do you seek out and why?