Kosher foods are divided into three categories: meat, dairy and pareve. One of the basic principles of kashrut is the total separation of meat and dairy products. Meat and dairy may not be cooked or eaten together. To ensure this, the kosher kitchen contains separate sets of dishes, utensils, cookware, and separate preparation areas for meat and dairy. A third category, pareve, is comprised of foods which are neither meat nor dairy and may therefore be eaten with either.
Following is a detailed description of meat, dairy, and pareve foods, and practical guidelines for cooking and serving the foods within each category according to kashrut specifications.
The category of meat includes meat, fowl and their byproducts, such as bones, soup or gravy. Any food made with meat or fowl, or with meat or fowl products, is considered "meaty;" also called fleishig (Yiddish). Even a small amount of meat in a food can cause it to be fleishig. All meat, fowl and meat parts in any product, including items such as liver pills, must come from a kosher animal that was slaughtered, examined, and its blood drained off according to the dietary laws to be considered kosher.
All foods derived from or containing milk are considered dairy, or milchig (Yiddish). This includes milk, butter, yogurt and all cheese -- hard, soft and cream. Even a small amount of dairy in a food can cause the food to be considered dairy. All dairy products require kosher certification. They must meet the following criteria in order to be certified kosher:
- They must come from a kosher animal.
- All ingredients must be kosher and free of meat derivatives. Non-kosher dairy products are often made with ingredients of animal origin. For example, hard cheese is made with rennet, yogurt sometimes contains gelatin, and butter may contain non-kosher additives.
- They must be processed on kosher equipment.
Many kinds of "non-dairy" creamers, candy, cereal and margarine do contain milk derivatives, as do some low-calorie sweeteners. Dairy ingredients whose names appear on many product labels include caseinate, lactose and whey.
Foods that are neither meat nor dairy are called pareve. This means that they contain no meat or dairy derivatives, and have not been cooked or mixed with any meat or dairy foods.
Eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables, grains, and juices in their natural, unprocessed state are common pareve foods. Other pareve foods include pasta, soft drinks, coffee and tea, and many types of candy and snacks. Products that have been processed in any way should be bought only if they bear reliable kosher certification.
Although pareve foods present fewer kashrut complexities than either meat or dairy foods, certain points must be kept in mind:
- Pareve foods may lose their pareve status if processed on dairy equipment or when additives are used. The label may give no indication of this processing. Chocolate, cookies and other snacks should not be used with meat or meaty foods unless they are certified pareve.
- Certain fruits, vegetables and grains must be checked for the presence of small insects and larvae (See Vegetables and Kashrut)
- Eggs must be checked for the presence of blood spots (See Eggs)
For more information on the status of pareve foods, see Serving Pareve Foods.
Separating Meat and Dairy
Meat and dairy foods may not be cooked together or eaten together. One may not even derive benefit from a combination of meat and dairy foods; for example, selling such a combined product or feeding it to a pet.
To ensure this total separation, the kosher kitchen requires the use of separate utensils, accessories and appliances for meat and dairy. It is useful to have some separate pareve utensils as well.
For a complete guide to setting up and maintaining the separation between meat and dairy see The Kosher Kitchen.