My Falafel Is Kosher. What Does Kosher Mean?

13 Nov

One thing I avoid at all costs is making food out of a packet but there is an exception to my rule (there are probably others but I just can’t remember right now).

I’ve found a falafel mix by Orgran which is gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, yeast, soy and nut free; vegan and natural. It also bares the Kosher pareve symbol of the Melbourne Kashrut (now known as Kosher Australia) and I was curious to learn more about what Kosher means. I spoke with Chris Stone of Kosher Australia and she was kind enough to forward me some information with permission to share it with you. Parts of this information has been copied from Kosher Australia documents so that nothing is lost in translation.

So what does Kosher mean?

The term “Kosher” means “proper” or “fit”. It has nothing to do with “the Rabbi’s blessing”. Kosher laws are based on principles set forth in the Bible with elucidation in Rabbinic literature such as the Talmud and the Code of Jewish Law.

All foods and their components and derivatives are divided into 4 categories.

Meat

Animals that chew their cud (generally cattle and sheep), and have split hooves; all species of poultry. The animals must be slaughtered in a prescribed manner by a trained ritual slaughterer (“shochet”) and checked for diseases. The meat must then undergo a soaking and salting procedure to remove the blood (“Koshering”). The entire procedure must be performed under the supervision of a Rabbinic supervisor (“mashgiach”).

Dairy

This includes milk and all its derivatives. Milk from a non-Kosher animal (e.g. pig, camel) is not Kosher. Even a very small amount of meat or dairy (or their derivatives) in a product gives that product a “meat” or “dairy” status. Furthermore, food processed with heat on equipment previously used for a dairy product, acquires dairy status unless the cleaning process complies with kosher sterilisation.

Pareve (neutral)

Everything Kosher that does not fall under the above two categories i.e. neither meat nor dairy. Included under ‘pareve’ are eggs, plants, and Kosher fish (with fins and scales). While meat and dairy products and their derivatives may not be mixed or eaten together in any amount, ‘pareve’ (neutral) products can be mixed with either meat or dairy products. Fish is an exception, it may not be mixed with meat.

Non-Kosher

There are two categories of non-Kosher:

Intrinsically non-Kosher:

All animals that do not chew their cud or those that do not have split hooves.

Most birds outside of poultry.

All animals and birds that have not been slaughtered, soaked, salted and inspected according to Jewish Law.

All shellfish.

All insects.

All grape derived products that have not been supervised by a Rabbi (grapes themselves are acceptable).

All hard cheese products that have not been supervised by a Rabbi.

All mixtures of meat and dairy ingredients and their derivatives.

All mixtures of meat and fish.

Non-Kosher processing methods:

This may apply to food and ingredients whose manufacture includes heat processing, i.e., spray-dried products, reacted flavours, production of fatty acids, canned foods, etc. If the equipment has been previously used for non-Kosher products, it renders any Kosher product non-Kosher. The Kosher product is viewed as absorbing the non-Kosher material from the walls of the vessels. However, if the equipment undergoes a special cleaning process called “Kosherisation” under supervision of a Rabbi, it can then be used for Kosher products.

The use of steam and/or near boiling water (preferably > 95C) is typically required in the Kosherisation cleaning process. Oven or bbq racks where non Kosher product is actually placed on the rack would need to be cleaned by blowtorching.

Ingredients

There are a number of categories of ingredients:

Ingredients that can never be Kosher: e.g. civet, castoreum, cochineal, and ambergris.

Ingredients that are presently not available in Kosher form: e.g. natural cognac oil.

Given the small number of items in the two preceding categories, the overwhelming majority of basic ingredients may or may not be Kosher, depending on their origin and processing history. Consequently, they require Rabbinic certification to ascertain that their origin is indeed Kosher, and whether they are meat, dairy, or pareve.

Levels of supervision

A common misconception is that Kosher production requires a Rabbinic supervisor to be present at all times. While the presence of a supervisor is certainly an advantage, modern production methods allow certification to take place as long as the production complies with rigid (and enforced) work instructions and defined bills of material.

A typical facility may only require an annual certification audit with additional surveillance audits (as determined once the certification audit has been conducted).

There are exceptions to this:

Meat preparation – as noted earlier, supervision is required at all stages.

Cheese production – where rennet is used in the cheese product (even if the rennet is microbial) a Rabbinic supervisor or orthodox Jew must dose the rennet.

Grape juice and grape wine production (including other grape by-products) – from the start of the juice extraction up until pasteurisation, the process must be handled by Rabbinic supervisors.

‘Super Kosher Milk’ or Chalav Yisrael – milking must be supervised by a Rabbinic supervisor.

Vegetables that are not usually eaten raw must be either cooked by a Jew or the oven/stove/cooking medium initiated by Jew – these include potatoes, beetroot, rice, pumpkin, eggplant – unless the product being made is a snackfood. Canneries are an exception as the mode of cooking is sufficiently different to ‘normal’ cooking;

A facility that stores ‘kosher sensitive items’ that may easily be interchanged with non-kosher varieties e.g. gelatine, glycerine – the level of surveillance may be increased depending on the Rabbi’s assessment of the danger of swapping kosher and non-kosher substitutes. The best solution is to stock only kosher versions of the material.

Passover Guidelines

Passover, an eight-day festival in March/April each year, has an added restriction against the consumption of any food that contains ‘leaven’.

In addition to the above restrictions, the following and their derivatives may not be used for Passover unless they have specific Rabbinic certification for Passover. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, corn, legumes, soy, peanut, rice, and mustard. Derivatives that include the following are also prohibited for Passover without specific Rabbinic certification for Passover: Alcohol, beer, dextrose from wheat or corn including their derivatives (such as sorbitol, citric acid, ascorbic acid, maltodextrin, glucose).

What is Kosher Australia?

Kosher Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that provides independent audits of production processes and ingredients for Kosher certification. Kosher Australia (formerly Melbourne Kashrut) was established in 1968 under the auspices of the Mizrachi Organisation and is widely recognised as the foremost Kosher Certification body in Australasia. Kosher Australia boasts a Rabbinic board garnered from across the spectrum of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

A December 2007 Food USA article reported that Kosher was the most sought after description on new products. In addition, a Bloomberg report cited Kosher certification as the mechanism that Chinese and Indian food manufacturers are using to allay consumer concerns re food safety.

Due to the rigorous auditing methods and the exclusion of the majority of animal derived ingredients, the consumer market views Kosher products as being safer and of superior quality (a 2005 Mintel survey shows that 55% of consumers perceive Kosher products as being safer).

This is further verified by an integrated marketing survey conducted in 2001 in the USA showed that while the majority of Kosher consumers are Jewish (44%) the second largest group of Kosher consumers (27%) are those concerned with what they eat and believe that Kosher produce is better because of the independent auditing that a 10% Kosher certification signifies. Other significant groups are Moslems due to the synergies between Halal and Kosher, and vegetarians which encompass Buddhists and Hindus.

A Choice Magazine article (“Labels Don’t Always Help” 10/99) indicates that without an independent accreditation such as Kosher certification, the consumer remains unaware of many additives or processing aids in the manufacture of goods. And unlike most other endorsements, a product is certified as being Kosher only if it meets all ingredient and production criteria and has undergone a site audit.

Since 1988, the number of Kosher consumers has increased from 6 million to over 10.5 million in 2002 and 15 million in 2006. It was estimated that there would be more than 29 million Kosher food consumers worldwide by 2010.

The Kosher Australia Kosher symbol appears on products manufactured throughout Australia and Asia including the Indian subcontinent and the organisation also works closely with the major US Kosher Agencies. The Kosher Australia Kosher certification appears on products as diverse as wine, flavours, cheeses, yoghurts, fruit products, meat products, flavoured coffees, baked goods, cereals, enzymes, honey, ethanol, vegetable oils, fish products and breakfast cereals.

Kosher Australia has a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Halal Food Services Trust, a major Halal certifier in Australia which allows Kosher Australia to take advantage of synergies between the two markets. In addition, Kosher Australia works closely with such Australian Government agencies as Austrade and Regional Development Victoria to promote and assist in the marketing of Kosher certified products. Kosher Australia is the only Australian authority that is a member of the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO), the international roof body for Kosher Certification Agencies.

The Australian ‘bible’ for Kosher food is an annual retail food guide published by Kosher Australia and sold throughout VIC, NSW, QLD and WA. Once a company is certified, the qualifying products are automatically listed in the food guide. Kosher Australia also publishes ‘The Kosher Konnection’, a quarterly ezine for Kosher certified companies as well as the ‘Kosher Taste of Australia’ magazine that is used for Trade Shows and international promotions.

As a food exporter, Australia is the 11th largest in the world and growing. Due to stringent quarantine laws, Australia has a well-deserved reputation as a clean food producer. Kosher certification ensures better marketability of products for export, and is almost mandatory for export to the US.

Kosher food is of prime importance to The Jewish population of Australia and New Zealand, estimated at over 150,000. Other consumer groups include the Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist markets which number over 700,000. The total market for those who may select Kosher products due to dietary requirements in Australia exceeds 1.1 million. The Australian Vegetarian Society reports that 18% of the Australian population are preferentially vegetarian and the requirements for vegetarians are aligned with Kosher.

Cooking instructions for Orgran falafel mix

So now that you know what Kosher means, you might be wondering how to make the falafel. It only takes about 30 minutes to prepare the falafels from packet to plate and you have a healthy, tasty snack or the base for a substantial meal.

Empty the contents of the packet into a bowl and mix in 170ml of water (room temperature is fine).

Leave the mixture to rest for 15 minutes so it can thoroughly absorb the water before you roll it into balls.

Fry the balls in vegetable oil until golden brown. You can deep fry them but I find shallow frying is fine; you will just need to turn them for even cooking and browning.

Falafel are delicious served as a snack with hummus, tzatziki, toum (Lebanese garlic sauce), salad, tabouli, olives, labne or pickles. Or all of the above! They make a great filling for wraps with Lebanese and pita bread; and vegetarian burgers.

Orgran falafel mix can be purchased from selected supermarkets and stores that stock health foods. Enjoy!

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