Kosher refers to items of food and drink that are permitted according to Jewish dietary laws. There are rules on drinks, meat, keeping meat and milk separate, and the kosher preparation of food. Special circumstances also apply to food shopping.
For millennia, Judaism has observed traditional religious dietary laws known in Hebrew as «kashru». These laws define the preparation and consumption of foods and drinks. Simply put, foods are divided into two categories: permitted or kosher, and forbidden or non-kosher or «treife».
Wine, grape juice and certain spirits are only deemed kosher if the bottle displays a kosher certification. According to certain interpretations of the dietary laws, milk is only defined as kosher if the milking and bottling is supervised by Jews. Water is kosher, as are numerous soft drinks if they are tested for kosher production, such as Coca-Cola and Red Bull.
Special regulations apply in the dietary laws governing meat. The consumption of meat is only permitted if it originates from animals which are ruminants and have cloven hooves, such as beef or lamb, or from poultry. Meats that are excluded include pork and horse-meat. Mammals and poultry must be slaughtered and processed under specific conditions. This ritual slaughter is known as «shechita». Fish are kosher provided they have fins and scales. Eating shellfish or fish without scales or fins, such as prawns, squid or mussels, is forbidden.
Separation of meat and milk
A further characteristic of the dietary laws is the strict separation of meat and dairy products. For this reason, kitchens must separate plates and cooking utensils, i. e. plates, cutlery, pots and pans or sponges, into the categories «meaty» and «milky». Meat and dairy products may only be cooked separately and cannot be eaten together. After consuming meat products, an interval of several hours must be observed before eating dairy products.
Kosher kitchen and koshering
Jews who are strictly religious and rigorously observe the dietary laws are restricted to food prepared in a kosher kitchen at home or in a kosher restaurant. Before a kitchen can be used for the first time, it has to be made kosher, known as «koshering». This includes, for example, the heating of hotplates to remove any food residues, and the strict division of the kitchen into «meaty» and «milky». In third-party kitchens, such as in rented apartments, the hotplates are often covered with special aluminium foil, or the users bring along their own special hotplates. It can be very complicated for restaurants or hotels to expand their services to include a kosher menu, which requires compliance with all the regulations and then the receipt of kosher certification. That is why kosher meals are generally available only in specialist restaurants with a kosher kitchen.
When buying kosher food, the so-called kosher lists offer help. The kosher lists are maintained and published by the individual Jewish communities in Switzerland. The Community of Interest for Kosher Foodstuffs IGFKL supports the rabbis of the communities. The IGFKL controls the foodstuffs, makes the necessary enquiries with the producers and makes this information available to the rabbis for the preparation of their kosher lists. The kosher lists catalogue the kosher products available in Swiss supermarkets. Fruit, vegetables, eggs and grains are all classified as kosher. All other foods are checked for their ingredients and included in the kosher lists. Even a small amount of non-kosher ingredients will make a product non-kosher. Some towns and villages have special butchers for kosher meat and kosher supermarkets or a kosher department in the supermarket.
Living in a kosher way in Switzerland
The observance of «kashrut» varies greatly among the roughly 18,000 Jews in Switzerland, mostly depending on their religious attitude. Adherence to the rules ranges from very strict to total disregard. Strictly religious Jews are very meticulous in their fulfilment of the dietary laws, whereas secular Jews tend to observe them only partially or to ignore them entirely. The SIG’s aim is to make a kosher lifestyle possible for all those who wish to live according to these rules. It is committed in particular to kosher certification and to ensuring a favourable environment for the import of kosher products. On its website, the SIG also provides residents and visitors of Switzerland with comprehensive information on kosher stores, restaurants and hotels in this country.