Before writing about kosher gelatin, let's explain what gelatin is. Gelatin is a colorless and tasteless substance that comes from collagen inside the skin and bones of animals. It is commonly used to give food a gelatinous texture and in pharmaceuticals. Some foods that use gelatin include candy, marshmallows, gelatin desserts, pies and low-fat yogurts.
Kosher food laws dictate that the only animals that may be eaten are those that have split hooves and chew their cud. Due to the fact that most gelatin (44 percent) comes from pig skin, Orthodox Jews and other Jews who keep the laws of kashrut are extremely careful to pay attention to kosher certification when purchasing products containing gelatin.
Gelatin often comes from bovine sources as well, and although cows, oxen and other bovine animals are kosher, this still poses potential kashrut concerns. For the animal to be considered kosher, it must have had a ritual slaughter by a shochet, a trained and pious slaughterer. The cattle that have been killed for the gelatin must have had such a slaughter for the gelatin to be considered kosher.
Kosher food laws also state that meat and milk not be combined in any way. Orthodox Jews wait several hours, the exact amount depending on their tradition, between eating meat and milk products, and dishes, utensils, pots, pans and appliances must be kept separate in in kosher kitchens. If the gelatin being consumed is from a bovine source, it is important to be aware of this, so it is not eaten together with dairy or cooked using the wrong appliances.
Gelatin in kosher products is typically derived from kosher fish. Kosher approved gelatin will always have certification on the package indicating whether it is from a meat source or from fish, which is considered pareva, or neutral. Kosher food laws indicate that neutral foods such as eggs, fish, vegetables and grains may be eaten with either meat or dairy.
When purchasing vitamins, one must make sure that all of the ingredients are from a kosher source, including the capsule that surrounds many vitamins. Kosher vitamins and other pharmaceuticals in pill form often come in gelatin made from fish or vegetarian gelatin substitutes.
Some yogurts use gelatin for thickness and consistency. It makes the yogurt more creamy and also keeps fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cup. If one is interested in knowing what is kosher gelatin in yogurt, it is going to be from fish or from a gelatin substitute. If gelatin from pork or from beef which has not had a proper slaughter, not only is there a problem with the meat, there is also a problem with mixing meat and dairy.
Some alternatives to gelatin that are not from animal or fish sources are agar-agar, which is a seaweed, pectin, guar gum and others. Since these alternatives are plant based, they are generally kosher, though production and potential additives make certification essential.
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