There is a German expression Alles iz in butter” (Literally: Everything is in butter.) This phrase means that everything is fine and in order. Historically, butter was a product that was viewed as being kosher without any serious issues. Generally, all aspects concerning the ingredients and manufacturing process were considered to be acceptable. Butter was generally produced by churning cream so that the butterfat flocculated (clumped together) to form butter; the byproduct from this process being buttermilk. No other additives were used. In fact, in halacha, there are many shitos that do not consider butter to be subject to the restrictions of chalav akum as long as there is no residual milk fluid in the butter (see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 115:7 and Shach ad loc.). Even today, based on these shitos, many people who are careful to use cholov Yisroel products exclusively are lenient with butter. Some kosher consumers purchase higher grades of butter even without any kosher certification. Are these practices advisable in light of the many changes, both in terms of ingredients and manufacturing techniques, that have occurred in standard butter production? How do these changes affect the kosher of butter? Do the traditionally lenient approaches to the kashrus of butter still apply? From the standpoint of kosher, can we still say about butter, “Alles iz in butter”?
Modern Production of Butter and its Kosher Considerations:
Before understanding the kosher issues involved with butter, it’s necessary, first, to understand the fundamentals of butter production.
The primary raw material in butter making is cream. Not all creams are equal, however, and from a kashrus perspective an important distinction is sweet cream and whey cream. Sweet cream is the fat that is separated from milk. Whey cream, in contrast, is a by-product of cheese, it is subject to many more complex kosher issues. Sweet cream gives rise to sweet cream butter and whey cream to whey cream butter.
Whether the raw material is sweet cream or whey cream, the process is roughly the same: the cream is pasteurized, or treated with heat to destroy harmful bacteria. After pasteurization, the cream is aged, which means that it is held at cool temperatures for a while, to crystallize the cream’s butterfat (fat globules); these globules will later form into actual butter. Next, the cream is churned, which means it is agitated so that its butterfat globules clump together into masses. These masses are butter, referred to in the butter industry as curd. The leftover portion of the cream, the part that does not form into butter, is known as buttermilk.
The butter is then washed, and salt and coloring may be added. The product is molded to a desired form and packaged.
In some butter productions, the cream is cultured before churning. Culturing involves adding dairy bacteria cultures to the cream to ferment its natural sugars into lactic acid, which creates an enhanced taste and aroma. (Although dairy cultures are normally made from kosher bacteria strands, they can be grown and nourished using non-kosher nutrients and can be processed on equipment shared with non-kosher materials of all types, including animal by-products.) Starter distillate, which is a dairy flavor compound made from milk or whey condensate, is also sometimes incorporated into butter to achieve a more tart or “buttery” taste.
The taste of whey cream butter is different from sweet cream butter. Because whey cream is a derivative of cheese, it is more salty, tangy and “cheesy” than its milk-derived, sweet cream counterpart. Whey cream butter is the preferred type of butter for butter-flavored snacks and other various buttery-tasting products, as it has a stronger flavor than mild, sweet cream butter. Whey cream is also less expensive than sweet cream, and it is often used in flavored dairy products, such as in ice cream, whose many additives mask the salty, tangy taste of the whey cream.
Many butter plants process both sweet cream and whey cream butter, and many types of butter are made from blends of whey cream and sweet cream.
Even if a facility only processes sweet cream butter without any additives, there are no guarantees that the product is free of kosher concerns. Sweet cream butter is often made in dairy plants that also manufacture a large variety of products, such as chocolate milk, juice, eggnog and sour cream. In such cases, the equipment used to pasteurize cream for butter production is often used to pasteurize other products in the plant, engendering the possibility that butter made in these facilities has b’lios (absorbed taste) from whatever else is processed there. One should also note that cream used in butter manufacture is frequently sourced from outside plants which pasteurize other materials on the equipment used for cream. Thus, even if a butter facility makes only sweet cream butter and nothing else, it may have purchased cream from cheese plants or multi-functional dairies, in which the cream may have been pasteurized on equipment shared with who knows what else…
Some consumers believe that the grading system applicable to butter is indicative of whether the butter is acceptable from a kosher standpoint. They assume that higher grade butter is made only from fresh sweet cream and is more pure (i.e. free of additives). It is important to note, however, that butter grading does not require that certain types of cream be used to earn a specific grade. Thus, Grade AA butter may contain some whey cream, so long as it does not result in an acidic flavor or a rough mouthfeel. Grade A butter may be made from a mixture of sweet cream and whey cream. So, too, the grading system does not bar additives.
In Europe, EU dairy regulations bar sweet cream butter from containing whey cream. In fact, under EU regulations, sweet cream butter and whey cream butter cannot even be manufactured in the same plant. Although it may be easier to ascertain the cream content of butter manufactured in EU facilities, the kosher concerns of additives and shared production equipment are ever-present.
To sum up, modern butter manufacture involves several kosher considerations, including the potential presence of non-kosher whey cream, production equipment shared with non-kosher materials, and a variety of kosher-sensitive additives..
Although some have attempted to justify the purchase of non-certified butter based on various heterim such as the likelihood of bittul (nullification) of non-kosher whey cream and sefeikos (doubts) as to the effect of any non-kosher equipment on the actual kashrus of butter and its additives, there is a lack of definitive information to justify relying on such rationales.
Based on the above, we can pretty well understand the types of issues that need to be addressed by kashrus agencies. Kosher certification of butter involves meticulous verification of all cream sources and butter additives, as well as kashrus of all equipment. In fact, due to the compatibility of kosher and non-kosher cream, many major North American kosehr agencies have agreed to not certify butter made in “mixed plants”, which handle kosher and non-kosher cream. It was determined that tracking the use of kosher and non-kosher cream and constantly koshering equipment in between was too risky. As a result of this joint policy, established at a large gathering of kosher professionals in New York several years ago, there are virtually no kosher-certified mixed butter plants in North America today.
Butter is often marketed as an innocuous, old-fashioned pure cream product which all can readily enjoy (without worrying too much about kosher). As with most products today, butter has become highly complex, and the kosher consumer must consult with his moreh hora’ah (halachic authority) if he can safely still proclaim, “Alles iz in butter.”
Sidebar: Halachic Insights: Must Butter Be Cholov Yisroel
Although it is a machlokes among the Geonim and Rishonim, the Rambam (Hil. Ma’achalos Asuros 3:16), Tur (Yoreh Deah 115), Shulchan Oruch (YD 115:3) and many later poskim permit butter made from non-supervised (gentile-farmed) milk so long as there is no actual liquid milk residue present. Their rationale is that non-kosher milk cannot properly solidify into butter, and Chazal did not prohibit non-Jewish butter as they did with non-Jewish cheese. Based on this p’sak, many consumers who are otherwise meticulous to purchase only cholov Yisroel products will buy cholov stam (regular, non-cholov Yisroel) butter.
Were today’s butter only made from sweet cream, there would be nothing to discuss, as the heter to use cholov stam butter would clearly apply. However, some kosher professionals have pointed out that since today’s butter often contains whey cream and various other cholov stam additives which – they assert – do not or may not qualify for an exemption from cholov Yisroel requirements, consumers who do not otherwise purchase cholov stam products should not purchase cholov stam butter either. This approach holds that since cholov stam butter often contains starter distillate (likely derived from cholov stam whey) and cholov stam whey cream (from cheese production), among other potential additives, the exemption from cholov Yiroel requiments is inapplicable, as the exemption only works for fresh cream, not for other dairy materials. The likelihood of cream used for butter having shared equipment with other cholov stam milk and foods which are not under the special butter exemption is also noted by this opinion as a reason to be strict. (Although the Bach on YD 115 writes that Chazal were only gozer (declared) the rule against cholov akum on fluid milk and not on other forms of dairy products (such as butter), his statement is not consistent with the Remo (115:2), who holds that unsupervised milk retains its prohibition when used in other dairy products. (See Shach ibid s.k. 18, Taz s.k. 11 and Aruch Ha-Shulchan YD 115:12.) The opinion of the Bach also runs counter to that of the Rambam (Hil. M.A. 3:13) and many poskim). Others contend that butter with a cholov stam hechsher may be consumed without concern, because many cholov stam components and additives are themselves by-products of whey, which is itself exempt from cholov Yisroel requirements me-ikar ha-din (by the letter of the law) according to the Remo (YD 115:2). This more lenient position also advances detailed reasons as to why the potential presence of cholov stam milk derivatives and equipment concerns can be resolved so as to permit such butter for all consumers.
However, there is another twist to the issue which is not widely discussed in halachic literature. The Remo (ibid.) holds that unsupervised milk is acceptable for cheese and butter use only if it was milked for those express purposes; unsupervised milk which was produced for other purposes is not acceptable for cheese or butter production. Whereas in past generations, butter manufacturers produced their own milk with the clear intent of separating its cream for butter production, thereby fulfilling the Remo’s requirement, most milk in the modern era is not produced at farms for specific butter or cheese manufacture; rather, it is milked for general sale, often to dairy brokers, who sell it to all types of purchasers, including butter and cheese plants. Since this milk is not produced with the specific intent to use it for cheese or butter, does it still fulfill the Remo’s requirement? The simple answer seems to be “yes”, as milk and cream sources produce their commodities with the understanding that they be suitable for any dairy use, including cheese and butter manufacture; on the other hand, since there is not a specific intent for the milk to be used for cheese or butter purposes, perhaps the Remo’s requiment is not thereby fulfilled.
Regardless of modern technical considerations, one can argue that butter’s exemption from cholov Yisroel requirements is applicable to all sweet cream butter, irrespective of the fact that contemporary butter-making often involves additives and milk farmed for general use. The language of the Rambam (ibid. 3:15), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (YD 115:2) is “Lo gazru al ha-chem’ah“ – “They (Chazal) did not ban butter” when made from unsupervised milk. The simple meaning of this statement is that butter was categorically excluded from the prohibition on cholov akum – period. Although whey cream butter may not be in the category of “butter” as referred to by Chazal , one can posit that regular, sweet cream butter is exempt from cholov Yisroel considerations, regardless of modern additives and milking issues, as butter was excluded from the cholov akum ban as a food category, without stipulation that it be made a certain way.
In view of the multiple kosher issues, the cholov Yisroel consumer must consult his personal ba’al hora’ah for guidance.