Can You Determine If A Product Is Kosher Just From The Ingredients?

Not a week goes by without us at the OU learning of new Kashrut issues that arise from new developments in the food industry. Food companies are always discovering new ways to make their products better while at the same time lower their production costs. These innovations lead to new methods of production and ingredients, many of which lead to Kashrut problems. Many ingredients whose names often sound innocuous to those outside the food science or Kashrut business but really come from non-Kosher sources. For example, carmine, a red dye derived from a cochineal, is often used to color cherries and other foods red.

Other ingredients, while potentially acceptable, can be derived from non-Kosher sources. Enzymes and cultures, which are being used ever more frequently by the food industry, can create Kashrut hazards. Tripsin and Pepsin, found in many baby formulas, are enzymes derived from animals. Lipase, found in some oils, can be derived from cows’ tongues. Most people without an adequate background in food science will easily glance by these and other ingredients without realizing their problematic nature.

Even more challenging to Kosher consumers is the equipment on which food is produced. Food companies rarely list what foods have been produced in their facilities unless the foods are harmful to those who are allergic. This means that non-kosher food can be processed on the same equipment as otherwise innocuous foods. For example, bottled juices require supervision because they are often pasteurized on the same equipment as grape juice. Canned vegetables and canned tuna, among other seemingly “safe” foods, are often processed on the same equipment as non-Kosher foods. Vegetable oil can be refined and deodorized on the same machinery as animal fat. Aside from equipment concerns, release agents, which are used to keep food from sticking to the machinery, can come from animal derivatives. None of these potentially non-kosher items will show up on the ingredients panel, but present Kashrut hazards just the same. For these reasons and more, glancing through a list of ingredients alone will not answer the question, “is this food kosher?”

OU Kosher Staff