Among the many questions that come to us at the OU Kosher Hotline and Webbe Rebbe email service, one of the most frequently asked is, “(favorite product) bears an OU-D, but there does not seem to be any dairy ingredients in it. Is it really pareve?” To make a long story short, it depends on the product.
In many cases, the product may actually contain dairy ingredients. The most common example is that of “non-dairy” creamers. While most of the ingredients are pareve (non-dairy), they almost always contain sodium caseinate. While to many of us the name might sound as if it’s a type of salt, it is really derived from milk, making it a dairy ingredient.
Sometimes, a dairy ingredient could be listed among dairy ingredients without being itemized. For example, butter flavors are sometimes listed together with other flavors under the name “natural flavors.”
However, in many other cases, there are no dairy ingredients in the products in question. Does that mean that they are really pareve? Not exactly. The D for dairy designation on the kosher symbol means that the product has been processed on equipment upon which dairy products were produced. According to Ashkenazi Jewish practice, if pareve food is heated up in a utensil in which dairy was previously cooked, the food cannot be eaten together with meat. On the other hand, if one has already eaten meat, one can eat such a product without having to wait the customary six hours. Jews of Sefardi descent are permitted to mix such items with meat.
As we have seen in the previous paragraph, the rules regarding dairy equipment are somewhat complex. Also, we have found that many companies do not completely clean off their machinery after running dairy products on them.
Something else to keep in mind: Companies ask us all the time to re-formulate their ingredients. This means that even if a product does not contain any dairy ingredients today, it does not mean that that stay the same tomorrow.
That being said, for those of you out there who would like to inquire whether a particular product marked as dairy really contains dairy ingredients, please feel free to contact us. The e-mail address to our Webbe Rebbe service is firstname.lastname@example.org and the phone number to our Kosher Hotline is 1-212-613-8241.