Shell Game: An OU Expert Tells How to Determine Which Quail Eggs Are Kosher
BY RABBI CHAIM LOIKE
Recently quail eggs have become available in many local supermarkets in the United States. Although none of these eggs are currently supervised, there have been a number of people who are taking the eggs assuming they are kosher. Twice, the biblical narrative testifies to the kosher status of quail (Exodus Ch. 16; Numbers Ch. 11). What bird could be more kosher than one divinely certified? From the outset it must be understood that there are quail (Coturnix coturnix) which are universally accepted as kosher. At the same time, there are dozens of species of quail which are not known to be kosher. The Talmud had a tradition that when identifying kosher species, the species was shown to Moses in a fire form. It was thus clear to Moses both the name as well as the likeness of the species which were to be considered kosher. Name alone is insufficient to determine the identification of a kosher species.
In Talmudic times there were four species (Yuma 75) that were generically called quail. Each was distinct and would need to be independently known to be kosher. In America many exotic quail are available; however only three are raised in significant numbers. The three quail widely raised in the United States are the bobwhite, button and coturnix. Button quail are raised to be pets; they are smaller than sparrows and have minimal potential as food, kosher or otherwise. However, the eggs of the button quail are large considering the size of the bird; some of the eggs are almost the same size as the kosher coturnix quail. The bobwhite is raised industrially and its egg is the same size as that of the kosher coturnix egg. It is thus imperative that a person who wishes to consume kosher quail eggs be able to differentiate between the kosher coturnix quail and the eggs of the button and bobwhite quail.
Bobwhite quail eggs are white and are thus easily differentiated from the splotched kosher
coturnix quail eggs. However, the button quail eggs are also splotched and one has to be familiar with the various color patterns to be able to ascertain the source of the eggs. OU Kosher has been getting two to three calls a week from people interested in purchasing quail eggs. On the East Coast all the eggs that were examined were determined to be those of kosher coturnix eggs. However, in the Midwest there have been a number of instances when the quail eggs were those of the bobwhite. The OU has not yet found an instance when supermarkets sold for consumption the eggs of button quail or any of the other exotic species of quail.
To further clarify the issue the OU has maintained a flock of button quail and a flock of coturnix quail. The eggs when harvested are blown (the albumen is removed) and are available for a nominal fee for those who want to have an example of a kosher quail egg and for comparative purposes those of a button quail egg. The author wanted his children to learn about birds. He delegated to his son Avidan the task of blowing the eggs. He would gather the eggs and when Avidan was so inclined he would blow the eggs that would be distributed to those who wanted them. It was noticed that the button quail eggs kept vanishing. Then late at night chirping sounds began emanating from the laundry room. Upon further investigation it was discovered that someone had turned on an old incubator stored in the laundry room. The incubator was promptly turned off, but the chirping continued. It was soon discovered that 96 button quail eggs had been placed in the incubator and had hatched. Fortunately, the quail reached maturity just around the holidays and were therefore a special gift to many friends.
End Note: The incubator has now been turned off and the wire connecting the incubator to the wall has been removed and is now in a safe in an undisclosed location.
RABBI CHAIM LOIKE, OU KOSHER RABBINIC COORDINATOR, SPECIALIZES IN THE AREAS OF CHEMICALS, EGGS, OLIVES, AND NATURAL FOODS.
HE LIVES WITH HIS THREE CHILDREN IN WEST HEMPSTEAD ON NEW YORK’S LONG ISLAND. HE IS ALSO ON THE FACULTY AT BOTH YESHIVA UNIVERSITY AND TOURO COLLEGE, WHERE HE TEACHES COURSES ON VARIOUS ASPECTS OF KOSHER FOOD.