Here is a riddle. How can it be that an all-kosher factory uses only kosher ingredients and yet whether the finished product is kosher or not will depend on its appearance? The answer: dairy bread.
Kosher law mandates that aside from the obvious restrictions that kosher bread only be made with kosher ingredients and on dedicated or kosherized equipment, there is an additional requirement that kosher bread be made with only pareve ingredients (i.e. it may not contain any milk nor may it contain any meat). This is because bread is considered the staple of every meal. If bread were allowed to contain dairy, it would invariably get served together with meat. A kosher consumer is strictly forbidden from mixing milk and meat.
A hotdog or hamburger on a bun would be disastrous for a kosher consumer if the bun contained dairy. Not only may the dairy bread not be eaten directly with meat but it may not even be served at the same meal as meat. Because of the possibility of mix-ups and confusion, it was legislated more than two thousand years ago that kosher bread must always remain pareve. This rule remains in effect even to this day. Although in the past number of years bread has lost some of its lofty status as ‘king of the table’, as it has come under attack by health conscious individuals concerned about carbohydrates and gluten, and subsequently consumption of bread has nosedived, yet the laws of kosher have remained unchanged.
However, there are certain breads that are permitted to be made with dairy. Kosher law allows dairy bread, if the bread is baked in a manner that makes it clear to all that it contains dairy. In that case, there is no concern that it will be confused and served with meat. For example, if cheese is baked on the surface of the bread, as is the case with pizza, then there is no concern that it will accidentally be served at a meat meal. Anyone who sees a pizza knows immediately that it is dairy and cannot be served with meat. Likewise, a buttery croissant may be certified kosher, since everyone knows it contains butter. There is no concern that one may mistakenly use a croissant as a hotdog bun.
However, sometimes the dairy in the bread is not so easy to identify. Not everyone can recognize a buttermilk biscuit by appearance alone. If one might confuse this bread with another type that is often made pareve, it might inadvertently be served with meat. Therefore, any application for certification of dairy bread will need to be carefully evaluated by the rabbinic coordinator and rabbinic field representative in consultation with the OU office. When it comes to dairy bread, it is the appearance of the bread, which plays the pivotal “roll.”
Rabbi Eli Gersten serves as OU rabbinic coordinator and recorder of OU policy. He is a regular contributor to BTUS.