Not too long ago a friend of ours who is not Jewish called to ask what is kosher chicken and where can she buy it? She had a college friend of her husband coming into town, and the friend only ate kosher food and she wanted to prepare a chicken dish the friend could eat. I explained to her what kosher meat is, how it is different from non-kosher meat and ultimately where she could find a store near her that carried kosher chicken. So, my latest article is on what is kosher chicken and what makes chicken kosher vs non-kosher.
First off, chickens are not raised kosher or non-kosher. All live chickens, whether free range, organic or raised in a pen are all considered kosher. How and by whom they are slaughtered will determine whether a chicken can be labeled as “kosher,” “glatt kosher” vs the regular non kosher chicken found in your local market.
Kosher dietary laws pertaining to chicken, meat, fish and many other types of animals are thousands of years old. The determination of what types of animals are kosher and the characteristics that determines whether an animal is kosher or not are actually written in the Torah, which is over 3,500 years old. The kosher dietary laws pertaining to chicken, meat, fowl and fish have not changed, the only difference between then and now is the technology used to raise, house, slaughter and store the meat.
What Makes a Chicken Kosher?
When chickens or other animals are brought to the kosher slaughter house they are first inspected for signs of injury, illness or disease. Any animal that falls into one of these categories can never be labeled kosher. The process of kosher slaughter, called Shechitah, is a complicated process that is performed by a specially trained individual, called a shochet (show-chet) or shchet rabbi, who has received special training on the kosher laws of slaughtering an animal in the most humane way possible, so the animal does not suffer. Someone asked me once is meat kosher because it is blessed. The answer is NO. There are certain prayers or blessings the shochet says before the slaughter, but the animal is not blessed.
The shochet used a long a very sharp knife, and the animal must be slaughtered in a very specific manner. After making the blessing, the shochet uses a very fast, single continuous cutting motion to quickly sever the trachea, esophagus and major blood vessels in the neck. This allows a majority of the blood to drain out, and you will notice in a store that kosher meat has significantly less blood than non-kosher meat. The meat is then salted to draw out the blood still in the fresh, meat, organs and tissue.
An animal, such as a cow, chicken, turkey, and deer even though these are considered kosher animals, can’t be hunted since murder, maiming, or using a gun is considered inhumane and would render the meat traif (tray-f), uneatable by a Jew, since the animal was not slaughtered according to Jewish law by a specially trained individual.
Is it a Kosher Chicken?
Before the meat can processed and packaged, the animal is further inspected. Kosher meat must be free of blemishes, such as deformations, small holes in the tissue, etc. Glatt kosher meat goes through an even more stringent inspection than other types of kosher meat. Glatt comes from the Yiddish word meaning smooth. While kosher meat can have certain blemishes, Glatt kosher meat must be 100% free of any blemishes and this is the type of kosher meat eaten by Ultra Orthodox Jews, and even non-Jews who prefer to eat this type of meat for health reasons. This extra handing is why kosher meat can cost 3-4 times as much as non kosher meat.
I read a statistic that said 5-10% of people eat kosher meat for religious purposes, and nearly 65% eat it for health reasons and they say it tastes better than non kosher meat. This may be the reason my friend said the kosher chicken she bought tasted better than the non-kosher chicken she regularly bought.
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I appreciate the primer on kosher meat and shehitah. Now I will know where should I purchase the meat I will serve if my Jewish uncles come over. If ever, I could also use help on where are suggestible restaurants who serve kosher diet meals.