K A S H R U T . C O M©

The Premier Kosher Information Source on the Internet

Kashrut.com uses cookies. By using kashrut.com, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy. That's Fine.

Vegan, Vegetarian, Kosher?

by Arlene J. Mathes-Scharf

Copyright © 2023 by Arlene Mathes-Scharf. All rights reserved.

A local vegan/vegetarian restaurant was certified as kosher. But they wanted to use non-kosher-certified vegetable broth made in a factory that made non-kosher meat broths. They then used a sauce that contained shrimp. They lost their kosher certification, but still call themselves “vegan”. The restaurant had no standards regarding the ingredients that they were using, and the people eating their food had no idea what they were eating.

There are no official standards for a product to be labeled vegan or vegetarian unlike kosher or USDA-Organic. Beef, pork and chicken are not considered to be allergens, so there is no requirement for companies to list any residue or the presence of these or any other non-allergens that might find their way into a product. Processing equipment that is needed to produce a good product is expensive. The easiest and cheapest way to make any product is to make it in an existing factory. Many times the “non-meat” equivalent of a meat product uses existing meat equipment to make the meat-less product. (The same goes for many non-dairy “milk” products: it is easier to make them in a dairy plant.)

Many products are now labeled as “vegan” or “vegetarian”. Many people think that if a food is vegetarian or particularly vegan, it should be inherently kosher. Some people who keep kosher assume that if a product is vegan, then no meat or dairy ingredients should be in the food, so it should be acceptable. Similarly, a “vegetarian” food should not contain meat or fish. However, those who are pesca-vegetarian eat many types of kosher and non-kosher seafood and may still call themselves vegetarian. For a product to be kosher, it needs to have kosher ingredients and be produced on equipment that is kosher. The rabbis knew about residue in equipment 1,000 years before the US Food and Drug Administration.

One example of this is two major brands’ plant-based raw “chicken strips”. One brand is certified kosher and one brand is non-kosher. It is likely that for the non-certified product, the food company is sending the raw product to a plant that makes chicken nuggets from chicken. Nevertheless, the final product is able to be called vegan, but it is certainly not kosher, much less pareve. It may even have been fried in the same oil as the chicken products. For the kosher-certified product, the food company either keeps the frying in house, sends the product to a kosher factory, or has the chicken fryer equipment kashered before use. A non-kosher-certified vegan restaurant could use either product.

In addition, many food products contain added flavors. Vegans do not care about a small amount of animal-based chemicals in flavors, so there are vegan-certified ice creams that contain dairy flavors.

A number of years ago, there were news reports of meat contamination of meat-free products. In 2018, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph sent 10 different vegan items from major supermarket chains to a German government accredited laboratory. officially The laboratory found traces of turkey DNA in Tesco's Wicked Kitchen BBQ Butternut Macaroni product, and traces of pork DNA in Sainsbury's Meat-Free Meatballs that had been officially certified by the Vegetarian Society.1 In 2015, a DNA analysis of vegetarian mock-meat products in the US found that 10% actually contained meat, and 3% of the beef sausage and hot dog products tested contained pork. 2 This meat contamination strongly suggests that shared equipment was used for meat and meat-free products and between various types of meat products.

Another kosher issue with vegan products is the use of non-kosher grape juice. Consumption of non-kosher grape ingredients such as grape juice and wine vinegar are also forbidden under halacha. As companies try to reduce added sugars -- particularly in countries where sugar-sweetened products are being highly taxed -- grape juice is being used as a sweetener so that products do not need to be listed as containing added sugar (although in the US it would have to be listed in the ingredient listing). Foods using grape as a coloring are vegan but not kosher unless kosher grape products are used. Wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar are often used in salad dressings and as a flavoring. There are no issues with using these ingredients in non-kosher vegan or vegetarian products, but they are not kosher. If they are used as an ingredient, they can be labeled as vinegar, and if used as part of a flavor, they do not have to be identified.

The issues of bishul yisroel may also apply: Cooked kosher foods that are “fit for a king’s table” need to be bishul yisroel -- i.e., having a Jew involved in its cooking. More than two thousand years ago, the Rabbis prohibited eating certain foods cooked by non-Jews to limit socialization, which might lead to intermarriage between Jews and gentiles. More about bishul akum (gentile cooking) and bishul yisroel will be addressed in a separate article.

Ingestion of whole insects is also prohibited, so the presence of insects in vegetables and fruit would also be a problem. This can be a issue in restaurants and also in processed food products that might contain insects. For more information go to https://www.kashrut.com/consumer/vegetables/.

1 https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2018/06/11/Traces-of-animal-DNA-found-in-veggie-ready-meals

2 https://www.sciencealert.com/vegetarian-hot-dogs-found-containing-traces-of-meat-and-human-dna

Comments to webmaster@kashrut.com 
© Copyright 2022 Scharf Associates
Phone: (781)784-6890 
E-mail: ajms@kashrut.com
URL: "http://www.kashrut.com/"
Arlene J. Mathes-Scharf  
Food Scientist - Kosher Food Specialist
Scharf Associates
P.O. Box 50
Sharon, MA 02067