What is Gelatin?
- Gelatin is primarily used as a gelling agent in foods and pharmaceuticals.
- As such, it is subject to all the Jewish kosher food laws.
- Since most gelatin is made from the collagen in the bones of cattle, the issue of kashruth stretches farther afield into the realm of shechita (animal slaughter) and the kashruth of the animal itself.
- Gelatin, however, can also be made from: carob beans, vegetable gums, and other non-animal-based substances.
Gelatin – Is it kosher?
There is no consensus among Jewish arbiters on the kashruth of gelatin, however, most of the rabbinical religious authorities in America ruled that it was not kosher. While the Rambam rules that since the hides and bones of non-kosher animals are inedible, they are rendered kosher (Hilchos Ma’acholos Asuros 4:18), he also states that the hides of domesticated pigs have the status of meat and are therefore deemed non-kosher. Thus, porcine gelatin (gelatin made from young pig hides) would be forbidden. But the issue remains even in gelatin made from other animals, as there is a worry that, although made from hides and bones, there might be remnants of meat in the gelatin, thus complicating the issue of kashruth. The main problem is that about 90% of American gelatin is porcine.
Fish gelatin is another form of gelatin, made from fish skins.
Once again comes up a kashruth discussion regarding the type of fish skins that are being used:
- Some stringent opinions hold that every single fish needs to be inspected by a supervising Rabbi in order to guarantee it’s kashruth.
- Others hold that such supervision is only needed in case a whole bite-full of non-kosher fish is eaten, (i.e. products that keep the fish whole, like canned tuna fish), but since gelatin only makes use of the skins which subsequently processed into a liquid, that requirement is not needed since any traces of non-kosher fish would be mixed in with a large majority of kosher fish.
Based on the second opinion, the problem of non-kosher gelatin was solved, but gave rise to another question in kashruth:
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) ( in Yoreh Deah 116:2) cites a ruling based on the Talmud that it is dangerous to eat meat and fish together. The accepted practice is to have different utensils for meat and fish and not serve them at the same time in a meal. With fish skins as the ingredient in kosher gelatin, this raises the question of whether or not one can eat fish gelatin products in a meat meal. This depends on a disagreement in the early Jewish arbiters as to whether the concept of nullification in a ratio of sixty (“Bittul beshishim”) applies to meat and fish as it does to other mixtures, or whether the laws are more stringent in situations of danger, and thus, relying on nullification wouldn’t suffice in the case of fish gelatin and meat.
Is kosher meat gelatin the perfect solution?
- The use of kosher meat gelatin would solve the aforementioned problems.
- The main problem, however, is that only about one half of all slaughtered animals are “glatt kosher” (meaning of a high level of kashruth and not bearing any of the blemishes that render an animal into not kosher/“Treifah”). That being the case, it would be very hard to procure the huge amount of glatt-kosher animal hides and bones for large-scale gelatin production.
- However, the leading Jewish arbiters in Israel ruled that it is permissible to use the hides of animals, even if they are not glatt-kosher, provided they are not treifahs (not kosher).
- It is also accepted that this form of gelatin is considered parve (not meat and not milk), and thus can be eaten with dairy meals.
Non-kosher gelatin – What happens if it was used?
If non-kosher gelatin was cooked with other foods, one might initially rationalise that the principle of nullification in a ratio of sixty (“Bittul beshishim”) would apply, and according to that the food can be eaten and the pots do not need to be koshered (a process that renders the pot from not kosher to kosher). However, the laws of nullification do not apply to a situation called “Davar hamaamid”, which means that if the non-kosher food, even though heavily outnumbered by the kosher food, causes a significant change to the kosher food, for example solidifying cheese and even thickening foods, it is not nullified and renders the food Rabbinically non-kosher and the vessels requiring koshering.
Are there any other concerns regarding Kosher Gelatin?
- Manufacturing Process:
- As with any kosher food, even though the ingredients may be kosher, the manufacturing process needs to be competently supervised by trained Jews to ensure that no non-kosher food affects the kashruth of the product they are supervising.
- Even gelatin made from completely kosher ingredients may still not be eaten unless certified by a competent Jewish law authority that the other areas of kashruth standards have been maintained.
- Production Vessels:
- This is a big issue in terms of the production vessels in factories that use both kosher and non-kosher gelatin. The question is whether the vessels need koshering (a process that renders the vessels from not kosher to kosher) after the non-kosher gelatin has been through them, before the kosher gelatin is manufactured.
- There are reasons to rule leniently in a case such as yogurt production since the amount of non-kosher gelatin would not be enough to prevent nullification from taking place, however, other factors must be considered.
Non-kosher gelatin – Where can it occur?
Kosher gelatin production costs a lot more than non-kosher gelatin, thus it is more likely than not that a product containing gelatin contains non-kosher gelatin.
Different Gelatin Usages:
- Gelatin is commonly used in vitamins covering small beads of oil which contain the vitamin, protecting them from outside elements, and to stop the contents leaking. Sometimes the gelatin may be nullified in a ratio of sixty, but sometimes it may not.
- Gelatin is also largely used for pill capsules to make it easier to swallow. The issue is whether or not the capsule is still considered a food since it has been hardened, thus free from all kashruth concerns, or whether it remains a food since it can be softened when wet, thus remaining an issue.
- Gelatin can also be used in foods to affect changes during the production process, for example fructose sweetening, and fruit drink manufacturing, making it extremely important that foods likely to use gelatin in their manufacturing process are certified by a kashruth authority.