FISH for the Kosher Consumer
What is a kosher fish? What are the
concerns that the kosher consumer should be aware of? We will list some of the concerns in
general & then explain them in more detail. There are thousand of different kinds of
fish, and there are many more different names to many of the fishes. A common name in one
country of a kosher or non-kosher fish may be called by a completely different name in
another country. The one name that is somewhat reliable would be the scientific Latin name
given to each species of fish. All kosher fish must have fins and scales. Are all types of
scales acceptable as kosher? What types are acceptable & not acceptable? What is the
status of an immature fish that did not develop its scales (sardines), or a fish that
loses its scales at a certain stage in life or loses the scales when being removed from
the water? Is the blood of fish permitted to the kosher consumer? Are the eggs, roe &
caviar of non- kosher fish permitted? Caviar displayed on the same tray next to kosher
fish, is that an acceptable identifier of what fish it came from? Is the color or shape of
fish eggs, caviar a reliable kosher indicator? Why is the diet of certain fish a concern
to the kosher consumer? What is the kosher status of processed fish? Filleted fish,
canned, frozen, ground, sliced, paste? On a fish that can be identified as a kosher fish,
what are some of the concerns with the curing, smoking & pickling of fish? If the
actual process is acceptable as kosher but it is made in a non-kosher facility, what are
the concerns? The general status of fish is PARVE, that is not meat nor dairy but it is
considered neutral. Can fish be consumed together with meat? Can it be cooked with meat?
How about in clean meat utensils? Can fish be eaten with milk, cheese or butter? Can fish
be cooked in dairy utensils? How about being cooked in butter, milk etc.? Can one purchase
kosher fish in a store that also sells non-kosher? What are the concerns? Should one buy
fish from a religious owner? Why? What are the concerns with a fish delivery? Do packaged
fish salads or other fish items require properly sealed packages?
A kosher fish is one that originates and lives in water. A kosher fish must have scales
and fins. The scales must be visible even without a microscope. The whole body of the fish
does not have to be covered with scales. If the scales are only by the gills, fins or tail
is sufficient. The size, thickness & shape of the scales are irrelevant. The scales
usually are overlapping each other from head to tail. The scales and fins are laid from
head to tail. (When a fish swallows another fish it is therefore always from the head
side. The fins & scales will prevent it from being swallowed from the tail side.) Bony
protrusions are not considered scales. The scales must be able to be removed without
ripping & damaging the attached skin. The scales must be of the "cycloid (round)
or "ctenoid" (comblike) NOT the "placoid" (platelike) or
"ganoid" (armorlike). The kosher fish has other distinguishing characteristics.
The shape of the head is more roundish & wide while the non-kosher is more pointed
& long. The kosher fish has a spine, while a non-kosher fish usually does not. The
shapes of the tail & eggs are also different. We can nevertheless (for kosher
purposes) rely only on the presence of fins and proper scales.
An immature fish that did not yet develop its scales is still considered a kosher fish.
A fish that had proper scales at one time but as it matures or when it is removed from the
water loses the scales, is still considered as a kosher fish. Kosher animals and fowl
require slaughtering by a properly trained & authorized individual. Fish do not
require any type of slaughtering. The blood of animals & fowl must be removed by
proper salting or broiling etc., by a properly trained individual.
The blood of fish does not require any removal process and may be eaten with the fish.
If the blood is gathered in a container, the blood may not be consumed, unless it is
recognizable as fish blood i.e. has scales in it, (as it may be confused with animal or
fowl blood.) Certain blemishes and imperfections may render kosher animals and fowl as not
kosher. Fish do not have any restrictions in this regard. An animal or fowl that died or
was killed is not kosher, while a fish will retain its kosher status.
Certain expertise is necessary to determine what fish meet the criteria of kosher
classification, therefore one should only consume those that are universally accepted as
being of the kosher type. The Swordfish, sturgeon, sharks, eels & lump-fish etc. are
never kosher. Certain turbots, dory & even some tunas may be of a non-kosher variety.
The Albacore, skip-jack & yellow-fin are the kosher tunas. Shellfish, crustaceans,
Mammals, such as seals, dolphins & whales etc. are not kosher. The dolphin fish
"mahi-mahi" is a kosher fish. Swimming creatures i.e. sea horses, squid,
lobsters etc. are not considered fish & are not kosher.
The eggs / roe / caviar of kosher fish are usually of a different shape than
non-kosher. Furthermore kosher caviar will usually be of a red color while the non-kosher
will be black. (some non-kosher caviar that may be red will turn black after salting). The
fact that caviar is displayed together with a kosher fish should not be relied upon as far
as kosher is concerned. The color and shape is also not sufficient to be relied upon.
Canned fish such as tuna fish is first cooked before canning. A number of processing
plants did the cooking before eviscerating (removing the intestines etc.) the fish. The
fish was cooked with everything still remaining inside. The diet of tuna consists of
crustaceans, shellfish and other non-kosher sea life. In essence if we cook the tuna
before evisceration we are cooking it together with the yet un-digested non-kosher product
intact in the stomach. The percentage of food in the stomach of a fish may be as much as
5-6% of the total weight of the fish. That would render the cooked fish as non-kosher. A
few years back we realized this problem and brought it to the attention of the major
kosher certifiers, requesting that all fish be eviscerated before cooking. Subsequently
all fish processors were notified that the kosher supervision will be removed from any
processor that does not eviscerate before cooking. Not all certifiers are being strict
about this requirement. We must also be concerned with the broth or oils that the tuna or
other fish are packed in. The broth may be dairy, not kosher for Passover or non-kosher.
The oil may be fish oil, yet it may be from a non-kosher fish. We must also be concerned
that the processor doesn't process non-kosher products as well. We had an episode a little
while back. A kosher certified canned tuna actually contained clam instead of tuna. The
certifier was totally unaware that the processor does non-kosher products as well (clam
Another requirement would be Bishul-Yisroel, that is, that a religious person partakes
in the cooking process, by turning on the ovens, fires and boilers. Others would also
require the religious person to help in putting the fish into the cookers.
Worms In Fish? Fish that feed on the bottom of the ocean, like haddock, flounder and
sole, are especially susceptible to having worms in the flesh of the fish. The fish eat
parasites that contain some of these worms and they will work their way through the
intestines and into the flesh of the fish. Not all of the worms in the flesh have
originated on the outside, some may actually originate in the flesh. The fish fillets can
be put on a light table and checked for worms.
Most fish are worm free. Only the ones that originate from parasites would not be
permitted to consume. The white fish from Winnipeg Canada does have worms in the flesh in
certain seasons. It is common to find worms inside the stomach & flesh of white fish,
whiting, cod & a number of other fish. Therefore when eviscerating whitefish one
should be very cautious to remove the entire intestines in one piece & rinse the fish
very well. The worms range in color from red, brown, Grey & off-white. They should be
removed by rinsing very well. Carp & sometimes salmon have transparent parasites or
leeches. It is therefore best to discard the head & fins of carp. By frozen fish far
less worms are noticed than are actually present. On canned fish products one should not
rely on the cans identification of the type of fish i.e. anchovies, tuna, herring or
salmon etc. They must have a reliable kosher supervision. Fish & meat must be kept
separated. Some people have completely separate utensils to cook fish, while others will
use any clean utensil. We can not cook fish and meat in the same pot or uncovered in
separate pots in the oven at the same time. We should also have separate spices for fish
& meat, by commercial establishments such as caterers & restaurants this is a
serious concern. Others do not cook or eat fish with milk or butter.
NOTE: Some of the more common fish consumed in Israel are the; (Common American name
followed by the common Israeli name) Hake ="bakala", Grey-mullet
="burri", Silvercarp="ksif", winter carp="karpion" Sole =
Salmon, in order to prevent staining on the inside, is immediately eviscerated &
cleaned. For canned salmon the salmon is then sliced & put into the can with a few
grains of salt, & cooked in its own liquid. Some light colored salmon will have
coloring added to it. Salmon requires Bishul-Yisroel (a religious individual partakes in
the cooking process). Salmon should not be purchased skinless unless there is a full time
reliable kosher supervisor. Furthermore, other skinless & boneless non-kosher fish may
be substituted & coloring added to it to look like salmon. The consumer will not be
able to tell the difference. Some kosher certifiers are still relying on salmon color. The
color of salmon is no longer acceptable as a reliable indicator of the kosher status.
Every fish that has scales also has fins, but not every fish that has fins has scales. For
the consumer to be able to use a filet of fish, where the skin has been removed we must be
able to ascertain that it is from a kosher fish. Some filets will come with a small
one-inch square piece of skin remaining on the fish.
One can purchase filets such as tuna, skinless salmon, sardines, herring, sole &
flounder etc. with proper kosher supervision, that is that a religious individual has
physically seen every fish with the skin intact & can testify that all of the filets
are from kosher fish. It is not acceptable if one is of the conviction that he can tell by
the color or texture that it is from a kosher fish. The John dory is a non-kosher flat
fish similar to the kosher flat fish sole / flounder. The dory will have a large dark spot
on the skin, yet when it is filleted there is no dark spot on the flesh & it is almost
identical to the sole / flounder fish. Even the average fish merchant can only guess as to
what type of fish the filet came from. The consumer should not purchase salted, pickled or
processed fish even when it was produced under kosher supervision if it is being sold in
an unsupervised store. In a store that also sells non-kosher fish one may not purchase cut
pieces of fish even when we can recognize scales on the fish. The store may have used
non-kosher utensils to cut the fish. One may purchase a whole fish with recognizable
scales cut in his presence, provided that the customer observes that all of the cutting
utensils & tables are washed off very well with soap & water. It is unacceptable
to eat in a completely fish or vegetarian establishment without proper kosher supervision.
Sushi bars must be under a tight control of kosher supervision. ALERT: The consumer should
be aware that some kosher supervising agencies wrongfully allow non supervised
non-religious personnel to have free access (including keys) to areas that do not have the
fish products under seal. Smoked & cured fish: Lox is sold mostly as a packaged &
skinless product. The consumer should not purchase lox, sable etc. from an unsupervised
facility even when the lox, sable etc originally had proper kosher seals. Once the package
is opened the kosher status is voided. Smoked fish even with the skin intact with
recognizable scales may have been processed together with non-kosher fish, or in a plant
that also processes non-kosher products. All of the processing utensils have to be kosher
sterilized before it may be used to process the kosher fish. There may be numerous
questionable ingredients being used in the process requiring kosher supervision. Fish can
be smoked with cold smoke, or hot smoke, which may require Bishul-yisroel that a religious
individual partake in the smoking process. On numerous occasions it was found that the
fish type described on the package was actually a non-kosher fish substitute. Therefore
the description appearing on the package is not a reliable indicator of the kosher status
of the fish. A religious individual must deliver fish products including fish salads,
sandwiches, school lunches, platters, etc fish products, unless they are properly sealed.
Ingredients that includes anchovy fish, i.e. Worcestershire sauce, should not be used with
meat. Skinless herring may be used only if a religious individual can testify to having
observed the skin on the fish & it is from a kosher fish & the containers or
barrels must be properly sealed. The pickling, curing etc process of herring must be under
reliable kosher supervision. Some of the concerns are: wine, vinegar, spices, glycerides,
animal pancreas in the matjas herring, dairy cream, oils etc. Fish oil i.e. Cod-liver oil
or other fish derived substance must be kosher supervised. Roughies also have non-kosher
species. Orange roughy fish filets are filet onboard (due to the presence of a poison
under the skin), therefore one should not purchase them as a filet. Regardless of what
form we receive the fish, whether, fresh fillet, frozen, canned, sliced, cryovac, ground,
pickled, salad etc. all require a guarantee that the fish is of a kosher variety & the
process is a reliable kosher process.
KOSHER ALERT: The "Nori" used for sushi may have seahorses etc.
embedded in them, they must be expertly checked over a light box before using them. Not
all Tropicana juices are certified as kosher. The strawberry kiwi does contain some grape
juice. The kosher consumer should be cognizant and check up on the foods their children
are receiving in camp, whether sleep-away or day-camp. The HOMILIS meals served on
airlines with the Kedasia Hashgocha, very often the outside saran type wrapping is removed
by the stewardess. If you receive the heated tray without the saran wrapping the meal
contained should be considered as non-kosher. We have notified the Homilis Co. Ltd.