A Time and Place for Almost Everything

Years ago, on a transatlantic flight, I had an interesting exchange with another passenger sitting across the aisle. He was traveling with his family, and they were obviously very European. Out of curiosity he asked, “What do American children eat for breakfast?” I responded, “All varieties of cold cereal;” that is the anchor of the All American breakfast. He reacted with a tone of disdain, “That is what we would feed animals!” I countered, “So, what do you serve your children?” “Porridge!” was the reply. Porridge, I said to myself. That’s the staple of the Three Bears!

Of course, every country has their own breakfast menu and what one culture might consider to be an elegant repast would not pass muster in a different district or region. In fact, the laws of בישול עכו”ם reflect these differences of זמן and מקום, time and place. What qualifies as עולה על שלחן מלכים (fit for the king’s table, a fancy repast) in one country or society would not qualify in another. What once was never eaten raw, “אינו נאכל כמו שהוא חי” is presently very fashionable.

In order to understand contemporary applications of what does and does not qualify as בישול עכו”ם , we must define its parameters and reasons for our םימכח’s implementation, its constraints and how it applies to our contemporary זמן and מקום. Bבישול עכו”ם occurs when certain foods comprised of 100% kosher ingredients are cooked by a person who is not required by the תורה to keep kosher.

Why was בישול עכו”ם instituted? There are two reasons why our חכמים enacted this restriction: First, as a precaution against inadvertently eating non-kosher food; second, as a prevention against unnecessary socialization that could lead to intermarriage. In situations where בישול עכו”ם would present a problem, our חכמים have instructed us that this disqualification can be avoided by having an observant Jew perform an integral part of the cooking process, such as turning on the fire. When a יהודי assists in the preparation, we say that the prohibition of בישול עכו”ם has been lifted.

Part I. Definition of בישול עכו”ם
The הלכה points out that בישול עכו”ם is not a universal restriction and does not apply to the following categories of products:

  1. Foods that can be eaten raw – נאכל כמו שהוא חי. This applies even to food that tastes better cooked or baked, rather than raw (e.g., baked apples or applesauce). The reason why our חכמים permitted these dishes is because we can eat this food without the intervention of the אינו יהודי. We do not feel obliged to the cook for his assistance in preparation of these products, thereby lessening any social bond created by the food.
  2. Foods whose form and taste do not change through cooking. This applies even to food that would normally not be eaten without cooking (e.g., pasteurized milk or distilled water).
  3. Foods that are still inedible and require more cooking to make the food edible. This would apply to partial preparation by the אינו יהודי and the finishing process by the יהודי. The cut-off criteria is if the אינו יהודי cooked the food under 33% of total cooking, מאכל בן דרוסאי (a highwayman who didn’t have time to wait).
  4. Foods that are not prestigious and would not be served at a state dinner or wedding, אינו עולה על שלחן מלכים (e.g., baked beans or corn flakes). These foods are permitted because a person does not experience deep feelings of gratitude and appreciation when someone warms up a can of baked beans. Therefore, cooking non-prestigious food would not bring on feelings of closeness between the preparer and recipient. Any food that would not be served at a wedding because it is not elegant would not qualify as בישול עכו”ם.
  5. Foods which are generally not eaten together with a meal or are not eaten for healthy nutrition (e.g., candy or potato chips).1 According to many פוסקים , even though the item is a product that would be עולה על שולחן מלכים, the preparation of these types of foods removes the בישול עכו”ם restrictions.
  6. Foods of any combination whose main ingredient does not qualify as בישול עכו”ם would be acceptable, as long as all the ingredients are blended together. An example of such a product would be brewed coffee, which is a combination of water and roasted coffee beans. Cooked water does not qualify as בישול עכו”ם. Although roasted coffee beans cannot be used without brewing, coffee is a prestigious beverage and would be considered עולה על שולחן מלכים, as it is served at weddings. Nevertheless, since the water is considered the main component of the beverage, and the coffee is considered a flavoring, freshly brewed coffee would not be subject to the restriction of בישול עכו”ם.
    The הלכה is very clear: בישול עכו”ם applies only to conventional cooking methods through fire (e.g., cooking, frying, roasting). בישול עכו”ם does not apply to foods that are prepared through alternative means (e.g., pickling or microwaving).

Part II: Contemporary Applications of בישול עכו”ם
How does בישול עכו”ם apply to the following products?

    1. Rice – is one of the most sought after עולה על שולחן מלכים grains. Rice is not only delicious, it is probably the king of gluten-free starchy vegetables and is prepared in a myriad of different ways.
      Rice can be cooked, fried, popped, puffed, instantized and parboiled. It is now available as a gluten-free pasta, rice milk alternative to real milk, rice sweetener syrup and rice vinegar, as well as sake (rice wine). Rice is now sold in a myriad of varieties (such as Basmati, Jasmine, and Arborio, to name a few). This is a far cry from the popular white rice side dishes. What are the contemporary בישול עכו”ם ramifications?

      1. Conventional cooked rice is subject to בישול עכו”ם.
      2. Parboiled Rice – There is a very interesting law in the U.S. that raw rice requires vitamin enrichment. Conventional vitamin enrichment is done by enrobing rice with various vitamins and minerals. Another method to naturally enrich rice is to parboil this rice. Parboiling is done by soaking and steaming rough rice, which are rice grains that have not had their outer hull removed. After steaming, the rice is redried and then milled, removing the outer husk called the hull. What remains is a grain of golden raw rice. The parboiled grain requires full cooking and parboiling and is not subject to laws of בישול עכו”ם.
      3. Instant Rice – This is not the case with instantized rice. Instantizing precooks long grain rice and fully redries the rice so that the preparation time is dramatically decreased. Instant rice can be fully edible by hydrating it in cold water. Since the rice does not need to be recooked, בישול עכו”ם would apply to instant rice.
      4. Popped Rice – In the case of rice cakes or Rice Krispies, the rice is steamed and popped under pressure. The steamed rice does not reach the מאכל הן דרוסאי threshold. בישול עכו”ם does not apply.
      5. Rice Vinegar and Sake – In the case of rice vinegar, the rice is not fully cooked. Brokenhead (rice pieces) rice is used in industrial productions to create Koji mold and is steamed to a rubbery consistency and is not considered to be עולה על שולחן מלכים.
      6. Pasta Rice (i.e., pasta produced from rice flour), like conventional pasta never gets to a point beyond מאכל בן דרוסאי and is then dried. The housewife is the primary chef creating בישול ישראל. How is pasta produced? Semolina flour and water are mixed and made into a dough. It is then cut or extruded through large metal “dough cutters” called diecasts. The pasta shapes are slowly dried through a series of drying ovens. The pasta is never cooked in the process, with one exception: Tunisian couscous. In the process, the semolina is sized quite small and is steamed at 100oC (212oF) and then dried. Prior to drying, the couscous is fully cooked and is fully edible. As in the case of instant rice, it only requires cold “hydration”. Couscous, like rice, is עולה על שולחן מלכים.
    2. Sushi: A shift in נאכל במו שהוא חי – As we know, the new popular Yiddishe מאכל at any event is sushi. The Shulchan Aruch clearly states that if something is eaten raw, then that product is not subject to בישול עכו”ם. One could argue that today, the sushi phenomenon has changed our raw fish eating habits, and tuna is now considered נאכל כמו שהוא חי. Nonetheless, STAR-K does not accept this position and requires בישול ישראל on all fish products. The cooked rice is subject to בישול עכו”ם restrictions.
    3. Beets, typically cooked, are also eaten raw and are one of the main ingredients in horseradish. Therefore, beets are not subject to בישול עכו”ם.
    4. Eggplant, when grilled and used for baba ghanoush, is not considered to be עולה על שולחן מלכים. However, raw eggplant that is sliced and fried, as in eggplant parmesan, would be considered עולה על שולחן מלכים.
    5. IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) Pasta – This is not the case with IQF rice and pasta. These products are typically fully cooked before freezing and בישול עכו”ם would apply. Of course, IQF prepared meat and chicken products, which require strict reliable hashgacha, would also have to address בישול עכו”ם in their preparation.
    6. Potato chips and poppers – As mentioned earlier, although potatoes are subject to בישול עכו”ם, according to many פוסקים potato chips are prepared in a manner that is not subject to בישול עכו”ם.
    7. Butternut Squash – Cooked food manufacturers are always searching for creative ways of long-term food preservation. Fruit and vegetables are popularly preserved through IQF.
      In order for IQF vegetables, such as butternut squash, to be frozen the vegetable has to be blanched. Blanching is a short, quick cook to allow the vegetable to be frozen while maintaining its firmness and vibrance when defrosted. Blanched vegetables do not reach the מאכל בן דרוסאי threshold; therefore, IQF butternut squash would not be subject to בישול עכו”ם.
    8. Canning is an original method which sustains shelf life; however, quality is compromised.
      Does בישול עכו”ם apply to canned goods? The answer is that it depends. Canned soups and canned pasta would present a problem of בישול עכו”ם without proper supervision. Canned fruit would not present a בישול עכו”ם problem because fruit is usually eaten raw. As long as the fruit has been processed on kosher equipment with kosher ingredients it would be permitted. Canned vegetables that are either eaten raw or are not elegant enough to be served at a state dinner would not have a problem of בישול עכו”ם. Whole asparagus, when served alone, is a prestigious food. Therefore, canned whole asparagus should only be used with a reliable hechsher which surely addressed the בישול עכו”ם issue.
      The White House State Dinner Policy – Years ago, STAR-K asked the White House executive chef what the White House banquet policy is regarding the use of canned products for state dinners. A specific question was, ‘What is the policy regarding canned cranberry sauce?’ We also asked whether potato chips are served at state dinners. The chef’s response was as follows, “We would serve whatever the guest wants; however, we never served potato chips, nor do we ever use canned goods…everything is prepared fresh!”
    9. Potatoes – mashed, flaked, fried and canned. It is common practice to cook potatoes in water preparing them for further processing, e.g., drying for potato flakes or blanching mini potatoes for canning. Since potatoes are cooked beyond the מאכל בן דרוסאי threshold, they are subject to בישול עכו”ם.
    10. Yams (sweet potatoes) – The same principle regarding potatoes (see #9 above) applies to sweet potatoes and would be subject to בישול עכו”ם restrictions.

Note 1: Even though the White House may never use canned foods, if the food was first cooked before the canning process then it is perfectly fit for use at a state dinner. Subsequent canning does not remove the proscription of בישול עכו”ם.

Note 2: If a product is disqualified due to בישול עכו”ם, the utensils are also considered non-kosher and have to be kashered. If stoneware or teflon-coated utensils were used, one should ask his rav for guidance on kashering.

As times change, technology also changes as do our eating habits. What remains constant is הלכה and the Shulchan Aruch’s halachic parameters, which were set in place to address any technological challenges any time, any place.

  1. . Kashrus Kurrents, Fall 2016, “Do Potato Chips Need to Be Bishul Yisroel?”