Do You Know Nutrition: Deciphering kosher food coding

By Phylis Canion
Nov. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

What does the word "parve" mean that is listed on food packages? Sometimes I see it with different letters in front of the word. Please explain.

"Parve" or "pareve" is used to identify kosher food and means neutral. By Jewish customs, that means that a product is neither meat nor dairy, has not been cooked or mixed with any meat or dairy and it does not contain any animal or pork derivatives.

In order to be certified kosher, all ingredients, equipment and various processing stages must follow the strict and complex dietary laws established more than 3,000 years ago. This also means that the food product is suitable for vegetarians and is considered 100 percent dairy free and therefore safe for someone that is following a strict, casein-free diet.

However, if you only see a "U" or a "K," but not the word parve, then there is no guarantee the food does not contain dairy ingredients. A circle around the letter "U" represents the Orthodox Union. The Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations, in New York, owns the OU trademark.

They state: "OU kosher is the world's largest and most widely recognized kosher certification agency, certifying more than 500,000 products produced in more than 6,000 plants located in 80 countries around the world." If the circle contains the letter K (which means kosher) before the word parve, that means that the product is kosher and complies with Jewish dietary laws and has been processed under the direction of a rabbi.

The "OK" was founded in 1935, although the first kosher certification of "OU" went to Heinz. In 1923, Heinz vegetarian beans became the first American product to display the OU kosher symbol. Another kosher symbol developed in the 1930s is the initials cRc inside a triangle, which stands for Chicago Rabbinical Council, the largest regional, nonprofit Orthodox organization in North America.

Triangle K certification is awarded by a consortium of Orthodox Jewish rabbis who desire a wide range of food products made available to kosher consumers worldwide. Star-K is the only one that certifies technology out of the hundreds of kosher agencies in the world. Star-K is known as a leader in integrating complex food technology and kosher laws.

Thought for the week: The public has an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. - Oscar Wilde.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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