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Oils, Fats & Emulsifiers

Oils, Fats & Emulsifiers

The Kosher status of oils, fats, and fat-based emulsifiers is based upon the source of the lipid, the equipment on which the products are produced, and the ingredients added to them. Fat-based ingredients figure prominently in virtually all processed food products, and ensuring their Kosher status is one key to maintaining a viable Kosher program. The term "pure" or "100%" vegetable oil is insufficient to guarantee an acceptable Kosher status, since their erstwhile Kosher status may be compromised by the manner in which they are processed or small amounts of non-Kosher ingredients that may be lawfully added to them.

Lipid Sources

Most dietary lipids are derived from either animal or vegetable sources. [1] MAnimal-based fats commonly used on a commercial basis include lard (swine), tallow (beef or mutton), and marine oils (mammalian [e.g., seal and whale] or fish), and their application to commercial Kosher productions is extremely limited. Lard is an inherently non-Kosher material, since its source is an animal species that is non-Kosher. [2] MTallow, although sourced from Kosher species of animals, is nevertheless a non-Kosher material since it is generally not derived from animals that have been processed according to Kosher law. [3] MMarine mammals (e.g., whales) are not Kosher species, thereby precluding the use of this type of oil. Oil derived from Kosher species of fish, however, may be considered Kosher, provided appropriate supervision is maintained to ensure that only Kosher fish species are used in its manufacture. [4] M From a practical perspective, however, most fish oil does not comply with this requirement, and marine oils are generally not used in commercial Kosher oil products. [5] MAs such, virtually all lipids used as Kosher food ingredients derive from vegetable sources. Virtually all vegetable lipids [6] Mare inherently Kosher [7] ,M including the commercially significant sources of soy, corn, canola (rapeseed), coconut, cottonseed, peanut, palm, palm kernel, sunflower, safflower, and olive, as well as specialty oils such as walnut oil.

MProcessing Issues

MMost vegetable oils and fats [8] M require significant refining in order to make them suitable for use as a food. In addition, many vegetable oils are fluid at room temperature, and must be "hardened" to change their physical and functional properties to be satisfactory for many applications. These processes, in and of themselves, may pose no Kashrus concern. However, (non-Kosher) animal and marine fats are also subject to the same processes, and it is this commonality of processing that leads to Kashrus concerns as they relate to the production of vegetable oil. These areas of commonality extend from the time the crude oil is transported until the final packaging and shipment of the finished product, and Kosher certification involves consideration of significant Kashrus issues as they relate to the following processes and procedures:

  • MCrude Vegetable Oil Manufacture. The manufacture of crude vegetable oil typically takes place in facilities dedicated to the extraction of oil from that plant source. In some cases, this involves a solvent extraction process while, in other cases, it involves a form of physical extraction. Since animal fats are not subject to similar extraction processes, crude vegetable oil is generally considered inherently Kosher.
  • MTransport of Bulk Oil. Crude vegetable oil is often produced in the very same areas of the world where the source plant is grown. Palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils, known as "tropical oils" due to the affinity of the palm oil and coconut trees for warm climates, come primarily from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. After the oil is extracted from the fruit, it may be shipped to other countries as crude or partially refined product for final processing. Generally, this crude material is shipped as a bulk liquid in the hold of a ship, which raises several potential concerns inasmuch as such shipping holds are also used for the transport of non-Kosher products. [9] MFirst, shipping holds that were used to transport non-Kosher materials would become non-Kosher themselves, and their subsequent use to transport Kosher products may compromise the Kosher status of that product. [10] MSecond, Kosher and non-Kosher products may be stored in adjacent holds in the ship, in which case B'lios (flavor transfers) from the non-Kosher product may transfer through the common wall and compromise the Kosher product. Third, oils and fats must be heated during transport, and the use of a common recirculating steam and/or hot water system may similarly compromise the Kosher status of the product.

MKashrus organizations have developed different approaches in dealing with such issues, and have worked with the major international shipping companies to maintain a program to ensure the Kosher status of commodities under their certification. The following represents several of the approaches commonly used to address these issues:

Mo Kosher product should only be shipped in ships' holds that had not been used to transport inherently non-Kosher products for (at least) the previous three shipments. [11]

Mo Ships' holds adjacent and sharing a wall with those containing Kosher products should not contain non-Kosher products.

Mo Recirculating hot water and steam systems should be monitored to determine that they are Pagum (having an unpleasant taste) [12] ,M which would serve to obviate any concerns of flavor transfers through such utilities.

MKashrus agencies typically inspect shipping records and manifests, as well as loading records within the ship, to verify compliance with these requirements.

MKashrus concerns relating to the handling of bulk shipments of oil (as well as glycerin and similar products), however, do not end at the conclusion of transoceanic transport. Typically, such bulk shipments are pumped from the ship into large storage tanks, where the material is inventoried and from which it is distributed as needed. Facilities with many such storage tanks, known as storage terminals, are located near ports that handle such shipments, and are used to handle virtually all shipments of such bulk mterials. Indeed, bulk shipments may be transferred through several storage terminals in various countries until they arrive at their final destination. Since the storage facilities at such terminals may be used for a variety of products - including both Kosher and non-Kosher commodities - the Kosher status of those tanks for for Kosher products must be guaranteed. In addition, such terminals may use recircualting steam and hot water systems to maintain the appropriate temperature of product in storage, which may create a signficiant Kashrus concern where such utilities are common to both Kosher and non-Kosher products. As such, Kosher certification of storage terminals is often required to address such issues.

MDomestic sources of crude vegetable oil (e.g., soy and canola) are not immune from Kosher concerns relating to their transport. Extraction of crude oil often takes place in facilities near the area where the oil seeds are grown, while refining may take place elsewhere. River barges are often used to transport crude oil, and are subject to concerns similar to those related to ocean going ships. Truck trailers or rail cars are also used for this purpose, and their Kosher status must similarly be monitored. Many Kashrus organizations maintain a certification program on such transport, ensuring that trailers, barges, and rail cars remain in Kosher service, and are Kashered should their Kosher status be compromised by the transport of non-Kosher products. The shipping records of companies that operate such Kosher certified transport are subject to periodic review by the Kosher certifying agency, and these companies are provided with Letters of Kosher Certification for such trailers and rail cars.

  • MRefining and Processing. Virtually all animal and vegetable oils must be refined and processed before they are considered finished products. [13] MSince many of these processes are similar for both animal and vegetable oils and fats, manufacturing facilities often produce both types on the same processing systems interchangeably. The use of the following types of equipment for both animal and vegetable processing raises the following Kashrus concerns:

Mo Deodorizers. A deodorizer, or distillation column, operates by heating the oil under a vacuum, thereby allowing undesirable volatile components to separate from the product. [14] MSuch pieces of equipment operate at very high temperatures, and their use with non-Kosher products requires an appropriate Kashering before Kosher productions. Any potential Kashering, however, is complicated by the precondition that all non-Kosher residue from the equipment must be removed prior to Kosherization. In the case of a deodorizer, the sediment and deposits that typically build up on the inside surfaces and distillation pans make the requisite cleaning a very difficult process. As such, the Kashering of a deodorizer is seldom undertaken, and certainly not on an ongoing basis.

Mo Pipes, filters, and storage tanks. All equipment used to transport, filter and store non-Kosher animal fats may not be used for Kosher vegetable oil production unless the equipment is properly Kosherized. The Kosherization of pipes and filters may be accomplished by flushing with boiling water after being subject to all normative Kosherization requirements, such as the twenty-four hour waiting period. The Kashering of large oil storage tanks, however, presents significant challenges, as they would need to be filled with boiling water.

Mo Hydrogenation. Many types of vegetable oil are composed of mostly unsaturated fat, and are liquid at room temperature. Many applications, however, require a more saturated product, a requirement that has traditionally been met by the hydrogenation of the fat molecule with the aid of a powdered nickel catalyst. [15] Since some animal fats are also hardened, the use of common hydrogenating system for both animal and vegetable products raises concerns for the Kosher status of both the equipment and powdered catalyst. In situations where such systems are to be Kashered, the catalyst must also be replaced. [16]

o Swept Surface Heat Exchangers (Votators®®). Although hydrogenated oils may be shipped in bulk, they are often packaged in solid cubes. Such products require controlled crystallization of the hydrogenated fat, which is typically accomplished through the use of equipment that continuously cools thin layers of the oil and compresses it into a solid plastic form.

[17] Such swept surface heat exchangers may be Kashered, provided they are thoroughly cleaned to remove residue from all areas of the equipment.

o Utilities M. The refining of oil involves the use of tremendous amounts of heat, in the form of a thermal fluid, hot water and/or steam. The use of common recirculating utilities to process Kosher and non-Kosher products raises significant concerns involving the potential transfer of flavors between the products. [18]

It is important to note that virtually no mainstream Kashrus agencies will certify vegetable oil processed in equipment that is also used to process animal fat [19] (unless the equipment is properly Kashered) [20] , nor will they accept it for use in other Kosher certified products. In addition, they will essentially consider such vegetable oil in the same category as non-Kosher animal fat, and will require the Kosherization of equipment in which such vegetable oil had been handled. M

  • Transport and certification of finished products. Kosher certification of bulk oil products generally includes ensuring the Kosher status of the vehicles in which they are transported [21] , similar to those requirements discussed above concerning the transport of crude oil. In situations where the manufacturing facility is entirely Kosher, Kosher certification can generally be granted on an ongoing basis, subject to periodic inspection by a Mashgiach. In facilities where dual Kosher and non-Kosher productions take place, albeit in dedicated systems, certification of bulk shipments is generally limited to specific shipments, thereby ensuring that the oil being certified was indeed dispensed from the Kosher system. Such shipments are typically certified by a specific letter issued and signed by the Mashgiach who supervised the loading of the shipment, in which the trailer or tanker, as well as the serial numbers of the seals used on it, are identified (such products generally being referred to as "Group 5" ingredients [22] ).


All Kashrus agencies prefer to certify edible oil refineries that are dedicated to vegetable oils. In situations where a facility produces both animal and vegetable products, Kosher certification will generally only be granted under the following conditions:

  1. The Kosher and non-Kosher production systems must be physically separated from each other, such that it is impossible to introduce non-Kosher product into the Kosher system. [Provision may be made to allow the one-way transfer of otherwise Kosher vegetable oil into the animal fat system, for use in the production of non-Kosher animal/vegetable blends.]
  2. Acceptable methods of segregation must also be maintained in the recovery and reprocessing of off-spec material (rework).
  3. Receiving systems, flexible hoses, and crude storage tanks must be dedicated for Kosher use, and a system of monitoring their use must be established.
  4. Deodorizers, hydrogenators, and intermediate handling systems must be dedicated to the Kosher vegetable system, with no connection between them and the non-Kosher processing operation.
  5. Finished product storage tanks, as well as systems used to fill trailers or rail cars, must be dedicated to the Kosher production system.
  6. In situations where Votating or packaging lines cannot be dedicated to Kosher production, such systems must be Kashered under the supervision of a Mashgiach prior to each Kosher production.
  7. Intensive Rabbinic supervision is required to ensure the ongoing integrity of the Kosher system. In many situations, a full-time Mashgiach is assigned to such a facility, who must be present whenever bulk Kosher shipments are prepared (see above concerning Letters of Certification), as well as when Kosher product is packaged.
  8. Finished product labels bearing the Kosher designation are generally kept under the physical control of the Mashgiach.


Many ingredients that are often added to oil products as preservatives, processing aids, or to modify their functionality require reliable Kosher certification.

The emulsifiers used in emulsified shortening require reliable Kosher certification. Even "100% vegetable shortening" may contain emulsifiers of animal origin. Antifoams added to certain oil products may contain animal components. Soy lecithin is a byproduct of soybean oil refining, and may be considered inherently Kosher. However, fatty acids of non-Kosher origin may be blended into it, necessitating a reliable Kosher certification for all soy lecithin. As such, even oils and shortening from all-vegetable refineries require reliable Kosher certification.

Emulsifiers [23]

Many types of emulsifiers, such as monoglycerides, monostearates, and monoleates, are based upon fatty acids that may be derived from either animal or vegetable sources. Others, such as polysorbates, are based upon fatty acids, which may be of animal, plant, or petrochemical derivation. Kashrus issues, policies, and supervisory requirements of emulsifier manufacturing facilities are similar to those of oil refineries. [24]
The production of certain types of emulsifiers, known as diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides (DATEM), involves the esterification of monoglycerides with tartaric acid. Such products raise an additional concern relating to the Kosher status of tartaric acid, which is generally derived from non-Kosher wine or grape juice. Although many authorities accept tartaric acid as a Kosher ingredient and certify DATEM emulsifiers, others decline to accept them. [25]

Margarine [26]

Margarine is an emulsion of an oil and aqueous phase, and is often produced in facilities that process other oils and shortenings. Each of the two phases is produced separately. The lipid (oil) phase typically contains oil, fat-soluble vitamin A, colors (e.g., beta-carotene), emulsifiers, and fat-soluble flavors. The aqueous phase contains water, salt, water-soluble flavors and sometimes preservatives. It may also contain dairy solids. The aqueous phase is generally pasteurized and cooled prior to blending with the heated oil, after which the two phases are blended into an emulsion and cooled in a swept surface heat exchanger to develop the plastic crystal structure of the finished product.

The following issues relate to the Kosher status of margarine:

  • Lipid phase. Originally, the type of fat used in margarine was of animal origin, since naturally saturated animal fat was necessary for margarine to be a solid at room temperature. With the advent of hydrogenation and other fat hardening technologies, vegetable oils have achieve greater currency, although lard and tallow margarines are still manufactured. Kosher margarine must be produced with Kosher vegetable oil, and all additives must similarly be Kosher approved.
  • Aqueous phase. Traditionally, the aqueous phase of margarine was skim milk, although most manufactures today use whey or other dairy solids for this purpose. Kosher margarine containing this type of aqueous phase is certified as dairy. Non-dairy Pareve margarine is also produced, substituting salt and other flavorings for the dairy components.
  • Equipment. MMargarine production involves the use of heat at many points of the production, since the hardened oil and subsequent emulsion will harden at room temperature. In addition, the inner surfaces of the equipment used to pump or move the plastic margarine after crystallization must be heated in order to allow the smooth transfer of the product through the product filling system. As such, equipment used to produce Kosher margarine is generally dedicated to such productions. In situations where non-Kosher margarine is produced, all of the processing equipment must be properly Kashered prior to Kosher productions.

A similar concern relates to the production of Pareve margarine. Pareve productions require that equipment must be dedicated to such products, or Kashered after dairy productions prior to each Pareve production.[27]

  • Utilities. The heating of ingredients in the production of margarine generally involves the use of indirect steam and/or hot water. As noted above, heating systems that recirculate steam or hot water may create Kashrus concerns where they are used to heat both Kosher and non-Kosher, or dairy and Pareve, products. Areas of concern include heated mixing tanks, melting tanks, and heated (traced) pipes used to convey plastic margarine.
  • Gelatin. MStandard margarine is composed of approximately 85% oil and 15% aqueous phase. (Legally, margarine, like butter, must be 80% oil.) In an effort to reduce the number of calories in the product, manufacturers have developed methods of creating emulsions (imitation margarine) with a higher level of water that still exhibit many of the functional properties of margarine.[28]In many cases, such emulsions rely on the use of monoglycerides and other similar emulsifiers that are available as Kosher ingredients. Some very low-fat margarines, however, rely on the use of gelatin as a stabilizer, an ingredient that is generally not available as a Kosher ingredient on an economical basis. [29]
  • Rework. MThe production of margarine typically creates a significant amount of material that cannot be sold, either because of defects in packaging or off-spec formulation, and such margarine must be of reworked into new product. In facilities where both Kosher and non-Kosher margarines are produced, great care must be taken to ensure that non-Kosher rework is handled independently of Kosher reworked material, and that it is not used in the production of Kosher product. Such segregation must include separate melting, storage, and filtering equipment, a means of ensuring that the two systems are not interchangeable, and the ultimate disposition of the recovered product. Such concerns may be exacerbated by modern filtering systems, where reworked margarine is processed to recover and refine the oil phase to the point where the resulting filtered rework is virtually as pristine as virgin oil. Such purity notwithstanding, purified non-Kosher margarine remains non-Kosher, and may not be used in the production of Kosher product. Similar concerns exist with the production of dairy and Pareve margarine.

Lipids Used as Incidental Ingredients

In addition to their use as a food (e.g., oil, shortening, or margarine) or as a functional ingredient therein (e.g., emulsifiers), fats and oils may also be used in ways regarded by the food industry as "processing aids" rather than as "ingredients". Such uses may include anti-foam compounds, lubricants designed to prevent food from adhering to production surfaces [30] , and agents used in micro encapsulation. In many cases, such compounds, according to the Food and Drug Administration, need not be listed on an ingredient declaration, despite the fact that they are indeed incorporated, if only infinitesimally, in the food produced using them. From a Kashrus perspective, however, all compounds added to a Kosher product for any reason are considered ingredients and subject to Kosher requirements.

Additives such as anti-foams may contain fatty acids and compounds based upon them, which require reliable Kosher certification. Even products labeled as "silicon-based" or "petroleum-based" may nevertheless contain such chemicals. The production of Kosher versions of such products, in addition to ensuring the Kosher status of their components, also entails ensuring the Kosher status of production equipment and utilities used in their manufacture.

Similarly, processing aids such as non-stick compounds[31] are subject to Kosher concerns, since they often contain fatty acid compounds that may derive from non-Kosher sources, even when labeled "petroleum" or "silicon" based. Although not added directly into the food, these compounds nonetheless become incorporated into the foods with which they are processed. In addition, the use of such non-Kosher compounds on equipment surfaces would tend to compromise the Kosher status of the processing equipment. Such concerns further extend to parchment paper (e.g., Quilon®®) and similar materials that directly contact food being processed.

[1] Petroleum is considered a Kosher source of lipids and, although not generally used for food, it is often used as a base in the manufacture of food-grade lubricants, and as trough grease and panning oil in the bakery industry (see The Baking Industry and The Story of Release Agents).

[2] See Basic Halachic Concepts in Kashrus.

[3] Commercial production of tallow involves the use of animals that had not been slaughtered according to Halachic requirements (Sh'chitah). For a variety of reasons, it is also impractical to segregate and process Kosher fat from Kosher slaughtered animals (see The Meat Industry). Even if such processing would be practical, the resulting fat would have a Meat status, and thus be unsuitable for general Kosher use involving Pareve or dairy products. Small amounts of rendered chicken or beef fat are produced, however, for flavoring purposes.

[4] See The Fish Industry.

[5] Small amounts of Kosher fish oil may be produced for use as a food supplement.

[6] The Kosher status of grape seed oil produced from grape seeds derived from non-Kosher grape juice production is the subject to debate. Many authorities accept such grape seed oil as Kosher, since it is produced from dried seeds and has no grape flavor. [This approach is similar to that used to approve cream of tartar produced from non-Kosher wine and grape juice.] Others, however, decline to accept such material as Kosher.

[7] Oils approved for use on Passover include olive, palm, palm kernel, cottonseed, and coconut. Other sources, such as soy, corn, and canola are considered Kitniyos, and are not acceptable according to Ashkenazic custom (some authorities do, however, accept peanut oil - see Kosher for Passover and The Story of Kitniyos). Many, but not all, Kashrus certifications allow for the production of Passover-approved oils on equipment that is also used for Kitniyos oils, without the need for Kashering. Wheat germ oil, however, is prohibited on Passover and equipment used to produce it would require Kashering in order to produce Passover oils.

[8] Traditionally, the term "oil" (derived from the Latin oleum, meaning olive oil) was reserved for vegetable products that are typically liquid at room temperature, whereas "fat" or "grease" referred to animal products that were solid at room temperature. Modern processing methods have blurred this distinction - fats from both sources now exist as both liquids and solids at room temperature.

[9] Identical Kosher concerns exist for the shipment of refined products (see below).

[10] Non-Kosher animal fats are maintained at hot temperatures during shipment, thereby causing non-Kosher B'lios to be absorbed into the walls of the hold. Even if the holds were used to transport cold non-Kosher products, their status would still be compromised since the non-Kosher product would remain in the hold for over twenty-four hours (Ka'vush). See Basic Halachic Concepts in Kashrus for a discussion of these concepts, as well as those relating to common steam and hot water systems.

[11] Given their tremendous volume, it is virtually impossible to effect a Kosherization of such holds with boiling water.

[12] See Basic Halachic Concepts in Kashrus for an explanation of this requirement.

[13] Virgin olive oil, or cold pressed olive oil, is the exception to this rule - it is produced by expressing the oil directly from the fruit without further processing. Pomace olive oil, however, is recovered from the pressed olive fruit (pomace) after the initial pressing, and is subject to the same refining process and Kosher concerns as vegetable oils from other sources.

[14] The vapors that distill from the product are often recovered, and this deodorizer distillate is a valuable source of mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) and the sterols used in various drugs and cholesterol-reducing foods. As such, the Kosher status of this material is important to manufacturers of such products.

[15] The hydrogenation process tends to produce some fats with a "trans" configuration within the fat molecule, and recent research has raised questions as to the health impact of such products. Newer technology for hardening fats, known as interesteriification, avoids the creation of significant amounts of trans fats. The latter process makes use of certain chemicals or lipase enzymes to modify the fat in the desired manner. When lipase is used in the production of Kosher interesteriified products, its Kosher status must be ensured.

[16] The catalyst itself, known as Raney nickel (after its inventor), is composed of nickel and aluminum, neither of which poses a Kashrus concern. Kosher certification of this material is, however, necessary due to its pyrophoric (spontaneously inflammable) nature and the consequent need to protect it from exposure to air. Such catalysts are therefore typically prepared for use in the hydrogenation of oils by encapsulating them in fat, and this fat requires a reliable Kosher certification.

[17] Such equipment is often referred to as a "Votator®®", after the name of one its earliest manufacturers.

[18] See Basic Halachic Concepts in Kashrus for a discussion of potential solutions to such problems.

[19] Some Kosher certifying agencies have taken an approach that allows for the interchangeable use of equipment for both non-Kosher animal and Kosher vegetable oil processing, based upon certain Halachic considerations. Virtually all mainstream Kosher certifying agencies follow the consensus of most Halachic authorities in rejecting such approaches, and consider such products to be non-Kosher.

[20] Most Kashrus organizations will Kasher equipment in an oil facility, provided such Kosherization meets all Halachic requirements. Some Kashrus organizations, however, regard such a procedure as too complex and fraught with the possibility of error or too difficult to perform properly. They therefore decline to accept any oil produced in such systems, even where the product bears an otherwise acceptable Kosher certification. In addition, some Kashrus organization decline to accept vegetable oil products that are manufactured in facilities where animal products are produced, even where the production systems are completely isolated from one another.

[21] An exception may be made, however, where the Kosher certification specially states that the customer is responsible for ensuring the Kosher status of transport.

[22] See Ingredient Management for a discussion of the ingredient groupings.

[23] See The Story of Emulsifiers for a full discussion of Kashrus issues relating to such products.

[24] Emulsifiers intended for use in Passover products must be produced from Passover-approved vegetable oils.

[25] See The Story of Emulsifiers.

[26] See The Story of Margarine.

[27] Such Kashering must also include the aqueous pasteurization system (see Basic Halachic Concepts in Kashrus for a discussion of issues related to the Kashering of pasteurizers).

[28] Generally, such products are not suitable for using in baking or frying, however.

[29] See The Story of Gelatin.

[30] See The Story of Release Agents.

[31] The use of fatty acids and similar compounds in the manufacture of aluminum foil has been the subject of Halachic