Millions of Americans, many of them adhering to a kosher diet, have turned away from the synthetic, processed foods dominating supermarket shelves to the natural foods offered by health food stores. Although people often succeed in finding more nutritious food, they are often disappointed at not finding as many kosher products as they had anticipated in these health food stores. Fortunately, these kosher certified products are on the rise now.
Health food stores typically carry a large assortment of nutrition supplements, many of which are inherently kosher and need no certification. Products such as kelp, brewers yeast, most olive oils, raw nuts, sea salt, etc. need no hechsher (certifying mark) and can be readily purchased at any health food store.
A snap judgment might be made that “natural health foods” are largely faddist foods and, therefore, not worthy of the kosher consumer’s attention. However, such a judgement would be unfair. The dictionary defines “fad” as something in which many people are interested in for a short period of time. Since many natural “health foods” are mentioned in the Talmud, and interest in them has continued to this day, health foods certainly cannot be defined as a fad!
Two popular myths among health food advocates, however, are that “natural” is necessarily healthy and automatically kosher. We can even find people who adhere to the strictest kosher observance at home, and yet feel that eating cooked fish or other natural foods in a health food restaurant is in accordance with Jewish law. Nothing is further from the truth.
Let us examine the term “natural” to better understand its implications for kashrus and health. “Natural” only means “an unadulterated state.” This would include non-kosher fish or oils processed from animals. Strictly speaking, even flavorings such as coumarin (from the tonka bean) or oil of calamus, which are very dangerous to the consumer, would come under the category of “natural” foods. Of course, these last mentioned are banned by the F.D.A. and will not be found in any stores. On the other hand, non-kosher grape juice, cochineal, (from beetles) and civet (from the civet cat) may definitely be found in various foods carried by health food stores.
As with other foods, health foods fall into 3 categories: foods which cannot be kosher; foods which can be kosher with proper inspection and certification; and foods which are kosher even without certification. Just as the F.D.A. has banned some natural foods from public use because they are harmful, we kosher consumers must be aware of which natural foods to ban from our own diets. There is a need for kosher certification on most health foods, as on other foods. On the other hand, it is easier to determine if something is kosher if there are no hidden ingredients. For example, natural peanut butter in most cases needs no hechsher since it is made entirely from peanuts.