What Makes a Pickle Kosher?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pickle is kosher if it meets Jewish dietary laws — kashrut. In addition, many pickles are labeled as kosher because they are made in the style served at Jewish delicatessens. People who are concerned about complying with kosher restrictions should always check the label to make sure that the pickles are, in fact, kosher. Although it may be confusing to conceive of a non-kosher kosher pickle, it does happen on occasion.

A jar of kosher pickles.
A jar of kosher pickles.

The primary issue with pickles and their status as a kosher food is the use of animal products at some pickling and canning facilities. A pickle is made by brining a cucumber in a solution of water and salt. Sometimes, the brine is emulsified with polysorbates, which are made from animal fat. If the polysorbates are from kosher animals, such as cattle slaughtered in accordance with kosher law, the pickles would be considered kosher. The concern is that the pickles could be contaminated with products of so-called “unclean animals,” such as pigs, or that the animals used to make the polysorbates were not slaughtered properly. As a general rule, it is easier to make pickles without polysorbates if a facility is pursuing kosher certification.

Pickling cucumbers growing on the vine.
Pickling cucumbers growing on the vine.

In order to be certified, the kosher facility must permit inspection by a rabbinical kashrut inspector, or mashgiach. Periodic inspections will be carried out to make sure that the facility conforms with kosher laws, and a kosher-certifying organization will allow the facility to include a kosher logo on the label. This assures Jewish consumers that the pickles they are purchasing are, in fact, kosher.

A jar of pickled gherkins.
A jar of pickled gherkins.

In order for a pickle to be classified as kosher in terms of flavor, it must be made with brine and garlic. The common term “kosher pickle” is derived from kosher salt, a thick grained salt used to brine or season meats and vegetables both inside and outside of Jewish tradition. The garlic adds to the zesty, slightly spicy flavor of a true kosher pickle made in the style of a Jewish delicatessen. Although the overall numbers of Jewish delicatessens are declining around the world, a fully functioning deli will often pickle an assortment of vegetables to serve with food. Some pickling companies even specialize in Jewish style pickled foods.

Garlic is sometimes added for flavor to pickles.
Garlic is sometimes added for flavor to pickles.

Unlike sweet pickles or bread and butter pickles, a kosher pickle is crunchy and zesty. A classic variant is the dill pickle, which includes dill in the brine solution. If a soggy, mushy, sweet pickle is served under the guise of being a kosher, the consumer should immediately complain, because while it may be pickled, it most certainly does not deserve to be called a kosher pickle.

The term "kosher pickle" is associated with kosher salt, a course-grained variety often favored by Jewish cooks.
The term "kosher pickle" is associated with kosher salt, a course-grained variety often favored by Jewish cooks.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Kosher does not mean pure. Kosher generally means the same things as Muttar. They both translate to mean both "permitted" and "prepared" or "released" This means that it is prepared to be used for good use and released from being bound by the status of being tied down.

The opposite would be "Asur", which means "forbidden" and "tied down". It is forbidden and cannot be elevated to the service of God.


I like the kosher pickle made without dill. Is that possible?


@ussrwe-- That's an interesting question. I suppose they could be different. A pickle may be made the Jewish way, but if it doesn't have the kosher certification on the jar, it's not kosher.

I only eat kosher but I have friends who are not as strict as me and will eat non-kosher pickles. I only eat kosher ones. I get them certified at a Jewish grocery.

For me, it's not just about abiding to my religion. It's also about flavor. I love the flavor of kosher pickles. Half sour kosher pickles are my favorite.


@ddljohn-- You're wrong about that. Kosher doesn't just apply to meat products. It applies to all foods and even water. All of these are either kosher or they're not.

Kosher means "pure" and there is a very detailed description of what pure is according to the Torah. For example, it's not only about avoiding meat based products while making pickles but also the cleanliness and quality of the cucumbers.

For example, kosher pickle must be made from cucumbers that do not contain any insects. Cucumbers eaten by insects cannot be used by Jewish people. This would make the pickles made from those cucumbers "non-kosher."

Garlic pickle might be a tradition, but in order for it to be kosher, it still has to fit these regulations.


I understand how polysorbates would prevent pickles from being kosher. But the bit about the use of garlic and the spice and crunch just seems like a culinary tradition to me.

I'm not a Judaism adherent, but I believe that kosher mainly applies to meat products. So I don't really understand the concept of kosher pickle. Seems like a way to make money by kosher food manufacturers to me.


"Kosher" means "fit for a Jew to eat." "Fit for a Jew to eat" means it follows the law for Jews set by G-d in the Torah.


Is a kosher pickle and a jewish pickle the same thing?


Very interesting! I had no idea that the kosher in kosher pickle didn't necessarily refer to kashrut! So you could have a kosher sweet pickle but kosher kosher pickles aren't sweet. Very interesting!

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