If you have ever researched how to make a kitchen kosher, you might have noticed a lot of references to blowtorches and boiling water. Many items in a kitchen can be made kosher, even if they have have been used to cook a bacon double cheeseburger. Usually, all it takes is some know-how and a lot of heat!
Jewish dietary laws go beyond the particular choice of foods. The surfaces and objects that come in contact with the food are also affected by a food’s kosher or non-kosher status. According to Jewish law, the ta'am (literally, flavor) of a food is transferred through heat, with heat meaning both high temperatures and foods that have a certain level of natural heat (spicy, pungent or sharp foods). For instance, if one melts a stick of butter in a new pan, that pan becomes dairy because of the hot butter. Similarly, a bowl that contains hot clam chowder cannot be used to serve kosher food without first being made kosher.
Since heat plays a role in the transfer of the ta'am (taste), heat is also necessary for the kashering process. In fact, the rule is that an item is koshered by the same process by which it absorbs. Thus, a pot that was used to cook non-kosher liquids can be kashered by boiling it in water.
There are four basic kashering methods: Libun Gamur - red hot heat (such as a blow torch); Libun Kal - "light" heat (still hot enough to scorch a piece of straw or paper); Hagalah- boiling water (either immersed in or overflowing from); and Irui - poured boiled water (for really big items like counter tops).
In order to ensure that an item is properly kashered, as well as for safety reasons, one who wishes to transform a non-kosher kitchen into a kosher kitchen should consult their local rabbi. Those wishing to kasher individual items should also speak to a local religious authority.
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