The adjective ‘parve’ refers to a food item that contains neither dairy nor meat ingredients, and was not processed with heat on dairy or meat equipment. Parve foods are neutral and may be eaten with meat or dairy foods.
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Parve Foods Cooked in Meat or Dairy Vessels
Foods that are inherently parve (such as eggs, vegetables, and grains) acquire some restrictions if processed with heat on meat or dairy equipment. Thus, vegetables that are cooked in a designated meat pot (in which meat was cooked within the past 24 hours) may be eaten before or after dairy, but it is preferable not to eat the parve and dairy items together. The reverse is true for an inherently parve food prepared in a dairy vessel.
For example, if one cooks corn in a meat pot, one should not eat it with together with butter.
What about parve food baked in a meat or dairy oven? Essentially, if the parve food item has liquid content which produces zeiah, then it is as if the food was cooked in a meat or dairy pot.
However, the status of the parve food is unaffected by the cooking process if any of the following conditions prevail:
- The parve food is dry and there is no edible meat or dairy residue in the oven
- The food is covered
- The oven is clean of meat and dairy residue and has not been used for meat or dairy products containing liquid (producing zeiah) for at least 24 hours
- The oven has been cleaned of all meat or dairy residue and burned out at 550 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes (without the need to wait 24 hours)
Bread, though usually inherently parve, if used with a meat meal may not be used with a dairy meal and vice versa. (Thus, leftover challah that was used at a meat meal may not be used to make dairy French toast.)
Labels on purchased food products must be read carefully to determine whether the products are truly parve.
The OU, the largest American kosher certification agency, certifies thousands of dairy, meat, and parve foods. The OU’s policy is that dairy or meat items are labeled OU-D and OU Dairy or OU Meat respectively. An item that is labeled OU without a suffix can be assumed to be parve. Nonetheless, the OU recommends checking the ingredients listed on the label, since on rare occasions, the OU-D is inadvertently omitted.
Some common culprits are margarine and non-dairy creamer which, while often parve, may contain dairy products. Margarine may contain up to 12% dairy ingredients, and therefore some margarines are OU Dairy while others are parve.
Many “non-dairy” creamers are in fact dairy and bear an OU-D. The government requires that creamers be labeled “non-dairy” if milk derivatives are used instead of whole milk.
Years ago, the thought of parve cream cheese, parve chicken soup, vegetarian chicken nuggets, parve ice cream, or meatless burgers would have sounded like a joke. However, today these products and the like are in high demand and sold at kosher stores around the U.S. and abroad. The parve market, for example, has become increasingly popular in recent years, and food companies have actively pursued innovative ways to create parve versions of products traditionally assumed to be dairy or meat.
Nevertheless, a product might be perfectly 100% kosher and still be subject to scrutiny vis-à-vis the Shulchan Aruch. Let us briefly examine the issue of marit ayin and the way that it affects modern-day kashrut supervision and the food we bring into our homes.
Marit ayin may be loosely defined as actions that strictly speaking are permitted according to halacha, but that nevertheless give onlookers the impression that one is doing or has done something prohibited. In these instances, there is a rabbinic prohibition to engage in these sort of activities.
There are many examples of marit ayin found in rabbinic and halachic literature. One classic example is the prohibition of hanging wet clothes outside on Shabbos, since it gives the impression that laundry was done on Shabbos .
Issues of marit ayin as it pertains to food are discussed in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch. For example, according to the letter of the law, blood from fish is permitted. Nevertheless, its consumption is prohibited since its appearance is identical to that of drinking blood from an animal.
However, if fish scales are present and noticeable at the time of consumption, it is permitted . The reason for this distinction is that the presence of fish scales removes any suspicion that the consumer is drinking animal blood. An onlooker would simply notice the scales and assume that the individual is drinking blood from a fish.
Likewise, blood from a human being is permitted, unless it is noticeable as a separate entity. Therefore, although it is permissible to swallow blood in one’s mouth from bleeding gums, it is prohibited to consume that blood if it were noticed on one’s food while eating. In such a case, the blood must be scraped from the food. This requirement is also because of marit ayin, since any blood on the food could have possibly originated from anywhere, including an animal.
Rema discusses and permits a practice of mixing chicken with nut milk, despite its appearance as a meat-and-milk combination. Rema explains that since mixing chicken with cow’s milk is a rabbinic prohibition, marit ayin does not apply.
Nevertheless, if one would mix nut milk with beef, marit ayin would apply and that practice would be prohibited. This is because mixing beef and cow’s milk constitutes an actual meat-and-milk combination that violates a Torah prohibition . When mixing beef and nut milk, nuts should be present lest onlookers suspect that one is violating the biblical prohibition of meat-and-milk combinations.
According to Rema, marit ayin does not apply to prohibitions that are rabbinic in nature. Nonetheless, there is a dispute amongst various authorities as to whether to accept Rema’s approach. Taz accepted Rema in principle, but ruled that it is proper to place nuts when mixing nut milk with chicken. Shach disagreed with Rema’s ruling and did not accept the distinction between biblical and rabbinic prohibitions. According to Shach, marit ayin applies equally to Torah and rabbinic prohibitions.
Nowadays, with the advent of a booming parve market, many traditionally dairy products are now actually available in parve form. As a result, the usage of these products while, or after, eating meat comes into question. Specifically, is it permissible to use margarine at a meat meal or is its appearance too similar to butter? Moreover, may one serve parve ice cream or coffee creamer afterward?
Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote a responsum addressing this very issue. He points out that according to Rema there is certainly no concern of marit ayin, unless there is a possible perception that a Torah prohibition is being violated. Therefore, since eating dairy after a meat meal is a rabbinic prohibition, according to Rema there should be no issue consuming these products after eating meat.
However, as many authorities disagreed with Rema’s position, is there any basis to permit the common practice of using these products as dairy substitutes when consuming dairy is not allowed? Moreover, what about a situation where the use of a parve product has the appearance of violating a Torah prohibition?
To answer this question, Rav Ovadia cites an opinion of Rosh. There is a Torah prohibition against wearing a garment of mixed wool and linen (shaatnez). Because of marit ayin, the Sages forbid mixing wool and silk or linen and silk. Rosh maintains that the Sages’ disallowance was only applicable at a time when silk was uncommon. At a time when silk is common, there is no reason to suspect that a clothing of mixed fibers of wool and silk, or linen and silk, contains shaatnez, and therefore marit ayin would not apply.
Rosh’s position is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch, and is accepted by Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike. Rosh’s opinion provides a fundamental idea within the prohibition of marit ayin. When an activity is commonly done in a permitted fashion, concerns of suspicion and the prohibition of marit ayin should not apply.
It appears that the widespread popularity of these parve products helps to address concerns of marit ayin. Since marit ayin is a question of perception and whether onlookers would suspect that one’s behavior is in violation of halachah, the common, everyday usage of these products should remove any possible suspicion.
Since these parve substitutes for dairy or meat are used regularly by many, there is no reason to suspect someone of not acting in accordance with halachah, but rather using a parve imitation.