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Q&A

Is cooking beef and coconut milk together kosher?

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I have a beef rendang recipe I'd like to bring to a small potluck. However, some of the attendees are Jewish and keep kosher. I know there are some restrictions on cooking milk and meat together, but is it okay to cook beef and coconut milk together?

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3 answers

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The prohibition is on combinations of meat[1] with actual dairy milk. Almond milk has a long history as a substitute, and more recently, soy milk. So long as the coconut milk contains no actual dairy milk, using it does not violate the prohibition against combining meat and milk.

There is an additional consideration that could affect your Jewish guests. If something is not actually a violation of kosher law, but it looks like it is, it is somewhere between advisory and required to take extra steps to clarify the matter. (See, for example, this article, which I hope is reasonably accessible.) In the case of almond milk, historically rabbis called for including some actual pieces of almond in the mix as an indicator. In modern times, I was once at a meal where those fake "bacon bits" were served as an optional salad topping -- and they were brought to the table in the original packaging with the kosher certification mark, not in a bowl. (Miss Manners might not approve, but rabbis would.) The article I linked suggests that when knowledge of a food is common, one needn't include the extra labeling. I would think that, in your case, it would suffice to tell people that the dish is made with coconut milk and not dairy milk. (I am not a rabbi.)

There is one more consideration, though it's about kashrut in general and not about dairy alternatives. There is a spectrum of observance levels when it comes to kashrut (or any other matter of Jewish law). According to the strict law, the beef must have been slaughtered in a particular way, processed ingredients require a type of certification, and the utensils you cook the food in matter. Some Jews consider it sufficient if all the ingredients are of the right type -- they'll eat kosher species that weren't necessarily slaughtered according to Jewish law, and/or they'll use ingredients lists on packages in the absence of the certification mark, and/or they don't care what pots you used so long as they were clean to begin with. The only way to know is to ask. Anecdotally, Jews who keep some level of kosher are used to navigating these matters, so if you make it easy for them to know what's in the food you brought, you should be fine.


  1. Including poultry, but excluding fish (fish is parve, or neutral). ↩︎

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Oops. Added a comment about margarine and then found one of your links was about that topic! manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

Margarine is also complicated because not all margarines are dairy-free, so you might need the wrapper not just to show "margarine" but to show "non-dairy margarine". (Yes I've seen OU-D on margarine.) Monica Cellio‭ about 1 month ago

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Before getting down into the weeds of what is and is not needed under Jewish law to make your recipe acceptable, you should talk to the attendees about what their needs and restrictions are, or if you aren't comfortable doing that, talk to the host.

Someone who keeps the full dietary laws would not be attending a potluck, or might attend just to be social and eat only a limited selection of uncooked or commercially processed foods. Another person might attend but choose to only eat vegetarian foods, to avoid any non-Kosher meat products no matter how they are prepared. It would be a shame for you to go to a lot of trouble to accommodate hypothetical needs of someone who wouldn't be eating your dish anyway.

For people who choose to keep a limited subset of the Kosher laws, pretty much everyone draws different lines in different places; the biggest common features of "Kosher-style" eating are, as you seem to know, "don't mix meat/poultry and milk", "no pork", and "no shellfish". Whether these potluck guests would be comfortable eating beef mixed with something that looks like milk is hard to guess; it's probably OK, but best to ask. ("Hey, I'm planning to bring beef rendang, which is beef cooked in coconut milk; is that OK for you?")

True story: many years ago I attended a social event where one of the cooks had gone to a lot of trouble to procure strictly-Kosher hotdogs with me in mind. She then sliced them up and cooked them in the sauce with the meatballs, and was genuinely surprised when I wouldn't eat them. If she had talked to me, I could have told her that I really appreciated the thought but that her plan wouldn't work for me.

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As noted in another answer, coconut milk (and similar items) are not considered dairy (unless they are made with dairy ingredients added) and are not a problem.

However, there is a supervision problem. This does not mean a Jew has to do the work, just that a Jew has to watch the work being done. While there is a basis for leniency for many types of items (certain basic ingredients but even certain processed foods, depending on the time & place) to be considered kosher without any formal supervision, kosher meat is a huge exception. There are plenty of stories - some real, some likely made up to prove a point - where kosher meat was left unsupervised, but with non-Jews able to access it easily, for just a few minutes and then treated by observant Jews as non-kosher. That is the generally accepted (for thousands of years, not a new thing) Orthodox practice.

That being said, the best thing is to discuss this with the Jewish members of your group to determine what they are comfortable with. The worst thing would be to go through a lot of work and then find they won't eat it, particularly if there is something else you could have made that they would eat.

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"kosher meat was left unsupervised for just a few minutes and then treated… as non-kosher. That is the generally accepted… practice": IINM that's the ספרדי practice, but אשכנזים only bar eating בשר שנמסר ביד גוי, not בשר שנתעלם מן העין. msh210‭ 22 days ago

@msh210 You are correct. I should have been clearer about what I meant. manassehkatz‭ 22 days ago

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