Jewish Food/Kosher fish


I work for an Orthodox family, and we were discussing fish. They said they could only eat certain fish, because they are Kosher, such as Tuna [salt water], carp & salmon [fresh water] and I asked what makes them Kosher? Their reply was, they have fins & scales. Well all fish have fins & scales. Can you give me a better answer as
to what makes a fish Kosher? Thank you in advance for your answer.
Cathy Kearns  

Cathy - thanks for a great question.!  This always leads to so many good questions.

You have a point about the fins and scales (although there are some fish that do not have scales). Unlike meat and poultry, kosher fish requires no special preparation to insure that it is kosher.  Fish are seen as the most holy of species.  Fish do not need to be ritually slaughtered and do not need to have their blood removed (the way land animals do).

The Torah (the five books of Moses - old testament) makes distinctions between kosher and non-kosher fish. The commentary on the Torah explains that the scales and fins
can be compared to crowns atop the fish, attesting to the kosher fish's higher spiritual status. Furthermore, such fish tend to swim in the upper expanses of the ocean where the water is more pure.

The Torah establishes two criteria in determining kosher fish. They must have fins and scales (cycloid or ctenoid scales). Not all types of scales are considered as kosher scales.  Placoid and ganoid are scales that are not acceptable.

So, a kosher fish is one that originates and lives in water and has scales and fins that are visible even without a microscope. The whole body of the fish does not have to be covered with scales. If the scales are only by the gills, fins or tail is sufficient.

You should keep in mind that bony protrusions are not considered scales. The scales must be able to be removed without ripping & damaging the skin that it is attached to. The scales must be of the "cycloid (round) or "ctenoid" (comb like) NOT the "placoid" (platelike) or "ganoid" (armor like). A kosher fish has a spine, while a non-kosher fish usually does not.

All shellfish are prohibited. Swimming creatures i.e. sea horses, squid, lobsters etc. are not considered fish & are not kosher either.

Another consideration is whether one is Orthodox (the most observant), Conservative or Reform.  Orthodox Jews do NOT consider Swordfish to be kosher (even though it has fins and scales) - because the scales are imbedded, making them difficult to remove.  I served swordfish at my wedding (with a kosher caterer) and one old aunt had a fit.  I told her to eat the salmon.

Anyway, as an aside, most sushi is acceptable - as long as the raw fish being consumed was once kosher fish.

An interesting web site is:
which has actual illustrations of fish that are kosher.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.


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I will try to answer questions relating to keeping a kosher home and cooking in the Jewish tradition. I am NOT an expert on Sephardic dishes, but I can often point you in the right direction. I am willing to share recipes, but I can`t tell you why your brisket was bad, unless you send some for my husband to taste.


I am a GREAT cook and I keep a Kosher home. My family seder never has fewer than 40 at the table and I prepare a congregational 2nd seder for over 100 - from scratch!

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