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.
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.
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.
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.
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.