What's the difference if the food is spicy or not?
Earlier, when we discussed the preparation of pareve food in a meat (dairy) pot, we learned that the rules given only apply if the food involved isn't spicy. So what if it is spicy?
Spicy foods change everything and present a whole set of exceptions to the general rules of keeping kosher. Because of the strong flavors involved, spicy foods transfer tastes much more easily than other foods. Here is a brief summary of the rules:
- Spicy foods are treated as hot even when they are cold. Thus a cold raw onion that touches meat is considered to have been cooked with the meat.
- Spicy foods rejuvinate lifgam tastes and can absorb them as if they are fresh.
- Combining these two rules, we see that if you cut an onion with a meat (dairy) knife, the onion becomes meaty (dairy) even if the knife hasn't been used for meat (dairy) within the past 24 hours and even if the knife and onion are cold. (If you cut a food that isn't spicy, we would say that the aino ben yomo knife only has lifgam tastes, and we would also say that the food and knife are cold so no tastes are absorbed.)
- Spicy liquids like strong salt water can transfer tastes into (and out of) their containers in 18 minutes. For plain liquids, this would take 24 hours.
That sounds like I need to have a pareve cutting board and knife just for onions and garlic!
That's one way to deal with the problem of spicy foods. Another way is to always cut them with the correct knife corresponding to how they will be cooked and eaten.
By the way, because of the strong tastes involved, professional chefs keep a separate cutting board and knife for onions and garlic. This both prevents the tastes from contaminating other foods and prevents the tastes of other foods from contaminating the onions and garlic.
OK, so what else is spicy besides onions and garlic? Hot peppers? Lemons? Tomatoes?
L'chatchila, most foods that we commonly call "spicy" are treated as spicy in halacha — onions, garlic, horseradish, ginger, turnips, hot peppers, and more. Lemons are subject to debate as is vinegar. Most tomatoes are not considered spicy, but pickled or sundried tomatoes may be. B'dieved, we can often say that none of these foods are spicy — only chiltis, the exemplary (and unidentified) spicy vegetable brought in the Talmud, holds that distinction. If you have a kashrus issue and spicy foods are involved, consult with your rabbi.
Questions to ponder: