An Explanation of the Different Kosher Symbols and Certifications

Making Sense of Different Types of Hechshers

Kosher yerba mate with multiple food certification symbols on the label
Kosher yerba mate with multiple food certification symbols on the label. © 2012 Miri Rotkovitz

There are literally hundreds of different hechshers, or kosher certification symbols, that appear on foodstuffs, beverages, and dining establishments of all types around the world. The sheer array of these kosher stamps of approval can be mind-boggling to consumers -- including those who keep kosher for religious reasons, and who are well-versed in the kosher laws.

There are plenty of lists of so-called "reliable" hechshers, usually organized geographically, but they're quite lengthy,...MORE and can be tough to slog through. So I've organized a series of lists by hechsher type. You'll find links below to what I hope will be a helpful breakdown of the different types of hechshers and the organizations that provide them. Each ever-evolving list highlights major players on the kashrut supervision scene, photos of their hechshers on actual products (instead of black-and-white logos), agency history, contact information, and more.

  • 01 of 07
    The OU Pareve kosher symbol on a container of corn starch. © Miri Rotkovitz

    The four biggest kosher supervision agencies in the world all originated and are headquartered in the US; their symbols -- the OU, Kof-K, OK, and Star-K -- are likewise the most readily recognized kosher certification symbols around the globe.

  • 02 of 07
    The Atlanta Kashruth Commission's hechsher on Miso Master miso. © Miri Rotkovitz

    America also leads the world in the number of regional kosher certifiers it supports. Many states have at least one kosher supervision agency;  locales with large Orthodox communities -- for example California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida -- often have several.

  • 03 of 07

    International Hechshers

    Kosher Dulce de Leche from Argentina, certified by the U-K Kashrus Organization. © Miri Rotkovitz

    While the OU, OK, Kof-K, and Star-K have deep international reach, there are kosher agencies on all six habitable continents. Particularly prominent among the various international kosher supervisors are the London Beit Din, the Kashrus Council of Canada, Kosher Australia, and Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg (Chief Rabbi of Paris).

  • 04 of 07

    Israeli Hechshers

    Though there are plenty of secular Jews living in Israel, a far greater percentage keep kosher compared to Jews living elsewhere. As in the US, there are a plethora of kosher supervising organizations, each with its own hechsher. Some cater to very specific segments of the Israeli Jewish community, while others have a wider scope and appear on many exported foodstuffs.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Specialty Kosher Certifications

    Kosher yerba mate with multiple food certification symbols on the label. © 2012 Miri Rotkovitz

    As interest in organic, vegan, and GMO-free foods grows, kosher consumers have begun to seek out these special designations, along with kosher certification. A handful of savvy certifiers -- most notably EarthKosher and Natural Food Certifiers -- are now offering companion certifications to go with their kosher approvals.

  • 06 of 07

    Controversial Hechshers

    Some hechshers are considered controversial (read: unreliable) for any number of reasons. Some kashrut agencies have been involved in food manufacturing scandals. Some hechshers are bestowed by rabbis operating solo, which tends to spark questions about training, credentials, personal religious practice, the ability of said rabbis to be present on site for proper inspection of food manufacturing facilities, etc. Sometimes a perfectly legitimate hechsher is deemed "questionable" due to...MORE politics, or a long-remembered, but no longer valid, past transgression.

  • 07 of 07

    Non-Orthodox Hechshers

    While many Orthodox observers of kashrut would lump non-Orthodox hechshers into the "controversial" pile, the fact remains that there are a growing number of Conservative, Traditional, and other certifications throughout the US and around the world. While these hechshers may not be considered appropriate or reliable for Orthodox kosher consumers, for those who find them acceptable, they are an important part of personal kashrut observance.