Glatt kosher refers to meat from animals with smooth or defect-free lungs. Today, the term is often used informally to imply that a product was processed under a stricter standard of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). Due to this, glatt kosher is sometimes thought of as extra kosher, but that is a misconception, and you will find the term used beyond meat products.
What Is Glatt Kosher?
For meat to be kosher, it must come from a kosher animal slaughtered in a kosher way. Glatt kosher takes it further; the meat must also come from an animal with adhesion-free or smooth lungs.
The word glatt is Yiddish for "smooth" (the Hebrew word is chalak). In kashrut, glatt refers to the lungs of animals and is primarily concerned with the meat of adult herd animals, such as cows and buffalo. On occasion, small adhesions may be removed from the lungs, and the animal is still worthy of the glatt kosher label.
The catch is that calves, sheep, deer, and fowl (chicken, turkey, and duck) must be glatt to be deemed kosher at all in the U.S. If one of these products is labeled "glatt," it is misleading because if it were not glatt, it would not be kosher.
After it's slaughtered according to kashrut, the animal is opened and examined to determine whether the lungs are smooth. If defects are found on the lungs during the inspection, the meat is considered treif (torn, non-kosher). This stems from the verse Exodus 22:30: "Do not eat meat from an animal torn [treifah] in the field." The meat is considered glatt kosher if the lungs are defect-free or smooth.
While a special focus is on an animal's lungs when defining glatt kosher, other physical defects can deem an animal non-kosher. An animal will be designated treif if it has broken bones, punctures or cuts, or a terminal illness that would have caused suffering during its life.
Referred to as glatt Beit Yosef, some Jewish communities restrict their diet to glatt kosher meats alone. Other communities do not specify this requirement, so non-glatt kosher meats are acceptable.
Is Glatt Meat Higher Quality or Super Kosher?
Glatt is often used colloquially to imply a higher standard of kashrut. It is similar to how the term mehadrin (food prepared in the strictest kosher way) is used in Israel. However, just because a product is glatt does not mean it is necessarily higher quality or more kosher than non-glatt meat.
Misuses of Glatt Kosher
Even though only meat can technically be glatt kosher, the term is often loosely used today to refer to non-meat items. Many suppliers of glatt kosher items will refer to all of their products as glatt kosher. You may, for instance, find fish or chicken with the same glatt kosher sticker that's used on meat sold one aisle over.
In addition, many suppliers of glatt kosher meat refer to their full service as glatt kosher. Don't be surprised to see bakers, caterers, restaurants, and stores labeled as glatt kosher. It is a marketing technique and a rather misleading label in many instances.
If you have concerns about glatt kosher products, it is best to purchase meats from a reputable source that you feel you can trust.