From Our Hotline

The Matter of the Batter

I had someone help me bake some cakes for an upcoming simcha. While preparing the batter, she helped herself to some.

Q: I heard that it may be prohibited for me to refuse to allow my helper to lick the batter. Could you explain this halacha?

A: You raised an interesting question - and the answer is even more interesting. Basically, it depends whether the batter contains flour. If the batter does not contain flour, e.g. a gluten-free cake or one that is Kosher for Pesach, you may deny your helper permission to taste. If the batter contains flour, denying your helper permission to lick it might constitute a Biblical prohibition.

There is a Biblical prohibition of lo tachsom, lit. ‘do not muzzle’. The Torah permits an employee hired to work with produce to eat that produce, and an employer who denies his employee this right violates this prohibition. Poskim rule that this right is not only for employees, but even a volunteer has the right to eat from produce with which he is working (Shulchan Aruch HaRav Shealah 22). Accordingly, one must allow a child that was asked to bake a cake to eat the batter.

There are two qualifications to this halacha. 1) Employees may only eat from produce that grew from the ground and 2) the allowance to eat ends when the produce is halachically completed. Produce is considered completed when the obligation to separate ma’aser begins. If another obligation will follow, e.g. the separation of challah, it is not complete until that time. Therefore, when preparing a loose batter, the employee may eat the batter until it is baked, since that is when the obligation to separate challah begins (Tosafos B.M. 89). Some authorities maintain that when making a small quantity of batter that doesn’t require separation of challah, the ma’aser obligation deems it complete (Ohr Sameach Bikkurim 6:12). Others contend that the obligation to separate challah is merely an indicator that the produce is complete, but even when one will not separate challah, it is considered incomplete until baked (Minchas Shlomo 1:68).

Accordingly, when baking cake for Pesach, the prohibition of lo tachsom does not apply. The employee may be denied permission to eat because the batter does not contain unprocessed flour, so it will not be subject to challah. The ingredients that are used, e.g. nuts, potato starch, or matzah meal, were already completed and subject to ma’aser. In contrast, when making a loose batter containing flour, the batter is not considered completed until it is baked; lo tachsom remains in force.

However, one who does not allow his helper to lick the batter out of health concerns (for example, raw eggs are potentially harmful) does not violate lo tachsom (338:7).

In all circumstances, an employer and employee can stipulate that the employee will not eat the produce with which he is working (337:17).