Ask OU Kosher: April 2011, Passover Column
“ Kitniyos Q’s ”
By Rabbi David Polsky
OU Kosher Consumer Hotline
Q: What are kitniyos?
A: Kitniyos are grains and legumes. Since the middle ages, Jews of Ashkenazic descent have accepted upon themselves to abstain from these foods during Passover. The custom developed because: 1) these items are similar to, and can be confused with chametz, and 2) they may be mixed with other grains, since they are often grown and/or processed near chametz.
Q: If I am an Ashkenazic Jew, does that mean that I must sell or remove kitniyos from my home before Passover?
A: The prohibitions of ownership or benefit according to the Torah are with derivatives of the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye) that can become chametz. There is no custom to remove kitniyos from one’s home. In fact, if one has a pet, one may feed it kitniyos, such as millet. However, if there is likelihood that a kitniyos based product may contain chametz, it is advisable to sell it.
Q: What is included in the custom?
A: Kitniyos generally refers to any of the following: 1) Beans, 2) Buckwheat, 3) Caraway, 4) Cardamom, 5) Corn, 6) Fennel, 7) Fenugreek, 8) Lentils, 9) Millet, 10) Mustard, 11) Peas, 12) Poppy Seeds, 13) Rapeseed, 14) Rice, 15) Sesame Seeds, 16) Soybeans, and 17) Sunflower Seeds. Many Ashkenazic Jews in America also treat Peanuts as kitniyos.
Q: What about quinoa?
A: As mentioned previously, Ashkenazic Jews refrain from consuming kitniyos because: 1) kitniyos can be confused with chametz and 2) kitniyos might be mixed with any of the five grains. Although quinoa is not a grain (it is actually a chenopod), it looks very similar to grain. Additionally, quinoa can be ground into flour and is often processed at factories that handle wheat or other grains. Therefore, if we assume any item that meets these two criteria should be considered kitniyos, quinoa should therefore be prohibited as well. That is why a number of rabbinical authorities believe that it is kitniyos.
However, there are a number of other great rabbinical authorities who believe that kitniyos is not an abstract, all-inclusive category. According to these opinions, the custom only applies to particular species that Ashkenazic Jews have traditionally decided to refrain from. Therefore, since there was never such a widespread custom to refrain from quinoa, it should be acceptable.
Since there varying opinions amongst many rabbinical authorities, it is best to ask your local rabbi which opinion you should follow. However, if you follow the opinion that quinoa is permitted, care should be taken before cooking to sift through it and ensure that there are no chametz grains mixed in.
Q: My child has a limited diet. He mostly eats formula that is largely based on corn and soy. What should he do during Passover?
A: Because refraining from kitniyos is merely a custom, children, the elderly, and others with limited diets are allowed to consume kitniyos as needed. However, one should confirm that the kitniyos item does not contain any chametz. The OU Passover website (www.oupassover.org) lists OU certified formulas and dietary supplements that have been determined to contain kitniyos only. We suggest browsing the site to see which formulas are acceptable. If you do not see an item listed, please do not hesitate to call the Kosher Consumer Hotline (1-212-613-8241) or e-mail the Webbe Rebbe (firstname.lastname@example.org).
When using kitniyos products for such reasons, it is necessary to use separate utensils and wash them in the bathroom sink or another area separate from one’s Passover food and utensils.
Q: I have heard that aspartame is derived from corn. How can so many Passover products use it?
A: There is a major rabbinical discussion whether prohibited items that undergo a significant structural and chemical change lose their prohibited status. Although it is accepted to be stringent in cases when the original products are biblically or rabbinically prohibited, many kashrut organizations are lenient with kitniyos, which is only a custom. However, this only applies to corn or other kitniyos derivatives that undergo major changes with regards to both their taste and chemical structures.