The Quinoa - Kitniyos Conundrum
Generally, this time of year is the busiest for Rabbonim the world over; fielding questions on every aspect of the myriad and complex halachos of Pesach observance. This year is no different. Yet, interestingly, the question that seems to be utmost on people’s minds is not about chametz or even cleaning properly. No, in 2013, the biggest issue seems to be whether quinoa (pronounced Keen-Waah) is considered Kitniyos and whether Ashkenazim can eat it on Pesach. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the U.N. (Oom Shmoom in the local vernacular) declared 2013 as the ‘International Year of the Quinoa’. Whatever the reason, after receiving this question numerous times in one day, this author decided to address the issue.
While not (yet) too common here in Yerushalayim, quinoa has developed an international following. Packed with protein (essential amino acids) and fiber, as well as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and iron (and naturally cholesterol free!), quinoa packs quite a dietary punch. Although billed as the ‘Mother of All Grains’ and ‘the Super Grain’, this native of the Andes Mountains (think Bolivia and Peru) is actually a grain that isn’t; it does not even contain gluten. It turns out that quinoa is really a member of the ‘goose-foot’ family (Chenopodium), related to beets and spinach. But while its health benefits sound terrific, it still may be problematic on Pesach.
It is well known that the actual prohibition of Chametz on Pesach pertains exclusively to leavened products made from the five major grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye. Yet, already in place from the times of the Rishonim, there was an Ashkenazic prohibition against eating Kitniyos (legumes; literally ‘little things’) on Pesach, except in times of famine or grave need. Although several authorities opposed this prohibition, nonetheless it is binding on Ashkenazic Jewry in full force, even today. In fact, the Aruch Hashulchan writes that ‘once our forefathers have accepted this prohibition upon themselves, it is considered a ‘geder m’din Torah’ and one who is lenient is testifying about himself that he has no fear of Heaven”.
Several reasons are given for the actual prohibition including that Kitniyos often grow in close proximity to grain; are commonly stored together with grain and actual chametz might actually end up mixed inside the Kitniyos container; cooked dishes made from grain and Kitniyos look similar; and that Kitniyos can likewise be ground up into flour - a ‘bread’ can actually be made from them. Since there are many who will not be able to differentiate between them and their Biblically forbidden chametz counterparts, Kitniyos was likewise prohibited.
Potatoes, Peanuts, and Corn…Oh My!
So how does our quinoa measure up? Although it has been used in the Andesfor millennia, it has only recently, in the last score or so, gained popularity around the world. Does quinoa fit the Kitniyos criteria or not?
Perhaps we can glean some insight to quinoa’s Kitniyos status from halachic precedents of other now-common food staples that were introduced long after the Kitniyos prohibition started, such as potatoes, peanuts and corn.
It would seemingly be quite difficult for anyone to mix up potatoes with chametz grain, so that rationale to regard potatoes as Kitniyos is out. But, potatoes can be and are made into potato flour and potato starch, and there are those who do bake potato ‘bread’! Yet, even so, we find that potatoes are not considered Kitniyos.
The main reason for this is that at the time when the Ashkenazic Rishonim established the decree prohibiting Kitniyos, potatoes were completely unknown! It is possible that had they been readily available they might have been on the “forbidden list” as well! Yet, since they were never included, contemporary authorities have no right to add “new types” to the list. As Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach noted, Klal Yisrael never accepted the Kitniyos prohibition to include potatoes.
Similar logic was used by several poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, to permit peanuts (although actually a legume) for Pesach for those who had such a minhag. Yet, this was not as widely accepted.
On the other hand, we find that another New Worldcrop, corn, was seemingly unanimously included as part of the Kitniyos prohibition. Aside for the fact that the words ‘corn’ and ‘grain’ both stem from the same root, ‘corn’ is actually only the name for the grain ‘maize’ that is used in the United States, Canada, and Australia. In other parts of the English-speaking world and much of Europe, the term ‘corn’ is a generic term for cereal crops, such as real chametz - wheat, barley, oats, or rye. Additionally, corn exhibits many characteristics of real deal Kitniyos: it grows near other grains, is made into flour (that can be easily confused with grain flour), and corn bread is made from it. Therefore, since corn fits much of the criteria of Kitniyos, it is included in the prohibition.
So, which category should quinoa be a part of? Like the potato and be excluded from the prohibition? Or like corn and be considered Kitniyos? Actually, contemporary authorities and Kashrus agencies have been debating this very question. It turns out that quinoa is halachically similar to the peanut, meaning its status is debated.
Several Kashrus agencies, including the Star-K and cRc (Chicago) maintain that quinoa is essentially Kosher for Pesach. Since it is not even remotely related to the five grains, and was not around at the time of the Kitniyos prohibition, it is not considered Kitniyos. Additionally, the Star-K tested quinoa to see if it would rise, yet instead, it decayed, a sure sign that it is not a true grain. The only issue, according to them, is the fact that quinoa is processed in facilities that other grains are processed in. Therefore, they maintain, that if quinoa is processed in facilities under special reliable Pesach supervision, there is no Pesach problem. In fact, this year, the Star-K gives special kosher for Passover hashgacha on certain types of quinoa.
However, Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah V’Daas and posek for the OU disagrees. He argues that since quinoa fits every criterion for Kitniyos, it should be included in its prohibition. Quinoa is the staple grain in its country of origin. It is grown in proximity of and can be mixed up with the five grains. It is collected and processed the same (and in the same facilities) as the five grains, and is cooked into porridge and breads the same as the five grains. He maintains that it should be compared to corn, which was, for similar reasons, included in the Kitniyos prohibition. Although quinoa is a New Worldfood item and was not included in the original prohibition, nevertheless, he explains that that line of reasoning applies exclusively to items that are not clearly Kitniyos, to foods that may share only several characteristics with Kitniyos. However, since quinoa and corn would certainly have been included in the gezeira had they been discovered, as they share every criterion of Kitniyos, they are consequently by definition considered Kitniyos.
Therefore, the OU does not certify quinoa as Kosher for Pesach. This also seems to be the Badatz Eida Chareidis of Yerushalayim’s approach, as in their most recent Madrich HaKashrus, they maintain that food items that are planted in the ground as seeds, harvested as seeds and are edible, are considered Kitniyos. This would certainly include quinoa.
Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz zt”l, in his annual Kovetz Hilchos Pesach, took a middle road approach, acknowledging both sides to this quinoa quarrel. He did not give carte blanche for everyone to use it for Pesach, but concluded that anyone who suffers from gluten or any Pesach-related allergies or conditions (ex. celiac) may comfortably use quinoa on Pesach without hesitation.
It seems that there truly is no quite conclusive quinoa / Kitniyos conclusion. Should one eat it on Pesach? One must ask his local halachic authority for guidance to clear up any quinoa / Kitniyos kashrus confusion or questions. But all concerns being equal, in this author’s mind one thing is certain: Bubby did not have quinoa at her Seder!
Mishna Pesachim (Ch.3, 1), Gemara Pesachim 42a - 43a, Rambam (Hilchos Chametz U’Matza Ch.5, 1). These are also the only grains with which one may fulfill his Mitzva of Achilas Matza - see Mishna Pesachim 35a , Rambam (Hilchos Chametz U’Matza Ch. 6, 4) and Tur / Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 453, 1).
See for example Mordechai (Pesachim 588), SMa”K (222), Haghos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Chametz U’Matza Ch. 5, 1), Ohr Zarua (vol. 2, 256, pg. 59, 3rd column), Rabbeinu Manoach (on the Rambam Hilchos Chametz U’Matza Ch.5, 1; cited in Biur Halacha 453, 1 s.v. v’yeish), Maharil (Minhagim, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros b’Pesach 16), Terumas HaDeshen (113, & 133), and Ritva (Pesachim 35a s.v. hani). Not that they all hold of the prohibition of Kitniyos, but they all mention it.
Chayei Adam (127, 1), Mor U’Ketzia (beg. O.C. 453), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (O.C. 122), Mishna Berura (453, 7 & Shaar HaTziyun 6), and Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. end 5). For a discussion on what is considered great need in order to allow Kitniyos, see Shu”t Zeicher Yehosef (O.C. 157), Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Mahadura Tinyana vol. 4, 128) and Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 1, 28, 20). However, the Vilna Gaon is quoted (Maaseh Rav 184) as being extremely makpid with Kitniyos, even ‘B’shnas B’tzores’.
See Beis Yosef (beg. O.C. 453), quoting Rabbeini Yerucham, who called the Kitniyos prohibition a “minhag shtus”, and Rabbeinu Yechiel. The prohibition is also noticeably missing from the works of the Tur, who even writes (O.C. 453) regarding not eating rice on Pesach as a “chumra yeseirah, v’lo nahagu kein”. The Ya’avetz (Mor U’Ketzia beg. O.C. 453), quoting his father, the great Chacham Tzvi, famously declared that if he had the ability to cancel the Kitniyos prohibition he would, as it mostly affects the poor.
Rema (O.C. 453, 1 & Darchei Moshe ad loc. 2), Levush (ad loc. 1), Pri Chadash (ad loc. 1; he cites a mekor from the Gemara - Pesachim 40b), Gr”a (Biur HaGr”a ad loc. & Maaseh Rav 184; he cites a mekor from the Gemara - Pesachim 40b), Chayei Adam (127, 1), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 453, 3 - 5), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 1), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (117, 4), Mishna Berura (453, 6 and Biur Halacha s.v. v’yesh), Aruch Hashulchan (453, 4 & 5). See the Maharsham’s Daas Torah (ad loc.) and the Chida’s Tov Ayin (18) who discuss the strength of this prohibition. Even the Shulchan Aruch (Beis Yosef ad loc.) calls it an Ashkenazic issue. Although the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch refers to the Kitniyos Prohibition as an ‘issur’, the Mishna Berura as a ‘chumra’, the Aruch Hashulchan as a ‘geder’, the Har Tzvi as a ‘gezeira’, Rav Moshe Feinstein as a ‘minhag’, and the Klausenberger Rebbe as a ‘takana’, nonetheless they all maintain that it is binding on all Ashkenazic Jewry. Yet, although not me’iker hadin, there are some Sefardim who are machmir as well, especially with rice - see Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s Darchei Halacha glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (117, 2) and Chazon Ovadia (Pesach ppg. 82 - 86).
See O.C. 473, 1 inBeis Yosef and Rema and major commentaries - Gr”a (5), Chok Yaakov (5 & 6), Shaarei Teshuva (1), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (3, 4, & 5), Mishna Berura (6), and Biur Halacha (s.v. v’yesh).
Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch. 4, Dvar Halacha 28).
Although the Chayei Adam (Nishmas Adam, Hilchos Pesach, Question 20) writes that potatoes should be Kitniyos and Pri Megadim (O.C. 453 M.Z. 1) mentions that he knows of such a minhag, nevertheless the vast majority of poskim, including the Pri Megadim himself (O.C. 464 E.A. 1) rule that potatoes are not considered Kitniyos. Others include the Shu”t Sheilas Ya’avetz (vol. 2, 147, 4 s.v. u’vhiyosi), Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 2, end 112; he adds an additional reason to be lenient: potato flour doesn’t look like grain flour and has a different consistency, therefore mitigating potential mix-ups), Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 453, 5; he adds that with the advent of potatoes one should never have to rely on the hetter of permitting Kitniyos b’shaas hadchak), Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 453, 21), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3, 63), Halichos Shlomo (ibid.), and Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (new print, O.C. end 207).
For more on this topic, as well as the potato’s fascinating halachic history, see recent article “The Halachic Adventures of the Potato”.
Shu”t Sheilas Ya’avetz (vol. 2, 147, 4 s.v. u’vhiyosi), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3, 63) and Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (new print, O.C. end 207), similar to the rule set by the Chok Yaakov (O.C. 453, 9). Others who cite this sevara include the Shu”t Melamed L’Hoyeel (Shu”t vol. 1, 87 & 88), and Shu”t Seridei Aish (vol. 2, 37, 2; new print vol. 1, 50).
Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch. 4, Dvar Halacha 28). However, Rav Shlomo Zalman personally was stringent with potato flour [starch] (ad loc. footnote 109). It is known that the Badatz Eida Chareidis of Yerushalayim were also stringent until the renowned Minchas Yitzchak became the Ga’avad and ruled that there was no reason to be machmir, even with potato starch. Other poskim who explicitly permit potato starch on Pesach include the Aryeh D’vei Ila’i (Shu”t, Kuntress Avnei Zikaron 10, based on the Pri Chadash’s hetter (O.C. 461, 2) regarding matzah meal), the Arugas HaBosem (Shu”t 124), the Levushei Mordechai (Shu”t 127) and Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (117, end 7 s.v. v’ugos).
Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3, 63). Others who accept peanuts for Pesach include the Seridei Aish (Shu”t vol. 2, 37, 2; new print vol. 1, 50 - through a combination of factors) and the Rivevos Efraim (Shu”t vol. 7, 257; only if it came still in its shell - based on the Shulchan HaRav’s (O.C. 453, 5) understanding that the prohibition of Kitniyos only applies when it gets wet).
There are several poskim who technically agree in logic that the peanut should not be considered Kitniyos; yet, still, since it can get mixed up with grain, they rule that only its oil or derivatives may be used. These include Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (cited in Mikraei Kodesh Pesach vol. 2, 60, 2), the Melamed L’Hoyeel (Shu”t vol. 1, 88; he mentions though that the minhag in Yerushalayim is to consider both the peanut and its oil Kitniyos), the Har Tzvi (Mikraei Kodesh ad loc.), and Chelkas Yaakov (Shu”t new print O.C. end 207). The issue of whether oil from Kitniyos maintains Kitniyos status is a complicated one and actually is huge machlokes haposkim to this day. Additionally, some authorities make a distinction if the Kitniyos item in question is inedible in its natural form. See Terumas Hadeshen (113), Shu”t Maharil (28), Rema (453, 1), Maaseh Rav (184), Nishmas Adam (Hilchos Pesach Question 32), Birkei Yosef (O.C. 446, 14 & 453, 5), Shu”t Beis Shlomo (Y”D 177), Shu”t Beis Shearim (215), Shu”t Maharsham (vol. 1, 183), Shu”t Ba’er Yitzchok (11), Shu”t Avnei Nezer (O.C. 373 & 533), Marcheshes (3), Shu”t Minchas Elazar (vol. 1, 16 s.v. ach hinei & vol. 4, 30), Shu”t Zichron Yehuda (139), Shu”t Vayaan Yosef (Mishpatecha L’Yaakov O.C. 41), Shu”t Melamed L’Hoyeel (Shu”t vol. 1, 87 & 88), Shu”t Seridei Aish (vol. 2, 37, 2; new print vol. 1, 50), Shu”t Orach Mishpat (O.C. 111), Mikraei Kodesh (Pesach vol. 2, 60, 2), Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok (vol. 3, 138, 2 & vol. 4, 114, 3), Shu”t Cheishev HaEifod (vol. 2, 18), Shu”t Divrei Yatzviv (O.C. vol. 2, 196), Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 7, 257), Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch.4, Dvar Halacha 28), Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (117, end 7), Kovetz Teshuvos (vol. 3, 81, 5), Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 4, pg. 166, 49), and the Badatz Eida Chareidis of Yerushalayim’s annual Madrich HaKashrus (5772, Ch. 15, pg. 47).
Chok Yaakov (O.C. 453, 1), Ba’er Heitiv (ad loc. 1), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 4), Aruch Hashulchan (ad. loc. 3), Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa (new print- Ch. 40, 92).
It is important to note that even the quinoa that is under Pesach supervision should be carefully checked before Pesach for any foreign matter before use. This can be done by spreading the quinoa out on a plate and carefully checking that there are no other grains or foreign matter mixed in.
Ve’Kasher HaDavar (July 2012, pg. 9).
See this OU alert http://oukosher.org/passover/guidelines/food-items/quinoa/.
Badatz Eida Chareidis of Yerushalayim’s annual Madrich HaKashrus (5772, Ch. 15, pg. 47).
Kovetz Hilchos Pesach (2006, ppg. 141 - 143).