Quinoa – Kosher For Passover?

Quinoa seeds

Quinoa is increasingly gaining acceptance as a non-kitniyot food among Ashkenazic Jews who are tired of eating potatoes during the entire week of Passover. Although the OU (Orthodox Union) had refrained many years from endorsing quinoa for Passover, they reversed their stand in 2014, joining other reliable kashrut agencies (Star-K and cRc) in certifying that quinoa is “Kosher for Passover”. Still, many contemporary halachic authorities do not sanction this trend.

The controversy over quinoa stems from the fact that the prohibition of kitniyot on Pesach started as a minhag [=custom] which developed and spread over time. As such, there is no definitive source that defines the scope of the prohibition.

Let’s examine some of the common arguments for and against the use of quinoa on Pesach. 

Not a Legume

Kitniyot is the Hebrew term for “legumes”. Botanically, quinoa is not a legume so we would expect it to be permitted on Passover. True, according to some opinions, all legumes are forbidden on Pesach[1], but not only legumes. Rice, mustard and sunflower seeds are examples of non-legumes that are universally accepted as kitniyot. It is clear that within the context of Pesach, the kitniyot category takes on a much wider interpretation.

Quinoa’s non-legume status is helpful, but not sufficient, in keeping it out of the kitniyot category.

Quinoa plant

Edible seed 

Seeds on the sunflower plant

Rambam, in a context not related to Pesach [2], defines kitniyot as all types of seeds commonly eaten by men excluding grain (wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt). Seeds of plants grown primarily as vegetables or for their edible fruit are not kitniyot. Applying this definition to Pesach, some poskim [=halachic authorities] prohibit all legumes, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, mustard, peanuts and the like. This definition does not differentiate between seeds used for making flour or cereals and those eaten raw or used for seasoning. Tomatoes and cucumbers are permitted since they are grown for the fruit – not the seeds.[3]

Quinoa is certainly kitniyot by this definition since it is grown mainly for its edible seeds.

Grows like grain and used like grain

One of the earliest sources that refer to the ban on kitniyot during Pesach is the Mordechai. He lists three reasons why kitniyot are prohibited:

  • They are cooked as cereals.
  • They are harvested like grain (gathered into piles)
  • They are ground into flour and used for baking bread.

The Mordechai mentions that it is proper to avoid all legumes on Pesach and adds that mustard seeds, which are not legumes, should also be avoided because they are harvested like grains.[4] We can learn from here that the ban on kitniyot includes all legumes plus any other food that meets at least one of these criteria. In fact, some communities abstained from eating potatoes because potato flour is used for baking bread or cake[5].

Since quinoa meets all three of these criteria, it is not surprising that many contemporary poskim prohibit its use on Passover despite the fact that it is not a legume. [6]

Intermingling With Forbidden Grains

Another reason for banning kitniyot is that they often grow in proximity to other grains which get intermixed with the kitniyot and are difficult to spot even under careful inspection[7]. One tiny barley kernel that escapes inspection and gets cooked on Pesach, can render an entire pot of food chametz along with all the utensils that were used.

Sometimes (but not always) quinoa is grown near barley fields and processed in the same facilities as other grains. Barley kernels have been found in packages of quinoa. Does this automatically disqualify quinoa from use on Passover? Not necessarily. Other seeds such as anise, coriander and kimmel commonly have grain kernels intermixed with them, yet they are not considered kitniyot according to some of the most prominent halachic authorities.[8].

Furthermore, the kashrut agencies that certify quinoa for Passover, are careful to use only quinoa grown in areas where there are no other grain fields in proximity. They also supervise the entire processing and packaging of the product to assure that no other grains can get mixed in.

Peanuts

Thus far, we have discussed various criteria for determining which foods are considered kitniyot on Pesach. However, there is another approach which says, in effect, that there are no such criteria. The rabbis banned certain types of foods and that’s that! We should avoid adding new products to the list.[9]

Peanut pods

This approach is expounded by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l in his response to the question of whether peanuts are kitniyot. Although peanuts are technically legumes, they were unheard of at the time when the kitniyot minhag began and therefore there was no prevailing custom to refrain from eating them on Passover. Indeed, in Lithuania and in the US, many Ashkenazic Jews ate peanuts on Passover.

When asked whether peanuts should be considered kitniyot, Rav Moshe explained that the Sages did not prohibit everything that can be made into flour nor everything that may have grains intermixed with them. Rather, they specified certain types of foods that should be avoided on Passover. Foods that did not exist at the time could not have been included in the ban. Therefore, neither potatoes nor peanuts are considered kitniyot since they did not exist at the time that the minhag was established and it makes no difference whether or not these new foods exhibit characteristics of kitniyot.[10]

Note that there can be other reasons for not banning peanuts. They are not normally made into flour or cooked as cereal and there is no problem with intermixed grains because they are harvested along with their shell. Still, Rav Moshe makes a point of emphasizing that these other criteria are not what determine the kitniyot status.

Rav Moshe concludes that wherever there is already an established minhag to refrain from eating peanuts, that minhag must be observed. But in the absence of such a minhag, peanuts may be used on Pesach.

While not everyone agrees with this approach, it does provide a sound basis for those who wish to permit quinoa on Passover. 

As long as there is no established minhag to the contrary, it follows that quinoa is not (yet) kitniyot.

Corn & Soybeans

Corn , like quinoa, exhibits all the characteristics of kitniyot and was unknown at the time that the original kitniyot minhag began. Nevertheless, almost all poskim agree that corn is included in the prohibition of kitniyot on Pesach.

Why is quinoa different from corn? Some argue that quinoa is indeed similar to corn and both are prohibited.[11] However, there is a major difference between the two. Corn has already been accepted as kitniyot, for whatever reasons, by virtually all Ashkenazi communities and that status cannot be changed[12]. Quinoa, on the other hand, currently has no established tradition and some contemporary poskim are taking advantage of that fact to try and keep it off the list.

Soybean pods


What about soybeans? Can they be permitted like peanuts and quinoa? All major kashrut agencies and most rabbinic authorities consider soybeans to be kitniyot [13]. The Ashkenazi public generally does not use soy products on Pesach (except perhaps soybean oil which belongs to a different category of kitniyot oils). So while there may still be rabbis that do not consider soybeans as kitniyot[14], perhaps the prohibition of soybeans is gradually becoming an established minhag which will eventually obligate all Ashkenazim.

Quinoa seems to be taking a different course. Being certified for Passover by several major kashrut agencies, it has already found its way into many American Ashkenazic homes and it is gaining popularity in Israel as well. Perhaps by promoting the use of quinoa on Passover, we are actually preventing it de facto from being included in the minhag of kitniyot.

Conclusion

There are ample reasons to include quinoa in the prohibition of kitniyot. It is an edible seed, harvested like a grain, made into flour and cooked as a cereal. We have seen that these are the criteria that define kitniyot in the context of Pesach according to many, perhaps most, rabbinic authorities.

On the other hand, we have seen that quinoa is not a legume, it did not exist in Europe at the time that the kitniyot prohibition became established and it can be kept free from other grains. The fact that major kashrut agencies certify quinoa for Passover may be an indication that quinoa is gradually winning the battle for recognition as a legitimate alternative to potatoes on the Ashkenazi Seder table.

This article is informational only and should not be used as a guide for practical halacha. Practical halachic decisions should be made in consultation with a competent rabbi.


[1] See: Siddur Pesach KeHilchato by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Grossman, (1979 edition), Chapt. 16, par. 1 and addendum on p. 196. Based on Mordechai, Pesachim, chapt 2, 588
[2] Rambam, Mishne Torah, Kilaim 1:8,9.
[3] Siddur Pesach Kehilchato, Chapt 16, par. 3. This is also the policy adopted by the Badatz Eida HaChareidit in Jerusalem as stated in their yearly kashrut guide.
[4] The Mordechai on Pesachim, chapt 2, 588
[5] Chayei Adam, Nishmat Adam, Hilchot Pesach, question 20. The restriction on potatoes was rejected by most authorities and is no longer practiced.
[6] This view accepted by many contemporary poskim in the US and Israel: Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv zt”l, Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rav Yaacov Ariel, Chief Rabbi David Lau, and many others.
[7] Mishnah Berurah, 453,6
[8] The Rema (Rav Moshe Isserles) Orach Haim,453. The Mishnah Berura (453,13) recommends not using these seeds on Pesach, but only because they are difficult to clean – not because they are kitniyot. Minhag Israel Torah, vol. 2, 5754, p. 205, writes that some seeds are prohibited because they commonly have other grain kernels mixed in with them but they are not kitniyot. Under different conditions, these seeds may become permissible unless there is already a minhag to include them in the class of kitniyot.
[9] Chok Yaacov on Orach Chaim 453, 9 (late 17th century) who writes that kitniyot is already a chumrah and we should not add to it, and Rav Yaacov Emdin, Sheeilat Yavits, Part 2, 147, 4 (mid-18th century) who strongly opposed including new foods such as potatoes.
[10] Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim Part 3, 63.
[11]Rav Yaacov Ariel
[12]Rav Dov Lior.
[13] The OU, Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rav Hagai Ben Giora – Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Harav Yaacov Ariel and all major US kashrut agencies do not allow soybeans.
[14] “According to many poskim, soya is not in the category of kitniyot because soya reached Europe only 100 years ago, and this species was not known at the time that kitniyot was decreed.” – Rav Dov Lior.

1 thought on “Quinoa – Kosher For Passover?”

  1. I disagree the consistency is in the discussion and constructive arguing. G-d did not want blind faith, He wanted lively intellectual debate about the rules and it is not this debate that we satisfy the commandments not through faith, but through genuine discussion of what G-d actually wanted. He won t be upset over eating quinoa but He might be if we don t actually think about what we put in our mouth

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