New York - Halachic Analysis: Is Quinoa Considered Kitniyos in 2014?

Published on: April 6th, 2014 at 11:14 AM

New York - 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 2014, the biggest issue still 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 Israeli 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.

Quinoa Questions

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.

Kitniyos Clash  

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. 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’, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l as a ‘gezeira’, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l as a ‘minhag’, and the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l as a ‘takana’, nonetheless they all maintain that it is compulsory on all Ashkenazic Jewry. 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”. He adds that one who breaks this prohibition deserves to be bitten by a snake.

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 theAndesfor 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 .

One of the main reasons 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 zt”l noted, Klal Yisrael never accepted the Kitniyos prohibition to include potatoes.

Similar logic was used by several poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, to permit peanuts for Pesach for those who did not have an opposing minhag. Yet, this was not as widely accepted since peanuts, a true legume, and as opposed to potatoes, can get mixed up with grain. In fact, the minhag in Yerushalayim (going back well over a century) is to consider both the peanut and its oil Kitniyos.

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.

Quinoa Controversy

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 just this very question. It turns out that quinoa is halachically similar to the peanut, meaning that its status is debated.

Several Kashrus agencies, including the Star-K, who follow the psak of Rav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, and the cRc (Chicago), following the psak of Rav Gedalia Schwartz shlit”a, as well as the Kof-K, 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 as well, the Star-K gives special kosher for Passover hashgacha on certain types of quinoa.

However, Rav Yisroel Belsky shlit”a, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah V’Daas and Posek for the OU disagreed. He argued 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 maintained that it should be compared to corn, which was, for similar reasons, included in the Kitniyos prohibition. Although quinoa is a New World food item and was not included in the original prohibition, nevertheless, he explained 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.

However, the OU’s other main posek, Rav Herschel Schachter shlit”a, Rosh Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, permits quinoa, concluding that if it processed in a special facility with no other grains, it should be essentially permitted for Passover use. Due to the difference of opinions of their top Poskim, in the past, the OU did not certify quinoa as Kosher for Pesach. However, this year, 2014, the OU made a decision allowing quinoa for Pesach, provided that it is processed with special Passover supervision. In fact, the OU is recommended quinoa for Pesach 2014 and actually certifying special Pesach processing runs.

[This does not mean that Rav Belsky has in fact changed his position. In fact, this author has heard from several of his talmidim, as well as my father, renowned kashrus expert Rabbi Manish Spitz, who spoke with Rav Belsky directly, that he still personally does not recommend quinoa for Pesach use.]

However, not every Kashrus agency in North Americaagrees. The OK does not certify quinoa for Pesach as they consider it Kitniyos, as does the COR of Toronto. This also is 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 (zironim), harvested as seeds (garinim) and are edible, are considered Kitniyos. As mentioned previously, the Yerushalmi Mesorah for this goes back centuries. This certainly would include quinoa as Kitniyos.

Other Poskim who ruled similarly include Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, who paskened that it should be considered Kitniyos after being shown quinoa and hearing from representatives of various kashrus agencies, and Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a (the renowned Minchas Asher), who recently addressed this topic in his weekly halacha shiur, and concluding that it is indeed Kitniyos. This was also the opinion of Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth zt”l, venerated author of Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa. The current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Dovid Lau, as well, wrote that quinoa is only permitted on Pesach for Ochlei Kitniyos. In light of all this, it seems much less likely to see quinoa gracing a Pesach table in Eretz Yisrael.

Rav 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. Rav Mordechai Tendler shlit”a, grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and author of Mesores Moshe, told this author that this is the approach that he felt his venerated grandfather would have taken (and not as many mistakenly opine that Rav Moshe zt”l would have permitted it outright) had quinoa been introduced while he was still alive.

In this author’s estimation, the point Rav Tendler was making is that there seems to be a common misconception that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, in his oft-cited teshuva about peanuts' Kitniyos status (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 3, 63), gave a blanket hetter for any "New World' food item. In this author’s opinion, this is not entirely correct, as was mentioned previously that everyone considers corn as Kitniyos, even though it was introduced long after the Kitniyos restriction. Rav Moshe used that as a sevara (and he was not the first nor the only posek to do so) to explain why potatoes were not included in the restriction, as well as peanuts for those who did not have an existing minhag. He did not give a carte blanche hetter for every 'new food'. Meaning, Rav Moshe held that minhag and similarity to all Kitniyos factors also play a role. As such, Rav Tendler was relating, it would seem tenuous at best to apply that teshuva as the exclusive basis to a hetter permitting quinoa for Pesach. In fact, this author has since heard that Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit"a, Rav Moshe's son, as well as Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler, Rav Moshe's son-in-law, both do not recommend Ashkezaim eating quinoa on Pesach. Other well-known Rabbanim who have gone on record as considering quinoa kitniyos include Rav Osher Westheim of Manchester, Rav Yaakov Ariel of Ramat Gan, Rav Yaakov Reismann of Far Rockaway, and Rav Gershon Bess of Los Angeles.

Quinoa Conclusion ?

It seems that there truly is no quiet clear cut conclusion to this contemporary kashrus controversy. Can 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 regarding a holiday that is all about Mesorah and tradition: quinoa was not served at Bubby’s Seder!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: 

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Spitz will be appearing on the 'Kashrus On the Air' radio show, discussing Quinoa and Kitniyos issues this Monday evening, April 7th, at 6 -7 PM Eastern Standard Time. Readers are invited to tune in - 97.5 FM in Brooklyn, or live online - or by calling 718 506 9099.

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