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Kitniyos By Any Other Name
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents

No other Jewish holiday that dots the calendar is replete with more laws and customs than Pesach.  These dinim and minhagim shape the dimensions of the chag into its own unique personality. Pesach offers a wide spectrum of laws and customs that extend beyond chometz and matza. One excellent example of this is the minhag of kitniyos.

What is Kitniyos?

Kitniyos is popularly defined as legumes. But what are legumes? The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim 453, defines kitniyos as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chometz grains, yet are not halachically considered in the same category as chometz. Some examples are rice, corn, peas, mustard seed, and all varieties of beans (i.e. kidney, lima, garbanzo, etc.). The Torah term for the fermentation of barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt is “chimutz;” the term given for fermentation of kitniyos is “sirchan.”

The Bais Yosef permits kitniyos on Pesach, while the Rema rules that kitniyos are forbidden. Hence, Jews of Sephardic descent cosume kitniyos on Pesach while Ashkenazic Jewry follows the Rema’s psak, which does not permit the consumption of kitniyos on Pesach.

Reasons For Prohibition

Why are kitniyos forbidden for consumption on Pesach. The Mishna Brura enumerates a number of reasons. One reason is that there is a possibility that chometz grains could be mixed amongst the kitniyos grains, creating an inadvertent yet real chometz problem when the grains are cooked together. Another reason posited is that if kitniyos products would be permitted, confusion within the general public could mistaking permitted kitniyos flour and forbidden chometz flour. Although these might not be problems of epidemic proportions, the Rema considered them to be real enough to forbid the eating of kitniyos on Pesach. Sephardim check the kitniyos grains three times to make sure no chometz grains are intermixed withiin the kitniyos, and then permit their use on Pesach.

The kitniyos restriction is not as all encompassing as chometz. One does not sell kitniyos as he would chometz.One may derive benefit from kitniyos and may use them for non-eating purposes, such as fuel for candle lighting and heating or for pet food. It is important to note that in the case of medications, kitniyos restrictions are not applicable, and pills that use corn starch as binders would be permissible for medication.

Kitniyos Derivatives

There is a question amongst poskim as to whether kitniyos derivatives, such as corn oil, would be considered part of the ban and, thus, forbidden. Maybe these derivatives could be considered a separate category, “shemen kitniyos,” exclusive of the kitniyos restriction. There are additional reservations linked to peanuts and peanut oil , and whether are peanuts considered to be a legume i.e. kitniyos. Subsequently, peanut oil would present less of a problem than other kitniyos oils. Due to this sfeka, compounded doubt, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l permitted the use of peanut oil on Pesach. Nevertheless, most reputable kashrus agencies in the United States and Israel do not permit the use of shemen kitniyos in their products, nor do they use peanut oil.

However, over the years products bearing a Kosher for Passover certification have used kitniyos-derived ingredients in their Kosher for Passover products.   A common example of a kitniyos-derived product is corn syrup. Corn syrup is one of the leading versatile sweeteners in the food industry today. It is produced through a conversion process, whereby the white starchy of the corn kernel is converted into sugar. This is typically accomplished by using hydrochloric acid and enzymes or the less commonly used hydrochloric acid alone without the assistance of enzymes. In the corn sweetener industry today, enzymes are a key component in the conversion process and are commonly derived from barley, which is chometz.

What is of great halachic consequence is the halachic perception of these “corn converted” products. Since the final product is in liquid form, it was and still is considered to be shemen kitniyos by some authorities. Other poskim posit that there is an intrinsic difference between classical shemen kitniyos, i.e. oil that is pressed out of the kernel, and a liquid corn syrup converted from the actual starch. The liquid is not shemen kitniyos, it is actual kitniyos.

kitniyos shenishtanu

In today’s world of modern technology, food science has found multiple applications for kitniyos. These kitniyos conversions and fermentations have given rise to a new kashrus term, “kitniyos shenishtanu”, kitniyos that have been transformed into a new product. These converted food grade ingredients include citric acid and ascorbic acid (that have wide food applications), NutraSweet sweetener, MSG (a flavor agent in soups and fish), sodium citrate (found in processed cheeses), and sodium erythorbate (found in deli meats). These corn-based ingredients go through a multi-stage conversion process until the final food grade material is produced.

There are divergent opinions among poskim regarding kitniyos shenishtanu. Some poskim say these processes alter the kitniyos status of corn into that of a neutral product. Other poskim maintain that these products still retain their kitniyos status despite the conversions.

Today, with modern food technology, different food additives and ingredients that were not used in the past are now commonly used in everyday food products. A good example is locust bean gum. It is also commonly referred to as St. John’s bread, carob beans or bokser. Locust bean gum is used as a binder in cream cheese and juice products. It is made from the dried seeds of the carob tree. Some people have questioned whether or not the locust bean is included in the gezaira of kitniyos, because it grows in a pod and is similar to kitniyos in appearance.  Others maintain that it was not included in the gezaira. Since these products were not included in the original rabbinic edict, we do not prohibit them. The prohibition of kitniyos was limited to legumes that grew from the ground. Since locust beans grow from a tree, by definition they do not qualify as kitniyos.

Quinoa

Another grain that has recently entered the scene, is quinoa. Quinoa (“Keen-Wa”) is a seed sized kernel first brought to the United States from Chile, and has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for thousands of years. The seeds range in color from pink and orange to blue-black, purple, and red. However, once their natural saponin coating is washed off, the seeds appear pale yellow in color. Quinoa grows three to six feet tall despite high altitudes, intense heat, freezing temperatures, with as little as four inches of annual rainfall. Peru and Bolivia maintain seed banks with 1,800 types of quinoa, which was first grown 20 years ago outside of South America. Quinoa entrepreneurs wishing to market this grain in the United States commissioned a farmer to see if it would grow in the Colorado Rockies - and it did. However, by and large, quinoa is imported to the U.S. from South America.

Kosher for Passover Status

It was determined that quinoa is Kosher L’Pesach. It is not related to millet or rice, or the chameishes minei dagan, five types of grain products. Quinoa is a member of the “goose foot” family, which includes sugar beets and beet root. The Star-K tested quinoa to see if it would rise. The result was sirchon, as termed by Chazal, which means the quinoa decayed and did not rise. Furthermore, quinoa’s growth does not resemble kitniyos and as cited in Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 3,63, we do not consider additional products beyond what was originally established. However, recent investigations have found that there is a possibility that quinoa grows in proximity to certain grains and/or is processed in facilities that compromise quinoa's kosher for Passover status. Therefore, quinoa may only be used on Pesach with reliable Kosher for Passover supervision. This year, the Star-K has certified quinoa that is Kosher L’Pesach under hashgacha temidis, full-time supervision.

Ingrained Stringency

The Mishna Brura 453 No. 13 lists two grains that should be avoided until the last day of Pesach: anise and kimmel. These grains grow in close proximity to wheat fields. Since they are difficult to clean, these strains should be avoided on Pesach. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what type of grain qualifies as kimmel - caraway, cumin, or fennel. All of these grains bear a marked resemblance to one another and should be avoided. Of similar concern are fenugreek and coriander. The root and greens of these vegetables are not kitniyos we only avoid the seeds. Due to the widespread kitniyos formations and applications, today’s kosher consumer has to be somewhat of a detective and food scientist while still being wise enough to ask his/her Rav or posek any questions that may arise.

Please click here for the Handy Kitniyos Guide.



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