Quinoa: The Great Debate

Published: March 26th 2010
in News >> World

Pic: WikiMedia Commons

According to one food writer, quinoa is “the grain that’s not a grain.”


This is great news for foodies and observers of Passover alike, for not only is quinoa both tasty and versatile, it’s apparently Kosher for Passover, as well.


But is quinoa considered Kosher for Passover for Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike?


There are five grains, according to Biblical law, that ferment when mixed with water. This results in the grain becoming leavened, which is prohibited for consumption during Passover. The forbidden grains are wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt.


According to Medieval Ashkenazi rabbis, the list of prohibited foods for Passover extends further to foods that could be confused with the off-limits grains, or grown in close proximity to them. This extended list includes corn, rice, millet, seeds, and legumes. These foods are referred to as kitniyot, derived from the Hebrew word katan, meaning small.


Sephardi Jews, however, have never adopted the ban on kitniyot.


Quinoa has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and its benefits are many:  it is high in fibre, essential amino acids, calcium, iron, and is one of the most complete proteins available to vegetarians.  It is also a good source of vitamins E and B. And despite its grainy appeal, quinoa is, in fact, closely related to beets, Swiss chard, and spinach. The part of the quinoa we eat is the seeds.


To further investigate the state of quinoa, Rabbi Shmuel Heinemann, of Star-K Kosher Certification, tested the “grain” by mixing it with water to see if it would rise; instead, it decayed. Also, quinoa does not grow in the vicinity of hametz, and thus, according to the Rabbi, it is not considered part of the kitniyot group, either.


As well, Avrom Pollak, president of the Baltimore branch of Star-K Kosher Certification Co, says quinoa should be acceptable based simply on the fact that it was unknown among Jews at the time kitniyot were prohibited.


There are some rabbis, however, that disagree, opining that quinoa is, in fact, considered kitniyot. They feel it is too uncertain whether or not foreign matter has accidentally slipped in among the quinoa during storage or transportation.  According to Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, senior rabbinic coordinator of the Orthodox Union, “Facilities that process and package quinoa often package grain or wheat, as well, and the concern is that there also might be mixtures of wheat that could get into the quinoa, or that the equipment is not cleaned between one grain and another.”


Susie Fishbein, author of the cookbook series Kosher by Design, includes several quinoa recipes in her Passover by Design instalment, but adds: "Although the halachic state of quinoa (for Passover) is ambiguous, many kashrut organizations deem it acceptable, while others do not. Consult your local rabbi for clarification."


And so the debate continues.


Will quinoa make an appearance at your seder table this year?

Related articles: (quinoa, passover, kosher)

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