Quinoa on Pesach (again)

I have pitputed about this in the past. At the OU, the two senior Poskim are Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky. They agree on most things. Let me state first, that my personal posek (on matters that are complex and/or not clear in Shulchan Aruch etc) is Rav Schachter, so I do have a bias. On very rare occasions, I have not “understood” the reasoning of a Psak, but I am not a Posek, and he is, and so I listen. That’s our Mesora. That’s what we are meant to do.

As the article from the JTA below shows, they disagree on Quinoa. My earlier views on this matter happily are consonant with Rav Schachter’s Psak. The OU however as a policy will follow the stricter opinion of the two Rabonim disagree. There is in fact a private kuntres, in the spirit of Milchamto Shel Torah, where the two give formal Psokim and their reasoning, for the occasions where they disagree. I haven’t seen it. The kuntres is only available to recognised Rabonim who are formally or informally affiliated with the OU standards.

Kosher Australia (correctly in my opinion) advises people to check with their own Rabbi about Kitniyos, and notes that it doesn’t approve/use Quinoa in any of its own supervised products for Pesach.

Personally, if someone in Melbourne, brought in supervised Quinoa (eg from the Star K), I’d have absolutely no problem consuming it.

By Chavie Lieber · March 11, 2013

NEW YORK (JTA) — On any given day, a wind might blow through the farmlands of South America, pick up an errant grain of barley and deposit it nearby among the vast rows of cultivated quinoa. If that barley manages to make its way into a sifted batch of quinoa, and avoid detection during repackaging, it could wind up gracing your seder table on Passover night.

However dubious it might seem, the scenario is among the reasons that the world’s largest kosher certification agency is refusing to sanction quinoa for Passover consumption, potentially depriving Jewish consumers of a high-fiber, protein-rich staple that many have come to rely on during the weeklong holiday.

The Orthodox Union announced last year that it would not certify quinoa as kosher for Passover out of concern that quinoa falls into the category of kitniyot, a group of legumes forbidden because they look similar to grains proscribed on the holiday.

Menachem Genack, the CEO of O.U. Kosher, also cited the danger of quinoa crops grown in close proximity to wheat and barley fields.

Star-K, a rival kosher certification company based in Baltimore, has been certifying quinoa as Passover-friendly for years and dismisses what it sees as an outlandish prohibition.

“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed decisor of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume.”

Long a staple of the Andean diet, quinoa has earned a reputation as “the mother of all grains,” celebrated for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets.

On Passover — when wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley are all prohibited — quinoa has emerged as a popular substitute.

That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.

“We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused,” Genack said. “It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the O.U. for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”

The O.U.’s non-endorsement is the result of a debate within the organization’s own ranks.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, the head of Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and a consulting rabbi for the O.U., maintains that quinoa qualifies as kitniyot because it’s used in a manner similar to forbidden grains. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the heads of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school and also an O.U. consultant, agrees with Rosen that the category of kitniyot should not be expanded.

Rosen said the Star-K certifies only the quinoa that has no other grains growing nearby. This year, for the first time, the company sent supervisors to South America to supervise the harvesting, sifting and packaging of the product.

“Whenever there’s a new age food, there’s always a fight between kosher factions,” Rosen said. “But we should be worrying about other things, like all the cookies, pizzas and noodles that are Passover certified but appear to be chametz. Quinoa is the least of our problems.”

The O.U. is recommending that kosher consumers look to their local rabbis for guidance on the quinoa question. But for Eve Becker, risking a rabbinic prohibition on a staple food probably won’t sit too well in her house. A Jewish food blogger who maintains a strictly gluten-free kitchen because her daughter has Celiac disease, Becker said quinoa is one of the most important foods.

“It’s a tiny powerhouse packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, and it’s an important grain alternative, especially on Passover,” Becker said. “It’s great to have it on Passover instead of the usual potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Most of the Passover foods just end up tasting like Passover, so we rely on quinoa to be that side staple.”

Ilana S., a mother of two who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said she trusts the O.U. and will refrain, begrudingly, from buying quinoa this Passover.

“These rabbis are always changing their minds, so I’m confident they’ll have a new statement next year,” she said. “Until then, its only eight days.”

Diet Coke on Pesach (segue)

In a previous article, I was critical of the wording and approach to this issue by Kosher Australia. In particular, they announced that people should not buy these diet drinks as they were Kitniyos. I argued that they were likely Kitniyos Shenishtane and therefore a matter of disagreement among Poskim and Kashrus Agencies and that people should ask their local orthodox rabbi (who would presumably liaise with Kashrus Authorities and advise their congregant as to the Halacha). I did not feel that Kosher Australia should make a certain pronouncement on the matter.

It is true that the Diet products have a Hechsher of the Rabbanut. It is equally true that some will rely on such a Hechsher and some will not. Some may rely on it during the year, but not on Pesach. Others may never rely on it. Some will only rely on a specific Rabbanut Hechsher: e.g. Yerushalayim.

I have also learned that R’ Lande has issues with one variety of Diet Coke preparation even during the year (let alone Pesach). It seems then that those who follow R’ Lande’s hashgacha need to investigate this fully with his office, depending on where in the world they find themselves wishing to drink Diet Coke and the like.

I asked the OU about the Israeli Diet Coke which doesn’t have a Mehadrin Hechsher, and only bears a Rabbanut Hechsher. The reply I received from the OU stated:

“Diet Coke from Israel is certified by OU. However, the OU symbol is not used on Coke products in Israel. One of the issues involved is kitniyos shenishtane”

In other words, like other Mehadrin standards, the OU does have some issues with this production which prevented them placing their Mehadrin OU stamp, however, the product is certified for use (clearly for those who do not necessarily seek Mehadrin).

Unsurprisingly, my attempts at eliciting further details failed. The OU are not about to provide me with details of changes that ought to take place before they put an OU on the product. I understand that  the OU have instigated some changes in USA production and therefore are able to place their imprimatur on that production line. Whether they rely on Bitul for Kitniyos Shenishtane when they have their OU imprimatur, I do not know.

So, in summary, if I was a Kosher Supplier of groceries in Melbourne, I’d either

  • approach the OU to see if they are able to instigate a process whereby the Israeli product gets the OU stamp, or
  • import the diet drinks from the USA with the OU stamp

Clearly the former is better, as we support Israel and Israeli goods.

The other contentious issue is that of Quinoa. As I mentioned, there was a finding by a respected Kashrus Agency that some Quinoa was proximate to Chametz during production. This is a concern. I notice that Eden has a Quinoa that is certified year-round by the OK. If I was a Jewish greengrocer, I’d be approaching the OK to see if they can ensure that Eden Quinoa is certified as OK Kosher for Pesach as well and stamp it as such. That way, those who use Quinoa because it is not Kitniyos, will be confident and free to do so.

Disclaimer: I must stress again, that all my comments on Halachic topics should be deemed pitputim b’almo. In other words, they are not L’Halacha, and not L’Maaseh. Discuss the matter with your local orthodox Rabbi.

Quinoa revisited

Commendably, Kosher Australia has revised its earlier information and now tells us:

Subsequent to the printing of the 2011 KAPG, we noted that both the OU and the Star-K have altered their respective positions regarding the acceptability of quinoa. The OU now recommend consulting with one’s Rav and the Star-K now require formal Pesach supervision due to the concern of likely contamination from chometz. However, the London Beth Din and the Eidah Charedis, among others, maintain that quinoa is kitniyos. Based on information from the OK, those people who use quinoa on Pesach may purchase Eden brand quinoa which we have confirmed is free of cross-contamination with Chometz.

This is good. The Eidah Charedis’ stance isn’t surprising. For them, חדש אסור מן התורה and so there is no need to even find out what Quinoa is.

I still take issue with Kosher Australia’s wording in respect of the Star K position. The Star K did not state that Quinoa is likely to be contaminated by Chametz! What they did say, was that it was possible that Quinoa came into contact with Chametz. That’s true. Guess what, though, that applies to just about everything we buy because of the nature of food lines and cross contamination. In particular, we also get Potato flour with a Hechsher! The salient point is that the Star K do NOT consider Quinoa to be Chametz. Here is what they do say:

Tired of potatoes, potatoes, potatoes for Pesach? Try quinoa (“Keen-Wa”), a sesame-seed-sized kernel first brought to the United States from Chile nineteen years ago, according to Rebecca Theurer Wood. Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for thousands of years, growing three to six feet tall despite high altitudes, intense heat, freezing temperatures, and as little as four inches of annual rainfall. Peru and Bolivia maintain seed banks with 1,800 types of quinoa.

Quinoa was determined to be Kosher L’Pesach. It is not related to the chameishes minei dagan-five types of grain products, nor to millet or rice. 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 as Chazal termed, sirchon; the quinoa decayed – it did not rise. However, recent investigations have found that there is a possibility that Quinoa grows in proximity to certain grains and processed in facilities that compromise Quinoa kosher for Passover status. Therefore, Quinoa should only be accepted with reliable Kosher for Passover supervision

The Psak from the Star K mirrors the Psak from my wife 🙂 Although, I had noted, as per the advice from OK, that Eden Quinoa has no Chashash of Chametz because it is an organic company that has nothing to do with wheat as per the OK checking including the milling.

The bottom line is that it’s best to either have a Hechsher on any ground Quinoa. Then again, some of you also boil your sugar 🙂

For Chabad I’d say no Rebbe ever found grains in their Quinoa, but since none except for perhaps the last Rebbe  z’l, was exposed to Quinoa you’d better not use it 🙂 I wonder what Chabad would say about someone who washed Quinoa before Pesach and checked there was no inadvertent grain therein?

R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל unlike the Edah Charedis, held that we do not create new types of Kitniyos.

I hasten to add that in my opinion, which is not להלכה nor למעשה (ask your Rabbi), it is desirable to use (certified or at least Eden) Quinoa for babies and little children who have a hard time eating on Pesach, let alone the unfortunate ones who are gluten intolerant and elderly people who have issues with their digestion and stomach.

Regards from Kuala Lumpur where I haven’t seen any Quinoa as yet 🙂

Are we being misled by Kashrus Authorities-Quinoa revisited

Quinoa (pronounced Kin-wa). It’s not a grain; it is related to spinach. Its ברכה is האדמה. Its seeds may or may not be ground in the same way as Potatoes maybe ground and everyone eats potatoes (despite the חיי אדם trying to make them אסור on פסח because of Kitniyos). There are, of course, others, who assert that the גזרה of Kitniyos on Pesach doesn’t apply in Israel, but we won’t go there in this article. Let’s just look at Kosher Australia.

Quinoa

Recently, a letter was circulated by Kosher Australia, explaining the reasons for food items becoming non kosher “suddenly” together with an explanation denying a sudden lurch to “the right.” It was a well written letter and I am a supporter of Kosher Australia aligning their standards with the OU. The OU, in my opinion, is the premier and most trusted Kashrus Authority in the world. Okay, I’m  biased because I ask (major) questions to Rav Schachter, who happens to be one of the two Poskim for the OU.

On the matter of Quinoa on Pesach, Kosher Australia advised us that it was following the practice of the OU and that as a result Kitniyos were not to be used. Coincidentally, I had printed out the 2011 OU Pesach Guide and was reading it. I found that the assertion by Kosher Australia vis a vis Quinoa and Kitniyos was false! In earlier years, the OU had been negative, but this year they decided (quite correctly in my opinion) that the issue of whether to use Quinoa was a matter for individual kehilos.

Let’s face some facts. Determining whether something is or isn’t Kitniyos is not the same as telling us whether treyf is used as an ingredient in foodstuff. Kitniyos is in many ways a more complex question and one that requires a Psak from one’s own Rabbi who I believe will consult with his own Posek Muvhak given the nature of the question. I think the OU got it right. If you want to use Quinoa you should ask your Rav unless you happen to also have a family Minhag of חדש אסור מן התורה. This was also the basis for Rav Moshe’s permissive ruling on peanuts, but of course it didn’t matter if it was Rav Moshe, the Machmirim on the right eventually squeezed out a universal issur on peanuts (and peanut oil). I can remember in the old days we had oils that eventually “became” kitniyos. And no, we never had those nuts in Poland!

Kosher Australia has no business determining what is and what is not Kitniyos.

In fact, they have done a good thing by listing a table of items which some consider Kitniyos. This is the way it should be with Quinoa as well. This episode is a very subtle way that Rabonim are attempting to create a Minhag in Australia by default, by “trying to be all things to all people”. Yes, we are Machmir on Pesach. But even Rabonim said not to be Machmir on Potatoes. I know, Potatoes are a European staple and this avant-garde  Quinoa stuff is something Charedim can’t spell or say, let alone know how to integrate into an oily cholent.

Yes, it is true that the London Beth Din don’t allow Quinoa, equally, the  Star K and Chicago cRc do allow it. Kosher Australia should have adopted the stance of the OU and kept out of this. Rabbi Sprung in Melbourne paskened for Mizrachi that it was fine as long as it was supervised.

By the way, the list of “maybe Kitniyos” listed in Kosher Australia’s booklet is also wrong. It claims that carrots are not Kitniyos according to all. That’s not true. I understand that Belzer don’t eat carrots.

PS. My wife over-ruled me and she won’t let me use Quinoa unless it has a hechsher. I tried to tell her that Eden were certified as one of the brands that had no grain whatsoever in the fields or processing plants and, therefore, it was okay. She wouldn’t hear of it. “Where is the Kosher stamp?”.

Ah, for Shalom Bayis ….