Let My People Eat Quinoa

Quinoa Real grown near Uyuni on the Bolivian Altiplano (3653 m). Mt. Tunupa in the background.

The NY Times just picked up on the debate about quinoa on Passover – and if this mushy stuff from the Andes is fit for consumption on Pesach.

The article missed the major point of contention about the entire quinoa issue. There is no scholarly rabbinic dispute about whether or not quinoa is a grain (in halachic terms) and hence chametz, and totally forbidden for consumption, possession, and benefit on Passover. The only question is whether it is KITNIOT (pronounced kit-ne-ot) or not, i.e. grain type foods that Ashkenazi and some Sephardic Jews do not consume on Passover.

The Oral Torah, codified in the Mishna, specifies that only five types of grain can become chametz: wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. These items and food made from them with the exception of matzah, are forbidden the entire holiday. The question is really whether this quinoa grain-type food is classified along with rice.

A legitimate and significant concern that the NY Times did pick-up, is about the factories that process quinoa. These processing plants, generally in rural areas, also process other grains, and there is the problem of contamination of the quinoa with wheat and other grains.

One does not need to be a certified rabbinic authority from Chicago or New York to be concerned about contamination of bagged dry products. It is common practice among many people who run a kosher kitchen —or any careful chef — that you always check grains, rice, beans and even flour for hitchhikers.

The problem is that during the rest of the year, if someone comes across a rock in a batch of rice, or an odd object in a bag of barley, its no big deal. On Passover however, that grain of barley becomes kryptonite.

The Chicago based CRC certifies quinoa based on the places where it is processed, the OU doesn’t according to and Baltimore’s Star-K says that it fine, according to the NY Times article.

CalKosher (the certifying body that I supervise) after consultation with one of the leading halachic authorities in the world, is of the opinion that quinoa is not kitniot and hence OK for consumption on Passover by Ashekanazi and Sephardic Jews alike.

One doesn’t need a trip to the remote Andes to know that quinoa is a great substitute for rice in sushi, and a carb-neutral alternative to barley in tabouli. Vegans absolutely worship quinoa because it is a complete protein.

So enjoy your quinoa. Make sure to check it before Passover to eliminate any wheat-type grain that got in there and have a joyous and festive Festival of Freedom.

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Posted on April 18, 2011, in Judaism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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