The status of quinoa, the grain-like crop, was the most-asked question for the last few years on the OU’s various kashrut forums across the web and in person. Following an intensive, multi-year investigation and an internal debate into quinoa’s status, the Orthodox Union has decided that it can certify quinoa for Passover. In addition, OU Kosher has concluded that related new world items canihua, kiwicha and maca, if processed under supervised conditions, may also be approved for Passover (OU-P).
“The decision was the culmination of painstaking research and the resulting evidence,” said Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, a senior rabbinical coordinator for the OU. “There were doubts, but we had seen enough growing fields and processing plants and had studied the traditional uses for quinoa, that there was enough information for a consensus.”
Quinoa’s Passover status is dependent on whether the popular health food is considered part of the category of foods known as kitniyot. Prohibited by custom for Ashkenaz families since the early Middle Ages, kitniyot is a group of foods that include legumes and grains like rice. There are two reasons given for this custom: kitniyot foods are able to be made into products that resemble chametz and will therefore lead people to mistake one for the other. Alternatively, kitniyot foods were grown in close proximity to grains and therefore might have been cross-contaminated with chametz.
The fact that quinoa wasn’t a known food when the prohibition was enacted, while an important factor, is by itself insufficient to exclude quinoa from kitniyot, explained Rabbi Rabinowitz. “The question is how do we treat a new world crop: do we just say whatever the rabbis forbade is forbidden but whatever is not forbidden is okay? Or do we say: if it looks like kitniyot, acts like kitniyot and grows like kitniyot, it fits into that category?”
The question was taken up by the poskim (halachic decisors) of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division who reached a consensus that under appropriate conditions, the OU could certify quinoa for Passover, providing it has been processed with specific supervision for the holiday. An added factor in the decision was that quinoa was traditionally not used like grains in the preparation of bread and similar wheat-like applications. While the popular quinoa is finding all kinds of new-fangled uses, similar to potatoes and tapioca which are universally accepted as non-kitniyot, we are primarily concerned only with the traditional uses.
Much of the legwork was performed by Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori, a New York-based rabbinical field representative, who visited the quinoa fields in Bolivia and Peru. Through his work he discovered that due to their different harvesting times and remote locations in the Andes mountains, quinoa is grown and stored separately from other crops.
At the opening of a new plant, one company asked Rabbi Ghoori to bless the children of the farmers. While blessings are not part of Rabbi Ghoori’s kashrut inspection routine, he was happy to oblige.