Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Quinoa Debate of 2013

It's back. The terrible quinoa debate from last year (and maybe years before that, I don't know). I wasn't following the debate last year until during Pesach, when Jewish housewives everywhere lamented the horribleness of the quinoa insanity at every Pesach meal I attended:
Is quinoa "allowed" on Pesach? Is it kitniyot? Is it covered with chametz? 

If you need a refresher on what chametz, kitniyot, and gebrochts are, go here. If you don't know what quinoa is, go here. It's protein-packed and delicious. Especially on shwarma. 

But we'll cover a few basics here just to be safe. 

You're not allowed to eat, own, or benefit from chametz during Pesach. I can't even allow my pets to eat food with chametz in it. Chametz is anything made from the following five grains that has also come into contact with water for more than 18 minutes ("fermented"):
  • Wheat 
  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rye
Kitniyot is a protective fence around the laws of chametz to avoid eating anything that might possibly be mixed with chametz or mistaken for it. I apologize if I get something wrong here, as I don't hold by kitniyot (heck yeah converts getting to choose their own minhagim!). Most people accept that it includes rice, peas, lentils, and beans. As I understand it, the peanut was the most popular "is it or isn't it?" argument item until quinoa became popular. There is also (an increasingly common holding) a ruling that the list of kitniyot is fixed, and no item can be added to the list after a certain date. While I know people who hold by that, I don't happen to know the date.

The Sephardim think Ashkenazi are insane for prohibiting kitniyot, and kitniyot is probably the number one thing Ashkenazim will kvetch about: "I should have married Sephardi!" 

Where does quinoa fit in? Apparently, last year's debate began because a kashrut organization (the OU?) made an announcement two weeks before Pesach proclaiming that quinoa is kitniyot and thus should not be eaten during Passover. Then came an uproar because people had already purchased a great deal of quinoa for Pesach. So then the ruling changed again and said that organic quinoa was kosher for Passover. This opened the organic quinoa black market run by the families who had happened to buy organic quinoa in bulk. Others simply ignored the announcement(s), which isn't a good thing either, if people feel the kashrut organizations are unreliable, ridiculous, or corrupt.

Apparently this week, the Orthodox Union released their annual Passover guide, including a list of kitniyot. The list includes a section of products that "may be kitniyot and are therefore not used." Quinoa fell into that category, but it has now been removed from the list entirely after this week's uproar.

I learned of the latest battle from this blog post: OU812 (or Oh! You are at it Again!). While the debate is now over (for this year, at least), I think this blog post is a great read for people new to the debate or to orthodoxy in general. I love the systematic analysis and the presentation of the issues.

Thanks to the outcry created by blog posts like that, sanity and halacha has prevailed over the more-machmir-than-you tendencies so often present in orthodoxy (and especially kashrut) today.

I have never fixed quinoa, but now I want to make it during Pesach on principle. Likewise, though I don't prohibit myself kitniyot on Pesach, I'm not sure I've ever actually made any. I guess I should get on that.


  1. The Sephardic family I know always serves rice with their meals during pesach. They also spend days before Pesach inspecting the rice they are going to use, grain by grain, 3 times per grain. Things are not as simple as 'Sephardim eat kitnyot.' sells packages of pre-inspected rice for $10/package (for a pound or less.)

  2. I still think that the biggest part of that OU list is that peanuts are on the "may be" list. Why isn't that raising more eyebrows? I've been screaming about that one for years.

  3. Don't even get me started on gebrokts. ...Mutters something about marrying Chabad and wanders off in a huff!...

  4. my opinion is begin eating quinoa asap, then you can claim that you just follow your own minhag.
    I am convinced that a generation from now people will ask did your parents eat quinoa on Pesach, and everyone will be obligated to follow their "minhag"
    Quinoa is not botanically Legume (its a beet related plant) and was not around at the time Ashkenazim stopped eating Kitniot (I think tat was about 700 yrs ago) My guess is that the Minhag developed strongly only after the Potato was imported to Europe
    Pesah cuisine is much more enjoyable with quinoa
    and although some authorities hold that the Kitniot is an open list and determined functionally and not botanically, lets face it, all Ashkenazis eat beans on Peash: (coffee and chocolate) and all flour look alike: potato starch
    So hey why be Machmer, enjoy yuntiff and accept a more lenient opinion

    1. I have only one note to add: I oppose the false dichotomy of "machmir v. lenient." Quinoa not being kitniyot is not a "lenient" opinion. It is the normative opinion, and until recently, was the unquested stance. It is still the unquestioned halacha by the other prominent kashrut agencies. Choosing an opinion because it is more restrictive doesn't make it the machmir opinion when so many prominent halachists believe it's not supported by the facts or halacha (to the point of being willing to call it "foolish" in public discussion, as reported to me by several people).

      The idea that there is ONLY machmir and lenient drives me batty.

    2. me again, I fully agree to your note and could not have said it better. Then again even true lenient opinions have a reverse side. ei. diminishing, in this case, from Oneg Yom tov. There is always the reverse side that has to be considered

  5. Glad you liked the post. You'll be happy to know that the OU backed down, and has pulled quinoa from their kitniyot list.