Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents
Each Jewish Holiday that dots the calendar is replete with its own set of laws and customs, that shape the multiple dimensions of each Chag into its own unique personality. There is no holiday where this is evidenced more clearly than Pesach. Pesach offers a wide spectrum of laws, customs, and concepts that goes far beyond chometz and matzoh. One excellent example is the minhag of kitniyos.
What is Kitniyos? Kitniyos is popularly defined as legumes – but what are legumes? The Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 453 defines kitniyos as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chometz grains, yet are not considered in the eyes of halacha to be in the same category as chometz. Some examples are rice, corn, peas, mustard seed, and the whole bean family (i.e. kidney, lima, garbanzo, etc.). The Torah term for the fermentation of barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt is “chimutz;” the term given for fermentation of kitniyos is “sirchan.”
The Bais Yosef permits kitniyos usage on Pesach, while the Rema rules that kitniyos usage is forbidden. Hence, Jews of Sephardic descent use kitniyos on Pesach, while Ashkenazic Jewry follow the Rema’s psak and do not permit kitniyos on Pesach.
Reasons for Prohibition: What are some reasons for forbidding kitniyos? The Mishna Brura enumerates a number of reasons. There is a possibility that chometz grains could possibly be mixed amongst the kitniyos grains, creating an inadvertent, yet real chometz problem when the grains are cooked together. Another reason posited is that if kitniyos products would be permitted, a real confusion amongst the general public could result, confusing kitniyos flours and chometz flour. Although these might not be problems of epidemic proportions, the Rema felt it to be real enough to forbid the eating of kitniyos on Pesach. The Sephardim check the kitniyos grains three times to make sure no chometz grains are intermixed in the kitniyos and then permit kitniyos usage.
The kitniyos restriction is not all embracing. One does not have to sell kitniyos, as you would chometz, and one would be able to use kitniyos for non-eating purposes, such as fuel for candle lighting and heating, or for pet food. It is important to note that in case of medications, kitniyos restrictions are not applicable, and pills that have corn starch binders would be permissible for medical purposes.
Kitniyos Derivatives: There is a question amongst Poskim whether kitniyos derivatives, such as corn oil, would be considered to be part of the ban and be forbidden. Maybe these derivatives would be considered a separate category, “shemen kitniyos,” exclusive of the kitniyos restriction. Peanuts and peanut oil have the additional doubts attached to the species. Are peanuts considered to be a legume or not? Since there is a question as to whether peanuts are considered to be kitniyos, therefore the peanut oil would present less of a problem than other kitniyos oils. Nevertheless, most reputable kashrus agencies in the United States and Israel do not permit the use of shemen kitniyos in their products.
However, over the years, products bearing a Kosher for Passover certification have used kitniyos derived products. For example, one of the most kitniyos derived products is corn syrup. Corn syrup is one of the leading versatile sweeteners in the food industry today. Corn syrup is made through a conversion process, where the white starchy meat of the corn kernel is converted into sugar. This is done using hydrochloric acid and enzymes, or less prevalently acid alone without the use of enzymes. In the corn sweetener industry today, enzymes are a key component in the conversion process. The enzymes used are commonly derived from barley, which is chometz. In the past, corn syrup was derived without the use of enzymes. Today, corn syrup is almost exclusively converted with the use of enzymes.
What is of great halachic consequence is the halachic perception of these “corn converted” products. Since the final product is in liquid form, it was, and still is, considered to be shemen kitniyos by some authorities. Other Poskim posit that there is an intrinsic difference between classical shemen kitniyos, i.e. oil that is pressed out of the kernel, and a liquid converted from the actual kernel. The liquid is not shemen kitniyos, it is actual kitniyos.
Kitniyos Shenishtanu: In today’s world of modern technology, food science has found multifaceted biotechnological applications for kitniyos. These metabolic conversions have given way to a nineties kashrus term – “kitniyos shenishtanu” – kitniyos that have been manufactured and metamorphosed into a new product. These converted food grade ingredients include: citric acid and ascorbic acid (that have wide food applications), NutraSweet sweetener, MSG (a flavor agent in soups and fish), sodium citrate (found in processed cheeses), and sodium erythorbate (found in deli meats). These corn based ingredients go through a multi-stage conversion process of enzymolysis, fermentation, and regeneration, until the final grade additive or product is achieved.
There are divergent opinions amongst Poskim regarding kitniyos shenishtanu. Some Poskim say these processes have altered the corn out of a state of kitniyos into a neutral product. Other Poskim remain firm, and maintain that these products still retain their kitniyos status in spite of the conversions.
Today, with modern food technology, different food additives and ingredients that were not used in the past are now commonly used in everyday food products. A good example is leguminosae, also known as locust bean gum. It is also commonly referred to as St. John’s bread, carob beans or bokser. This gum is used as a binder in cream cheeses and juice products. It is made from the dried seeds of the carob tree. Some people have questioned whether or not the locust bean is included in the gezairah of kitniyos. It is not, for the following reason. Since these products were not included in the Rabbinic edict, we don’t prohibit it. The prohibition of kitniyos was limited to legumes that grew from the ground. Since locust beans grow from a tree, by definition they do not qualify as kitniyos.
Ingrained Stringency: The Mishna Brura 453 No. 13 lists two grains that should be avoided until the last day of Pesach, anise and kimmel. These grains grow in close proximity to wheat fields, and due to the fact that they are difficult to clean, they too should be avoided on Pesach. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact type of grain that qualifies as kimmel – caraway, cummin, or fennel. All these grains bear a marked resemblance to each other and should be avoided. Of similar concern are fenugreek and coriander.
Because of the widespread kitniyos formations and applications, today’s kosher consumer has to be one part detective and one part food scientist, while being sage enough to ask his/her Rav or Posek if a question does arise.
Kitniyos By Any Other Name
BHA (in corn oil)
BHT (in corn oil)
Canola Oil (Rapeseed)
Confectioners Sugar (possibly chometz, possibly
KFP – look for KFP symbol)
Flavors (may be chometz)
H.V.P. (possibly chometz)
Isolated Soy Protein
MSG (possibly chometz)1