Quinoa has become a part of the Passover diet for many observant Jews since the Star-K published an article Quinoa, The Grain That's Not, in the Kashrus Kurrents for Pesach, 1997. In this article the Star-K explains that quinoa is not related to the five types of grain that can become chometz, nor it is related to millet or rice. It is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) related to the beet and spinach.. The Star-K tested quinoa to see if it would rise It did not, it decayed. The result was as Chazal termed, sirchon; the quinoa decayed - it did not rise.
In the time since the Star-K article was published in 1997, quinoa has become part of the Passover diet for some Ashkenazim. Quinoa fills a diet hole for many people on Passover, including people on gluten-free diets, vegetarians, and vegans. It is also a non-meat protein source for dairy-intolerant people. It has become so mainstream that Susie Fishbein has featured recipes using quinoa in her bestselling Passover cookbook that was published by Artscroll.
Passover certified Quinoa and other quinoa products are again available this year. These products were supervised in the fields in South America, through the processing and packing in South America and the final consumer sized packaging. No checking is needed.
The question is, is quinoa kitniot or not?
The custom of not eating kitiniot evolves from the fact that it is similar to chometz grains.
Rabbi Blech zt"l in Know thy Beans Kitniyos in the Modern World quotes the following characteristics of kitniot that are listed by authorities: cooked grains which may be confused with chometz, grown in fields adjacent to chometz, and ground into flour and confused with chometz. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein 1 said that there is no halachic basis to extend this to new foods.
Quinoa has become a very popular commodity and additional companies and areas have been producing it as it a very high value agricultural product. In the past quinoa was grown in the Andes mountains in locations that do not support growth of the five grains which can become chometz: wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt. But in fact, quinoa's healthy grain status has made it very popular and it is grown in additional locations including ones which support the growth of the five grains. A visitor to Peru discovered barley growing near the quinoa fields and that the farmers when drying the quinoa, covered it with barley or oats. This may not be true in the highlands of Bolivia, but may be true in the lowlands of Bolivia and Peru. Peru may be the world's largest exporter of quinoa. "As Peru boosts production of cheaper factory-farmed quinoa, the grain is increasingly being smuggled into landlocked Bolivia to be mixed with, and sometimes sold as, organic quinoa".3 Because quinoa is such a high value product, it is now being grown around the world, in places with elevated levels of salt, high winds, frost and drought but not high heat in the summer, including the Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, North Dakota, Virginia, Maine, and Arizona as well as Canada, Europe, the highlands of East Africa. 4
An additional problem with quinoa is the conditions in which it is packed. This is still relevant if one has purchased Passover quinoa that is sourced from a chometz-free location. My research has determined that different manufacturers provide different conditions for the packing of quinoa. Even if a manufacturer says that the quinoa is gluten free, that may not be sufficient, since there are gluten-free oats that may be packed on the same lines.
In previous years the OU had not made a determination as to whether they would accept quinoa for Passover. For the last few years including for Pesach 5779/ 2019, the OU is accepting and certifying quinoa for Passover.
The OU has written the following at oukosher.org:
"Following extensive research and on-site investigation of cross-contamination issues by OU Kosher personnel at all quinoa growing areas including: Puno, Cuzco, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Junin and Chiclayo in Peru; and Alto la Paz and Chayapata in Bolivia; as well as the collection, washing and milling stations of quinoa, OU Kosher is pleased to announce that, for the first time, it is recommending quinoa for Passover, when processed with special OU Passover supervision and bearing the OU-P symbol.
"In addition to quinoa, OU Kosher has concluded that related canihua, kiwicha and maca seeds processed under supervised conditions may also be approved for Passover (OU-P). Canihua and kiwicha are related to quinoa.
This information is accurate only for Passover 2020.
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