On any given day, a wind might blow through the farmlands of South America, pick up an errant grain of barley and deposit it nearby among the vast rows of cultivated quinoa. If that barley manages to make its way into a sifted batch of quinoa, and avoid detection during repackaging, it could wind up gracing your seder table on Passover night.
However dubious it might seem, the scenario is among the reasons that the world’s largest kosher certification agency is refusing to sanction quinoa for Passover consumption, potentially depriving Jewish consumers of a high-fiber, protein-rich staple that many have come to rely on during the weeklong holiday.
The Orthodox Union announced last year that it would not certify quinoa as kosher for Passover out of concern that quinoa falls into the category of kitniyot, a group of legumes forbidden because they look similar to grains proscribed on the holiday.
Menachem Genack, the CEO of O.U. Kosher, also cited the danger of quinoa crops grown in close proximity to wheat and barley fields.
Star-K, a rival kosher certification company based in Baltimore, has been certifying quinoa as Passover-friendly for years and dismisses what it sees as an outlandish prohibition.
“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed decisor of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume.”
Long a staple of the Andean diet, quinoa has earned a reputation as “the mother of all grains,” celebrated for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets.
On Passover – when wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley are all prohibited – quinoa has emerged as a popular substitute.
That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.
“We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused,” Genack said. “It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the O.U. for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”