You could say quinoa has a lot going for it: The U.N.-designated "super crop" helps people with celiac eat gluten-free, vegetarians get their protein, and seniors stave off senility. But that whole thing about the grain-like product helping Jews get their carb fix during Passover? Well, it seems that rests on a shakier foundation.
With Passover set to begin this evening, there's a debate brewing about whether quinoa is permissible to eat on the holiday. The controversy, as The New York Times points out today, revolves around how the South American crop is grown and transported. Back in 1997, the kashrut certification company Star-K deemed quinoa--a member of the goosefoot family, which also includes beets and spinach--kosher for Passover, reasoning that it was not one of the five leavened grains (chametz) or other grains and legumes (kitniyot) prohibited on Passover. Yet, as quinoa has become more popular, some rabbinical authorities--including Star-K--have grown concerned that forbidden grains are mixing with quinoa during the harvesting and shipping processes, or that the food belongs in the kitniyot category. As Passover fast approaches, here's why people are choosing to eat--or not eat--the protean substance:
YES TO QUINOA
- The Chicago Rabbinical Council has approved quinoa on Passover, but you'll have to put in some time if you want to eat it. Rabbi Sholem Fishbane explains that the quinoa must be imported exclusively from Bolivia (where there hasn't been evidence of chametz contamination) and packed by "companies that pack whole grain quinoa exclusively," like Ancient Harvest and Trader Joe's. The CRC recommends inspecting quinoa before Passover by spreading "one layer of quinoa at a time on a board or plate" and checking to be sure that there are no other grains or foreign matter mixed in with the quinoa"--a time-consuming exercise that Jews rushing to prepare seders are unlikely to embrace.
- At Tablet, Leah Koenig recounts how a clerk at a kosher grocery store in Brooklyn took her to the kitniyot section when she asked for quinoa: "'You know what kitniyot is?' he asked. 'Sure,' I said. 'So,' he said, glancing sheepishly at the package then back at me, 'the choice is up to you.'" Koenig ended up buying quinoa for Passover, but at a cheaper price at Trader Joe's.
In a post entitled "Let My People Eat Quinoa," Rabbi Yonah argues that quinoa shouldn't be categorized as kitniyot and should be enjoyed on Passover after careful inspection: "One doesn't need a trip to the remote Andes to know that quinoa is a great substitute for rice in sushi, and a carb-neutral alternative to barley in tabouli."
NO TO QUINOA
- The influential Orthodox Union has quinoa on its list of products that "may be kitniyot and are therefore not used." Yet in its Passover guide, the OU, while raising concerns about wheat flour mixing with quinoa flour in mills, concedes that there is a "difference of opinion" about quinoa and advises people to ask their rabbis for "guidance." The Hasidic group Chabad expresses similar concerns, and recommends consulting a community rabbi and making sure any quinoa has a kosher for Passover certification.
- Joey Allaham, the owner of Prime Grill in New York, tells The Huffington Post that he won't be putting quinoa on the menu when he makes his restaurant kosher for Passover: "I have been trying to use quinoa instead of rice but the OU won't let me. We could only use it if it was checked piece by piece so we passed on it. That would take so long you would get your sushi order by next Passover."