Jews got an early Pesach miracle, or a late Hannukah gift, this year: The Orthodox Union, the largest kosher organization in the world, announced recently that quinoa will now be certified kosher for Passover.
The food had been debated by kosher authorities for several years. Indigenous to the Andean region of South America and a diet staple there for millennia, quinoa has only recently been popularized elsewhere.
Though when cooked it appears to be a grain like barley, quinoa is in fact part of the goosefoot family, closer related to beets or spinach. It is referred to as a “pseudo cereal.”
Though it was clearly not one of the five grains banned on Pesach (wheat, spelt, oats, barley, and rye), authorities disagreed on whether quinoa should be labeled “kitniyot,” a foodstuff that could be confused with the forbidden grains. Ashkenazi Jews generally prohibit kitniyot on Passover, while Sephardic Jews do not. These foods include everything from corn, buckwheat, and lentils, to fennel, snow peas, and canola.
The OU’s main competitor, Star-K, certified quinoa as kosher for Passover in 2007. The OU instead launched a lengthy fact-finding mission to South American growing facilities to certify that it does not mix with prohibited grains during growing or processing.
(Also, oddly enough, it now appears that OU representative Rabbi Shoshan Ghorri was simultaneously involved in the covert escape of a US Hasidic businessman imprisoned in Bolivia.)
OU CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack said that other kosher agencies may quickly follow their lead.
“I think that once the OU has taken a position, some of the other ones may rethink their position,” he said.