The Ultimate Passover Guide for Vegetarians and Vegans
Deciding Whether to Eat Kitniyot on Passover
I am an Ashkenazi Jew, and until my first Passover as a vegetarian at age 16, I followed the Ashkenazi tradition of avoiding kitniyot (including rice, corn, beans, lentils, peas, string beans, and seeds) on Passover. When I went vegetarian, I reasoned that kitniyot were a key source of protein and I'd be better off following Sephardic guidelines, which permit kitniyot. I wasn't particularly observant, and frankly, I didn't care about the Ashkenazi-Sephardic divide.
As the years went by, I realized that my willingness to eat kitniyot despite being Ashkenazi wasn't so far-fetched. In 1989, a ruling by the Israeli Conservative movement said that all Israelis could eat kitniyot on Passover "without fear of transgressing any prohibition." In 1997, Rabbi David Golinkin (representing the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel) issued a ruling supporting the elimination of the Ashkenazi custom of avoiding kitniyot on Passover. Several years ago, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Jerusalem formally lifted a ban on kitniyot in Israel. While there isn't unanimity in Israel, the Forward reported a year ago, "According to some experts on changes in religious law, we are witnessing the beginning of the end for the ban on kitniyot in Israel."
I concede that I am Ashkenazi, not Sephardic, and that I live in the U.S., not Israel. I concede that I have no rabbinic or other authority to tell people how to act on this issue. Nevertheless, I am utterly comfortable eating kitniyot on Passover and I encourage other Ashkenazi Jews, particularly vegetarians and vegans, to look into the matter for themselves.
For the last couple of years, I have run into numerous obstacles in trying to find a definitive standard for Sephardic kosher-for-Passover guidelines in the U.S. Long story short, I am under the impression that the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate (JSOR) offers the definitive guidelines for Sephardic/Mizrachi Jews who eat kitniyot on Passover. There appears to be no other similar document by any leading kashrut certification organization or general Sephardic community.
I will do my best to give an overview of JSOR's "2010 Recommended Passover Product List for Sephardic Communities," but I encourage people to rely on the primary source, not my summary. These guidelines are intended for 2010 only, as JSOR issues updates each year. JSOR explains its position as follows:
Since Sephardic Jews have different customs and traditional foods than our Ashkenaz brothers, this list is designed to serve those whose custom includes the consumption of Kitniyot, or legumes on the holiday. Since the majority of Jews in America are of Ashkenaz descent, the major Kashrut organizations only certify those items that are permissible for them. We have included those items, and as well have listed those foods that are permissible without special Kosher for Passover (KFP) symbols. . . .The idea here is that even if it's OK to eat beans, you can't eat a processed-soy veggie burger. Some products are fine in their raw, unadulterated elements but not when they're enriched with hametz. The following are some of the guidelines to navigate through the nuances of kitniyot:
[Hametz are any] any foods or food products, which contain ingredients, derived from one of the following fermented cereal grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye are forbidden on Passover. Even foods that contain minute amounts of [hametz], or foods which are processed on utensils which are used for other [hametz]-containing foods, are not permissible for Passover use. Many Sephardim have the custom of eating different legumes or kitniyot and foods that are derived from them. Even in the Syrian community, there are differences in customs as to which legumes are used.
- Cereal: Cold cereals like cornflakes and Rice Krispies have malt added to them and are therefore hametz. JSOR adds, "We strongly suggest that even those cereals in which the listed ingredients are 100% kosher for Passover, should not be used as they are in constant contact with grains that are real [hametz]." Look for a kosher-for-Passover hechsher.
- Milk Alternatives: For soy milk, the only acceptable varieties are Soy Dream Brand Original Unenriched Soy Milk, Vitasoy Brand Sansui Original Natural Soymilk, and Zendon Soy Plain (not enriched). For rice milk, the original plain variety is acceptable for Nature’s Place, Nature’s Promise, RicePure, Shoprite, Wild Harvest, and Wild Oats brands. For almond milk, only Blue Diamond brand Almond Breeze is permitted (although almonds in their unadulterated form are acceptable even for Ashkenazi Jews). The JSOR guidelines include recipes for homemade rice and almond milks.
- Oil: Pure corn, soybean, canola, or vegetable oils are acceptable so long as they do not include citric acid.
- Rice: For white rice, any unenriched or organic rice is fine; the only acceptable types of enriched white rice are the Carolina, Goya, Mahatma, Publix, River, Riceland, Blue Diamond, WaterMaid, Success, Carolina Gold (parboiled), and Uncle Ben’s brands. For brown rice, any brand without additives is acceptable. For Basmati rice, Deer brand or any unenriched variety is OK. JSOR says that any kind of pure wild rice is acceptable and that it is from the grass family "and not a legume at all."
- Seeds: Flax and hemp seeds are explicitly permitted.
- Soy Foods: JSOR says that "while actual soybeans are permissible for most Sephardim, products made of soy, such as soy sauce, TVP and tofu, are forbidden. These products are made through extraction methods that use grain alcohol in the processing of the soybeans."
- If you're going to a seder where you expect to be the only vegetarian or vegan there, talk to the host in advance and offer to bring a vegan dish with you. You'll guarantee that you'll have enough to eat, and you'll also get to expose people to meat-free eating.
- Consider using quinoa instead of other grains on Passover. According to the Orthodox Union, "Quinoa is not one of the five grains that can create chametz (wheat, oat, barley, spelt and rye). Nonetheless, there is a difference of opinion among Rabbinic decisors (machloketh haposkim) as to whether quinoa is considered kitniyoth (Ashkenazic custom is not to eat kitniyoth on Pesach). We suggest asking your local Orthodox Rabbi if it is or is not kitniyot."
- Nuts are an indisputable source of plant protein on Passover. Check out Zel Allen's heebnvegan guest post about nut-based cuisine. There's so much more you can do with nuts than just eating a handful of them, throwing them in a salad, or eating leftover charoset.
- Take the opportunity to embrace raw foods. Click here to read Robin Silberman's 2009 heebnvegan guest post, "Passover From a Living Foods Perspective."
- Read Isa Chandra Moskowitz's 2007 heebnvegan guest post, "Cooking Up a Vegan Passover."
- Read Jenny Goldberg's 2008 heebnvegan guest post, "Vegan Passover Guide for Hungry Jews."
- Get a copy of Deborah Wasserman's No Cholesterol Passover Recipes or Roberta Kalechofsky's The Vegetarian Pesach Cookbook.
- Click here to read vegan Passover recipes from PETA and here to read vegetarian Passover recipes from Jewish Vegetarians of North America.