Passover: Health Foods and Nutritional Supplement Drinks
Quick tips on chametz-free healthy foods and alternatives for Pesach cooking
Also special instructions for Sephardim, those who eat kitniyot, and the infirm
Please note that product and brand information is updated and valid for Passover 2016 and subject to change!
For most frum and traditional people, substitutions are an everyday occurrence. Having to balance the issues of meat and dairy in a culture that has a pallet for mixing has led to people using a lot of health food alternatives to get some of those fusion flavors and still adhere to kashrut. It surprises many people that the orthodox don’t blink twice at mixing in adventurous health food options. No other time does this openness and experience comes in handy then at Pesach.
Ordinary during the year we make use of items such as Rich’s Whip as non-dairy whipped cream, Mocha Mix or soy milks for baking and table serving, milk-free cheese, tofu ice cream and cream cheese, and much use of meat alternatives (would pizza be the same without Soy-roni “pepperoni”?).
Unfortunately a lot of these products will not be any aid to many people during the Passover holiday. Many of these products contain ingredients taken from the five-grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats), most often are made with wheat and oat products (items such as xanthan gum, malt, flavoring, sweetening and thickening). Some are even fermented with the aid of grain and/or yeast (textured vegetable protean and tofu products).
Kitniyot – Legumes, Beans, Soy and Rice
Secondly, many health foods are kitniyot – made from legumes, beans and rice. Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe are most often accustomed to not eating any of these products (including corn, soy, etc.) during Pesach; in order to not confuse one with the appearance of eating chametz. However, these products are generally permissible to people of the Sephardic/Mizrahi tradition (Spanish-Jewish, Middle-Eastern) who are not subject to this ban.
Even though some kitniyot products are chametz-free, you will not always find a “kosher-for-passover” certification on them. This is because it would not be true in the case of most of America/European Jewry that is predominately Ashkenazi.
Causing such confusion for Ashkenazim has been thought to outweigh the possible benefit to Sephardic Jews, who are not accustomed to making wide use of hekshers (rabbinic certification) and often know status of kashrut by asking their congregation rabbis and through communal knowledge regarding the local food offerings. [Update: as of late February 2013 the Orthodox Union has announced that they will begin to roll-out a Kitniyot certification. Though many of these products may not be immediately available this season, it shows an attempt to rectify the neglect by general kashrut supervision agencies by starting the cycle in food production at a time of year when we are scrutinizing items for yoshon as well. One should only utilize processed kitniyot products that are appropriately marked for passover or simply say “KITNIYOT” along with their certification symbol.]
The best way to know is to ask your own rabbi. But there are certain steps you can take in considering your chametz issues to help make this process easier and help save you time asking questions during this busy season. The rule of thumb is: if there is a kosher-for-passover certified product available one should utilize that product over and against the non-certified option.
We do have options for exploring chametz-free ketniyot items which is additionally provided for us by some of the kosher providers in order to aid us:
- Nutritional and Dietary Supplements (Passover) – including nutritional drinks, shakes, baby formula, milk alternatives, soy milk and almond milk. (OU)
For simply raw items that are ketniyot there is no need for certification. However, we must bare in mind that many of these bean, rice, corn and like products are stored or processed on the same machinery as grain products. For Sephardim who do eat ketniyot, it is necessary to check through all the grains of the product to ensure that it has not been mixed with chametz grains. One should check the item visually and by hand 3 times (or as much as 7 times for commercial cooking) to ensure they are free from cross contamination.
Note: this checking should also be taken with quinoa as well; it has been brought to my attention by poskim who have gone to South America to supervise these products have seen quinoa harvested in areas nearer to the lowlands which are hospitable to grains.
The Kashrut Administrator of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, stated in 2011:
- The quinoa is imported exclusively from Bolivia and packed by companies that pack whole grain quinoa exclusively. While there may be others Ancient Harvest, Trader Joe’s, and Sugat (a brand of quinoa sold in Israel) are brands that only import quinoa from Bolivia and only pack whole grain quinoa.
- The quinoa must be purchased and carefully inspected by hand before Pesach. This is done by spreading one layer of quinoa at a time on a board or plate and checked to be sure that there are no other grains or foreign matter mixed in with the quinoa. This does not apply to quinoa flour, pasta, or any other version of quinoa which are not permitted on Pesach.”
Specifics on Beans and Rice
It is possible buy such things as beans with some level of certainty. However, the selection of rice is a more complicated of an issue due to the common instruction of chametz based enrichment to white rice in many western countries. In fact it is generally required by law in the US. Though special passover runs of rice should be available again this year, just in time for the holiday; certified to be free of chametz based enrichments. Please refer to the following entry:
- Kitniyot: Eating Beans and Rice During Passover (hardcoremesorah.wordpress.com)
Another reason for why rice poses a problem, is that rice is often grown in shared fields or cycled after a harvest of barley, which is chametz. This leftover field barley can often be harvested with the rice and is hard to distinguish because of the shape and light color.
One should pay special attention when purchasing, so as not to buy from open bins. This is often the poorest quality, just like the beans in open bins are often more “dirty” and contain more waste such as rocks, so too bin rice tends to have more barely (trust me, I’ve been Mexican-American my whole life, I know whats up! I’ve seen the kids playing in them like a sandbox long enough to notice).
Oils are one of the essential ways of getting amino acids and essential vitamins. Good use of oil helps provide all the good cholesterol we need. Those of us who are dietary challenged often must make regular use of oils to supplement these needs.
The guide for to the Mashadi Youth Organziation (Hachodesh) states the following for Sephardim:
“For Sephardim there are no restrictions in using any regular oils. Soy, canola or corn oil which is Kosher for year round such as: Mazola, Kirkland or Wesson, may be used for Pesach. Any Extra Virgin Olive Oil may also be used.”
However, the Orthodox Union gives us the following recommendations that are helpful for Ashkenazim who adhere to the kitniyot ban:
“The earlier Poskim, including Rema, clearly indicate that oil made from kitnios is forbidden on Pesach, but some of the later Poskim suggest that such oil may be permitted because some of the original reasons for the minhag don’t apply to the oil extracted from kitnios. It is generally accepted to follow the stricter opinion in this matter, but the lenient opinion is sometimes considered as one factor in a larger decision.
“Therefore, on Pesach one may not use corn or soybean oil (a.k.a. “vegetable oil” ), and some do not use peanut oil either (see above regarding peanuts). Oil from olives, palm, coconut and walnuts are acceptable for Pesach use because the fruits they are extracted from is not kitnios. Minchas Yitzchok (III:138:2) suggests that cottonseed oil is kitnios, but in a subsequent teshuvah (IV:114:3) he reconsiders this position (see also Mikra’ai Kodesh, Pesach II:60:2); in the United States cottonseed oil is generally not considered to be kitnios but in Eretz Yisroel there are those who refrain from using it.
“Canola oil was first approved for food use in the United States in 1985 and there are those who therefore suggested that it is a “new” item which shouldn’t be included in the minhag, as per Iggeros Moshe cited above. However, the fault with this line of reasoning is that “Canola oil” is actually “Rapeseed oil” (a.k.a. colza oil) which has been used for centuries in Europe. [“Canola oil” is rapeseed oil specially bred to have less erucic acid (a suspected cause of heart disease) and therefore only this better variation of rapeseed oil is approved for food use in the USA]. In fact, Avnei Nezer (373 & 533) and Maharsham (I:183) specifically mention rapeseed and its oil in their discussions of kitnios. It is also noteworthy that canola often grows near oats, and therefore even those who might argue that canola isn’t kitnios would agree that all of the oats must be removed before the oil is extracted from the canola.”
As in all cases one should follow the tradition of their ancestors. If one is newly religious, they are not necessarily breaking tradition and committing an offense by choosing the tradition of their community or adopting a tradition that is different from the region of their ancestry. However, choosing and adhering a tradition should not be taken lightly and discussed with their community rabbi. (Generally, the custom for converts is to adhere to the traditional of their officiating rabbi in their conversion as that rav is a symbolic adoptive “father.”)
Flour and Wheat Substitutes
Though the soy and legume problems seem to be the most pertinent for health-foodies, we also need to consider the obvious; how do we get around flour and wheat product issues? For many people this is not just a Pesach issue, more and more people are becoming aware of wheat allergies and the effects it has on conditions such as celiac disease.
For those of us who eat gebrochts (yiddish: for broken; meaning broken matzah that is mixed with water), we often make use of matzah meal and matzah cake mix instead of ordinary flour which in all cases is considered chametz. Only wheat that has been watched from harvest to baking to ensure it has not come into contact with moisture is considered kosher-for-passover. Once wheat is baked it is not possible to become chametz. For this reason we use matzah meals which are tempered as it is less likely to become chametz due to this full baking process. It is ground into various grades of meal fineness and used for cooking and baking. Matzah meal is good for dumplings and stuffings; as it is course. Matzah cake mix is perfect as a flour and cake flour substitut; as it is much finer. This is the widespread custom for most Jewish communities to make use of cooked and wet matzah, though there is a ban for certain communities including some chasidim (hopefully we will discuss this in upcoming studies).
Because of the prevalence of people to adhering to a stringency to not eat gebrochts (namely Chabad chassidim) and the influence of wheat-sensitivities many kosher producers have begun to phase out use of matzah meal and substitute it with potato flour for cakes, cookie, dumplings and anything they would ordinarily use wheat for. Those who eat kitniyot can likewise make great use of corn flours and starches for baking and thickening needs. They both are excellent for baking and helping bind foods together.
Many items on the market today are marked as gluten free. This has also become more and more the case with the rise of gluten-free diets. Though please note that “gluten-free” certification does not necessarily means it is free of chametz; only that gluten forming proteans were removed from these food product, while not removing the grain itself. This means that many of these products may actually be made of various forms of processed chametz grains. For this reason we avoid processed gluten-free food (pasta, cereals, cookies, etc.) unless they are certified as kosher for passover. (See: “Passover Status of ‘Glutten Free’ Foods” from the Kosher with Food Allergies blog)
Yeasts and Baking Powders
One of the obvious things about the holiday is that we do not make use of leavening. We eat unleavened bread. As explored last week when discussing matzah, we are not talking about using yeast. Chametz does not mean yeast, it means leavening; namely self-rising from a sour-dough process. (see “Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness?”)
Likewise, we do not use bread that is risen with yeast. But that does not mean that we are not allowed to make use of yeasts or rising agents. In fact the Orthodox Union helps clear up this confusion for people:
“As no bread or bread products may be used on Passover, we are obviously not referring to bakers yeast. There are many other strains of yeast which can in fact be kosher for Passover. Many of these are used in winemaking as well as for nutrients in fermentation products. Yeast is an excellent source of nitrogen and nitrogen is an essential ingredient in many fermentations. In order for yeast to be chometz free, it must be grown on a chometz-free medium. These often include glucose/ dextrose…”
So when it comes down to it, we need to be careful not to freak out when we see certain fermentation products that are certified as chametz-free.
But one area of confusion for many people. If we are not to permitted to allow bread to rise by becoming chametz, are we allowed to have fluffy grain products at all such as cakes, cookies and muffins? Though most of us are not master bakers and cannot get our hands on the commercial yeasts above doesn’t mean we have to eat sea biscuit. Make use of baking powders and soda, this can give just the lift one needs. To explore this issue we got some good starter reading for you:
“It’s Passover, Lighten Up” (The New York Times)
The reason baking soda and powder can be used is because unlike yeast which metabolizes sugar in flour in order to produce CO2 (carbon-dioxide) bubbles, baking powders and soda do not. Sodas and powders cause a chemical reaction which causes a dough to rise but the food product is unchanged, whereas yeast changes the physical compounds and properties of the grain itself in its chemical process of leavening. Powders and sodas are not any more chametz than blowing air into a food with a straw.
This year our kosher-for-passover products seem to be Arm and Hammer, Geffen, Haddar, and Masphiach (“Kosher for Passover ONLY when bearing special certification”).
Food Supplements and Pesach considerations for the Infirm
As is widely known, our rabbinic law gives paramount prescience to our health and wellbeing. Our rabbinic maxim is: “pikuach nefesh docheh et hakol / the preservation of a life overrides all considerations.” We are to live by this Law, not die by it. We must submit to any medical consideration that limits our ability to adhere to our religious obligations; be this fasting or taking on Pesach restrictions.
However, during Pesach we are careful to take extra consideration of chametz. The last thing most of us want is to be cut-off or alienated from the celebration and our community and therefore do as much as we can to adhere to a chametz-free Pesach. That does not mean we are not allowed to relax for the young and the sick. Being observant and relaxed are not mutually exclusive.
One of the easiest ways for us to relax is to allow kitniyot for people whose custom is not normally to eat them. The Orthodox Union advises us accordingly:
“Kitniyot foods are permitted to someone who is ill or a child who requires them, and is not yet cognizant of Passover concepts. Even a healthy adult may eat kitniyot on Passover if he would otherwise have nothing else to eat. In these cases, one should be careful to ensure that the kitniyot foods do not contain chametz, chametz-processing aids or additives, were not processed on chametz equipment and are stored apart from other Passover foods, as well as served on separate kitchen utensils.”
Many of us who live in the big cities are very blessed to have a side range of food available to us that there is not a whole lot of need to utilize chametz as appropriate chametz-free equivalents are available to us. But one should carefully follow the advice of their doctors and personal rabbis before making any dietary changes. Often times the need to change over to Pesach foods requires a gradual transition to not shock one’s body, consulting a nutritionist would also be helpful.
Please refer to the full article:
Dietary and Nutritional Supplements Drinks (Ensure, Boost, etc.)
One of the main staples of my diet, and for anyone who is physically frail is the use of protean drinks and nutritional supplements. Nutritional drinks like Ensure are vitamin and protean enriched, though carefully formulated for easy digestion and free of common allergens. Though these products are almost always kitniyot, we do have some advice to follow when selection these products. This year’s advice and listing is also provided for us by the Orthodox Union:
Soy Milk and Dairy Substitutes
One of the most important parts of the modern diet is the use of soy/rice/almond/coconut milk and other dairy substitutes. These are useful ingredients in today’s kosher kitchens and on our daily menus. And essential parts of fortifying healthy, vegetarian and vegan diets.
As we won’t really find any with a kosher for passover certification in our local stores, and they certainly are processed foods. So how do we known which are chametz free brands for Passover?
Please refer to these resources by the OU:
- Soy milk – https://oukosher.org/passover/guidelines/food-items/soy-milk/
- Rice milk – https://oukosher.org/passover/guidelines/food-items/rice-milk/
- Almond milk – https://oukosher.org/passover/guidelines/food-items/almond-milk/
- Coconut milk – https://oukosher.org/passover/guidelines/food-items/coconut-milk/
The reason one needs to be especially sure to check their dairy-free milk products is because some of these products are blended with filtered wheat and oat milk (Example: most brands of EdenSoy Soymilk; including Eden Soy Original, Extra and Vanilla; as they use wheat and barley extract).
Unfortunately, there is no recommendion for soy coffee creamers, which are often are made with additional starches and other processed materials which are actual chametz.
One of the best ways of keeping things chametz-free is to cook from scratch. That is the other part of the Pesach preparations that is just as much hard work as the cleaning. But it is a fun and very healthy yearly experiment with getting back to preparing foods from their basic raw ingredients up. This is a perfect time of year to make decent use of fresh produce, natural meat and organic dairy products.
Just keep in mind as your preparing for the holidays to read labels and ask yourself all the right questions to yourself. Some things aren’t always so obvious. Remember, flour tortillas are not kosher-for-passover; they uses chametz flour and even bakers yeast! Neither is many brands of soy sauce, often actually made of fermented wheat. Consider the source and the additives added to stuff you eat daily, and you will see which foods are best to avoid for this holiday or to substitute for its duration.
Think along these lines and you will be on your way to a healthy and chametz-free home in no time.
I wish you all a joyful and kosher Pesach!