EVERYONE KNOWS that the main category of food prohibited to eat on Passover is chametz. Chametz is defined in halacha as a product of one of five grains that has fermented through contact with water. The five grains are wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. This prohibition includes all products made with flour derived from these grains such as bread, cake and cereal. It also includes beverages made from chametz grain such as most whiskey and beer. In addition, Ashkenazim have accepted the minhag (halachic tradition) prohibiting kitniyot on Passover. Kitniyot include other grains such as rice and corn as well as legumes, beans and peas and many types of seeds. Some processed kitniyot products may have been processed with chametz additives, which can present concerns for Sephardim as well.
Bearing this in mind it would seem that many, if not most, processed foods should be inherently kosher for Passover if they are not products of the five chametz grains or of kitniyot. Despite this seemingly simplistic logic, most such items are indeed not acceptable for Passover. This short review will attempt to illuminate the common problems with many of these foods and explain why they do indeed require proper supervision and certification for Passover.
SODA would seem to be a simple product in which there is little fear of chametz. However in reality all sodas do require Passover supervision – for two reasons. First, many sweetened sodas are made with corn syrup as the sweetener. Corn syrup is a processed kitniyot item and therefore forbidden to Ashkenazim and possibly problematic for Sephardim as well. Secondly, all soda is made with flavors. Many flavors are manufactured with alcohol as a carrier. In addition, the flavorings may actually be derived from chametz.
Seltzer exists in two forms. UNFLAVORED SELTZER is simply water with added carbon dioxide. Many years ago it was common to produce carbon dioxide from grain fermentation. The resulting product was derived from chametz. Currently this practice is very rare and one need not suspect that unflavored seltzer is problematic for Pesach. FLAVORED SELTZER is, of course, made with the addition of flavors. Since flavors are indeed a chametz concern such items need Passover certification.
Coffee is manufactured in two basic forms.
GROUND COFFEE for brewing consists of coffee beans that are roasted and processed. There is no chametz issue in most such products. The OU is able to state that all OU-supervised ground coffee, which is unflavored and not decaffeinated, can be used for Passover. Obviously, flavored ground coffee requires supervision due to the added flavors.
DECAFFEINATION is a process during which the coffee beans are sprayed with various substances that remove the caffeine. These substances are then removed from the beans. Ethyl acetate, derived from alcohol, is one of the common agents used for decaffeination; therefore decaffeinated coffee cannot be used on Passover unless it is assured this agent was not used. The OU is able to recommend a limited number of decaffeinated coffee brands for Passover which never use ethyl acetate in processing, see page 60 for an up-to-date list.
INSTANT COFFEE presents a second problem for Passover. Some companies add maltodextrin which is either a kitniyot or chametz derivative to their instant coffee; Therefore we can only recommend the brands listed in the OU Consumer Guide which are known to not add this substance.
ORDINARY UNFLAVORED TEA BAGS have no chametz issue. There are no additives used in this product. Therefore all OU-certified tea bags require no Passover certification.
FLAVORED TEA BAGS of course do require certification due to the flavors added to them. DECAFFEINATING tea presents the same problem as it does with coffee (outlined above); therefore decaffeinated tea bags require certification.
INSTANT TEA requires certification due to additives and shared equipment.
CANNED TUNA requires Passover certification. This is especially true of tuna in oil since the oil generally used is either corn oil or contains corn oil. However, even tuna in water presents Passover problems, the first of which is maltodextrin often being added to canned tuna as a filler. As mentioned previously, maltodextrin is either a chametz or kitniyot derivative. More significantly, the canners processing tuna often produce other possibly chametz products on their equipment. This makes the equipment chametz and could invalidate the tuna for use on Passover.
PURE FRUIT JUICE would seem to be a simple product that does not require special Passover certification. However, most juices are processed with enzymes that either increase the juice yield from the fruit or remove pectin and other undesirable qualities from the juice. These enzymes are frequently derived from chametz – therefore juices must be supervised for Passover.
CITRUS JUICES such as orange and grapefruit are processed without enzymes; therefore OU-supervised unsweetened orange and grapefruit juice concentrate may be used without Passover certification.
ORANGE JUICE OR GRAPEFRUIT JUICES distinct from juice concentrates do require Passover certification. This is because bottlers that process these juices typically make other drinks on their equipment. These drinks may, and often do, include chametz ingredients. Since orange and grapefruit juices are pasteurized at the bottler’s facility this equipment can potentially contaminate them.
SUGAR AND SALT
SALT would seem to be another simple item not requiring Passover certification. This is indeed true for most varieties of salt which have no chametz or kitniyot additives. The one exception is iodized salt. Iodine is not a problem on Passover; however, the iodine is added to the salt by a starch carrier which is either kitniyot or chametz in origin. Therefore, the OU permits the use of all non-iodized salt on Passover, but does not accept the iodized varieties.
WHITE GRANULATED SUGAR is similar to salt and presents no Passover issues. There are no Passover problematic additives used in processing this product. Therefore all white granulated sugar is acceptable for Passover without special certification.
This is not the case for BROWN SUGAR. Both light and dark brown sugar do require special supervision since chametz derivatives may be used in production. POWDERED SUGAR also requires Passover certification since cornstarch is usually added to it to give it the required consistency.
SPICES would seem to be a simple product with no Passover concerns. After all they consist of raw berries or fruits, ground for use. These products do, however, require Passover certification. It is unfortunately true that when spices are ground, change and or contamination can, and does, occur. Even the smallest amount of adulteration can change the Passover status of the ground product.
In addition, spices can be ground in facilities processing chametz items such as breadcrumbs. Powder from the chametz or kitniyot items can spread into the air and contaminate the equipment or the ground spice.
There are unique issues with three particular spices: CORIANDER seeds frequently come to the spice grinding company mixed with grain seeds. It is necessary to thoroughly clean the coriander and then have a mashgiach check the specific batch to approve it for Passover grinding. This is also true of CUMIN and DILL SEED. Since these items grow near grain fields or are packed in facilities processing grain there is a frequent admixture of grain in the product coming to the grinder. Stringent checking of individual lots by a mashgiach is needed before Passover certification can be granted on these products.
RAW FISH would seem to be a product with no Passover problems. This, however, is not entirely true. In the first instance the equipment used to cut and process the fish can be used for other products including possible chametz or kitniyot items. Some companies sell packaged raw fish together with packets of seasoning to be used when the fish is cooked; these seasonings can and often do include chametz or kitniyot. In addition, it has become common for companies selling frozen cuts of some raw fish to glaze the fish with a thin layer of corn syrup to give the product a shiny, attractive appearance. For all these reasons the OU requires raw packaged fish to have Passover certification with the exception of those OU-certified companies known not to have any of the above listed problems.