The Story Behind OU Kitniyot

Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz

Consumers have long been accustomed to various designations associated with the OU symbol (OU-D, OU-Parve, OU-Glatt, OU-Fish and of course OU-P). This year consumers will be finding more and more stores stocking products with yet another designation, OU-Kitniyot.

Why the new designation? What does it really mean?

Since medieval times it has been the practice in Ashkenazic communities to forbid the consumption of a category of foodstuffs called kitniyot on Passover. Kitniyot, widely translated as legumes, encompasses beans, peas, certain seeds, corn and rice. This custom was not generally adopted by Sephardic communities, with few exceptions and even then only on a limited basis. More on this topic.

The OU has long approved industrial kitniyot products as non-chametz to benefit Sephardic communities all over the world, but we did not issue certification for retail kitniyot products for Passover until now. This was avoided due to a concern that different Passover symbols might confuse consumers.

Interestingly, it was the OU’s halachic authorities who encouraged the OU to venture into the retail kitniyot market. The specialized attention given to OU-P certified products is well-known and accepted, and highly regarded worldwide. Each and every material and sub-material is scrutinized to ensure that no prohibited substance is present. Equipment is carefully kashered just as home kitchens are kashered for Passover. In almost all instances there is constant rabbinical supervision of the products from start to finish.

In our experience, the Sephardic community was not always benefitting from similar rigorous standards in the approval of kitniyot products. Oftentimes products were being used on Passover on the basis of a cursory review of label ingredients. Assumptions were made regarding food additives and the non-chametz status of equipment on which food was processed.

Jews who are careful to eat products with reliable supervision all year long were forced to settle for much less than that, using products on Passover that weren’t supervised for the additional stringencies of the holiday.

The OU-Kitniyot designation, accompanied by the explanatory message “Acceptable for those who consume kitniyot on Passover,” is designed to assure the Sephardic community that the same high standards that apply to OU-P (non-kitniyot) products are in place for these OU-kitniyot products as well.


Matza used at the seder consists of just two ingredients: matza flour and water. This is the lechem oni (bread of affliction) that is described in the Torah. Matza flour mixed with other ingredients (eggs, juice, sugar, etc.) is referred to as matza ashira or “rich matza.” This may be produced in cookie or pastry form as well. Other than at the seder in the fulfillment of the obligatory matza portions, Sephardim eat this matza throughout the festival. The custom amongst Ashkenazim is to forbid its consumption except as required for small children or the infirm.

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Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz

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