What Foods Are Kosher for Passover?

Kosher Dos and Don'ts

Matzo wrapped in napkin, close-up
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Passover is the major Jewish festival that traditionally celebrates the liberation of ancient Jews from the bondage of Egyptian slavery.  The name derives from the belief that God "passed-over" the homes of Jews during God's tenth plague on the Egyptians--the killing of first-born children. For Jewish believers, it is the most important holiday of the year. 

Observing Passover requires a certain amount of knowledge when it comes selecting foods that are kosher—foods that are prepared according to Jewish law. In addition to eating matzah (unleavened bread) during the seder feast on the first day of Passover, Jews are prohibited from eating leavened bread during the entire week of Passover. A number of specific foods are also off limits.

This article will provide a brief overview of what foods should be avoided during Passover, but should not be taken as a definitive guide. If you have specific questions about Passover kashrut, it's always best to check with your rabbi.

Passover Chametz

In addition to avoiding leavened bread, Jews are also supposed to avoid foods made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats, unless those foods are labeled "kosher for Passover." These grains are considered kosher if they have been cooked for 18 minutes or less—a time deemed short enough to prevent any natural leavening from occurring.  All "Kosher for Passover" foods are made with flour that is specifically prepared for Passover consumption and are usually made under the supervision of a rabbi.

All five of these forbidden grains are collectively called "chametz." (Pronounced ha-mets.)

Passover Kitniot

In the Ashkenazi tradition, there are additional foods that are usually forbidden during Passover. These foods are called "kitniot" (pronounced kit-neeh-oat) and include rice, millet, corn, and legumes such as beans and lentils. These foods are off limits because the rabbis determined they violated the principle of ma'arit ayin. This principle means that Jews should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. In the case of Passover, because kitniot can be ground up to resembled flour for cooking, the visual similarity to forbidden leavened flour means they should be avoided.

However, in Sephardic communities, kitniot are eaten during Passover. And it is also common for vegetarians who identify as Ashkenazi Jews to follow the Sephardic tradition during Passover. For a vegetarian during Passover, it's quite challenging if chametz and kitniot are off the table.

Other Passover Food Tips

Walk down the "Kosher for Passover" aisle at the supermarket and you'll likely find a number of specially prepared foods you might not have expected to come under Passover food guidelines. For instance, special kosher sodas, coffee, some kinds of alcohol and vinegar are available. This is because these foods are often made with chametz or kitniot at some point during the production process. And any of the many foods containing corn syrup, for example, may be unkosher unless they are prepared specially.

The seder meal is the highlight of Passover, in which feasting is accompanied by the telling of the story of Jewish liberation. Preparing the seder plate is a highly ritualized act, with the meal consisting of six traditional items, each having symbolic significance. Setting up the seder table with all the necessary components for this most important celebration is a tradition that is painstakingly executed.