Passover, the Jewish holiday recounting the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt described in the Torah, begins March 30. For seven or eight days, Jews refrain from eating leavened food. This generally means no bread or grain-based food, because Jews fleeing Egypt had no time to wait for rising dough. The dietary rules can be confusing for Jews and non-Jews alike.
What is “kosher for Passover” differs between the religious sects and ethnicities. Why? “Well, if we could agree on anything, it would be less fun,” joked Rabbi Scott Perlo from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington. “Passover channels a significant amount of devotion.”
Jews eliminate chametz, or grains that have been cooked for more than 18 minutes, from their diet, unless they are made into matzoh, a flat, unleavened bread.
But not all Jews deem the same foods “kosher for Passover.” Ashkenazi Jews (generally from Eastern and Central Europe) traditionally avoid kitniyot, which includes rice and beans, among other things. Sephardic Jews (generally from North Africa, Spain and the Middle East) had generally eaten these during Passover.
Here’s a (non-comprehensive) visual guide to show the complexity of what is and isn’t kosher for Passover.
Not eating bread is the obvious one here, and one all Jews agree on. Leavening is out.
To make the unleavened bread taste better, it can be covered in chocolate or made into matzoh balls.
Oats are widely considered chametz and are therefore forbidden during Passover.
To Jews who eat kitniyot, legumes are considered kosher for Passover. Chickpeas, a type of legume, is the main ingredient in hummus.
Pasta is typically made from wheat, and even gluten-free varieties do not automatically get a kosher for Passover seal of approval. (This is actually a thing that appears on certified kosher for Passover packaged food.)
It’s technically a seed, and a lot of Jews embrace it to get through the eight days. Not every every Jew considers it kosher for Passover, though.
Beer and grain alcohol
Jews generally stick to wine during the eight days of Passover. Potato vodka and non-grain-based alcohols are also alternatives.
Peanuts are a legume, so peanut butter-matzoh sandwiches are acceptable if you eat kitniyot, though they are incredibly dry.
The laws of kashrut always apply, but not all Jews keep kosher. Non-kosher foods include bacon and shrimp, among many others.
Soybeans are also considered kitniyot. For vegetarians who do not eat it, getting through Passover can be difficult without a plant-based protein like tofu.
If you ask different rabbis or Jews, they may have different explanations of what is acceptable to eat during Passover and why. But the core remains: Fermented wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt are widely considered off limits until the holiday ends.
Hopefully Jews achieve a new perspective by eliminating something they rely on, Rabbi Perlo said. “We’re trying to get life down to the basics,” he added, “which is what our ancestors had to do when they left Egypt. They could only take the simplest form of bread, which is one that hasn’t risen yet.”