OU Takes Pain Out of Pesach Shopping

“When I was younger, I remember going into a store with my
mother and grandmother, and whatever was kosher for Passover, they would grab,”
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky said. “The attitude was, you had to buy it in quantity
because if you came back a week later, it would no longer be there. But this is
no longer the case.”

Kalinsky, the director of the West Coast region of the
Orthodox Union (OU), was speaking at a Ralphs on the corner of Pico Boulevard
and Beverwil Drive, which, like many supermarkets in California, has a large
range of kosher-for-Passover products, with enough in storage so that it does
not disappear off the shelves with the first wave of Passover shoppers. It is
Monday night, and about 50 people have gathered for the OU kosher-for-Passover
supermarket tour, led by Kalinsky. The tour is essentially a guide for shopping
for Passover: what products are OK to use without kosher-for-Passover
supervision, which products need supervision and why and what are some of the
ways that people can save money while doing their kosher-for-Passover shopping.
The OU has done eight of these tours all over Los Angeles, in supermarkets from
Canoga Park to Westwood, and they attract both the sheitl (wig)-wearing very
religious types who have been observing Passover all their lives — but want a
refresher course in the products available — to Passover novices who need basic
knowledge about what makes something kosher for Passover.

For something to be kosher for Passover, it needs to be free
of chametz (leavened ingredients — meaning any of the five grains [wheat,
spelt, barley, oats and rye] that have come into contact with water for more
than 18 minutes). Ashkenazi Jews have an added restriction of not being able to
eat kitniyot — legumes such as rice, corn, soybeans, string beans, peas,
lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds — because they can
appear like chametz (for example, rice flour (kitniyot) and wheat flour
(chametz) can look the same). The prohibition against eating chametz on
Passover is far more stringent than the prohibition of eating nonkosher.

“If on Pesach someone defiantly eats chametz, the sin is 10
times worse,” Kalinsky said. “That is why people at Passover times are much
more strict.”

While there are many obvious sources of chametz (like bread),
Kalinsky pointed out on the tour that there are many products that appear to be
chametz-free, but actually are not.

“In order to remove the caffeine from coffee beans [to make
decaffeinated coffee] they need to boil the beans in alcohol, which is made
from fermented grain — i.e., chametz,” he said. “Even if the bottle says
naturally decaffeinated, it is still boiled in alcohol.” Likewise, frozen
vegetables are a problem on Passover because many of them are blanched in units
that also blanch pasta products, which are often not only not kosher for
Passover, but not kosher at all. Packaged salad dressings, too, unless they are
kosher for Passover, are forbidden because they may have vinegar (another grain
derivative) as well as corn sweeteners in them, which is also the reason why
unless marked as such, soda is not kosher for Passover.

“You see on the soda bottle it says ‘sugar or corn syrup’ in
the ingredients,” Kalinsky said. “Sugar is so expensive compared to corn syrup,
and it so much more of an inconvenience for them to use sugar [which is dry
compared to liquid corn syrup] that it is really hard to get soda made for

But while the tour pointed out many things that could not be
eaten on Passover, there were also a surprising number of products that were
fit for use even without a Passover hechsher (kosher supervision), such as
bagged lettuce, ordinary unflavored coffee or tea, honey, pure cane sugar,
Hershey’s cocoa, milk that is bought before Passover (milk that is bought on
Passover needs to be kosher for Passover, because otherwise it comes from cows
that are fed grain on Pesach, which renders their milk unfit for Passover use),
canned pineapple in its own juice and, this year, peeled baby carrots. Kalinsky
also pointed out the many kosher-for-Passover “It’s Delish” products (such as
spices and nuts), which are produced locally and are often cheaper than their
nonkosher counterparts, and he encouraged everyone to lobby their supermarket
managers for the kosher products that they wanted to see on the shelves.

“I came on this tour because there is always new information
that I am not aware of,” said Susan Weintraub of Santa Monica, who has been
observing Passover all her life. “You tend to be very, very strict, and then
you find out that you could have used it, so it is really a blessing to find
out what is appropriate.”

For more information on what is kosher for Passover, call
the OU at (310) 229-9000, or visit www.ou.org/chagim/pesach/pesachguide/5763