Question: Can Sepharadim rely on the facts that food products that contain kitniyot derivatives such as corn syrup, corn alcohol, etc.. and no hametz do not need a Kosher for Passover certification?
Sepharadim do not follow the Ashkenaic practice of avoiding kitniyot. (Some Sepharadim refrain from rice and/or chummus). This presents a unique dilemma for Sepharadim who live in North America. As the kashrut agencies are for the most part run by Ashkenazim, many products that contain kitniyot derivatives, such as corn syrup, corn based vinegar, and corn based sugar are not acceptable. This should present no issue for Sepharadim, if so, one could suggest that as long as the item does not contain any trace of wheat in the production, we should be safe to assume that it is Kasher Lepesach. Accordingly, if one would read the label of certain products, such as mayonnaise, and sees that it does not contain any hametz in its ingredients he should assume it’s fine.
After further research and discussion with Kashrut experts who are intimately involved with the different ingredients that go into each products, we have discovered that in many products that one would assume has no trace of wheat could very well have traces of hametz and in some instances a substantial amount that would not be nullified before Pesach.
The following are based on the findings of Rabbi Avraham Juravel, a world renowned kashrut expert Rabbinic Coordinator for the OU. Due to his vast experience on the field, he was able to give us an insiders view on the potential challenges of relying on ingredients only.
Here are a few examples:
Corn alcohol, corn vinegar and corn sugar
Mayonnaise contains vinegar derived from corn , one would think this does not pose a kashrut concern for Sepharadim as it is merely a derivative of kitniyot, however, corn alcohol, corn vinegar and corn sugar all begin life as corn starch, which is obtained by washing the starch from ground corn. The water in the starch solution is then boiled off until only the powdery starch remains. ADM, America’s largest corn processor, makes cornstarch and wheat starch using the same re circulated water. The corn alcohol that emerges may appear innocent enough on a label, but it is hametz. Similarly, Cargill’s huge dextrose plants in France and Germany, have different buildings house the production of corn dextrose and wheat dextrose, but the same water circulates through both. It’s all hametz.
Furthermore, bacteria and beta-amylase, an enzyme, are added to a cornstarch solution to convert the starch to alcohol. But beta-amylase is usually made by soaking barley in water for an extended period. In response to customer inquiries, the company has asserted in writing that the product contains only corn. It is hametz. It is not certain that the amount of wheat absorbed would be batel beshishim.
White vinegar is made from either wheat or corn alcohol, to which is usually added a starter, typically vinegar from an earlier production.
A large U.S. vinegar producer requested Pesach certification for its apple cider vinegar. Hametz vinegars are produced in the same plant, but the company insisted that the apple cider vinegar used a dedicated line and thus was never contaminated by hametz.
One prominent Kashrut expert once examined the plant and found that it produces two kinds of apple cider vinegar: regular, which utilizes a starter, and natural, which doesn’t. A single tank in the facility is used to hold starter. At different times this tank contains barley malt vinegar, white vinegar, and “regular” apple cider vinegar. The barley and wheat starters make the starter tank hametz, because kibush davar charif doesn’t require 24 hours to make kavush kemevushal. The starter tank, in turn, makes the regular apple cider vinegar hametz. As a result, even though the cider vinegars have a dedicated line, that line is hametz from the regular cider vinegar that contains starter from the hametz starter tank.
Denatured alcohol is one to which a denaturant—a foul-tasting chemical—has been added to make it inedible, thereby exempting it from the higher U.S. taxes on potable alcohol. One eligible denaturant is ethyl acetate. Is vinegar manufactured from corn alcohol denatured with ethyl acetate kasher lepesach?
Rav Yaakov Blau zt”l ruled that it is not. Most ethyl acetate is made from either hametz alcohol or hametz acetic acid. Although the ratio of alcohol to ethyl acetate is greater than 60:1, because it is specifically made to give taste (avida leta’ama) it’s not batel.
Citric acid, called lemon acid (humtzat limon) in Israel, is no longer produced from fruit industrially anywhere in the world. It’s made from a sugar like dextrose, which can be derived from corn, wheat, or tapioca. As noted above, corn dextrose is often made with water that was used to boil wheat.
Carrageenan, used on Pesach even by Ashkenazim, is made from seaweed cooked in alcohol. Sometimes the alcohol source is barley, as in one major South Korean factory. Therefore, carrageenan needs hashgacha for Pesach, even though there is no alcohol in the final product.
These are but a few examples of the complexities in food production nowadays. It is very difficult to assume anything in the Kashrut world based on ingredients without proper supervision.
Pesach is a time where our ancestors always strove to never to have any doubt of Hametz in our vicinity. To not purchase food that one is unsure whether it contains Hametz is definitely something we should strive for!