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Why isn’t coffee included in the prohibition of kitniot?

Nissan 5783 | March 2023


Which grains can become Chametz?

The Talmud teaches that the mitzvah of matzah can only be fulfilled using grains that leaven when left to rise – wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye – and can become chametz. Other flours like rice and millet flour don’t leaven, but spoil, and so they are permitted. Although Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri forbids eating rice or millet during Pesach as he believes they leaven quickly, his opinion is rejected.[1]

Therefore Rambam rules that kitniot (legumes) like rice, millet, beans, and lentils are not chametz.[2] Nevertheless, Tur mentions that some prohibit eating rice and kitniot on Pesach since there could be wheat mixed in. He considers this an unnecessary stringency. [3]

Shulchan Aruch rules that the prohibition of chametz is only the five grains listed above, and that the mitzvah of matzah is ideally fulfilled using wheat flour.[4] Since rice and other types of kitniot don’t leaven they are invalid for the mitzvah of matzah and one may cook with them on Pesach.

Shulchan Aruch reflects the widespread custom of Eidot Mizrach who eat kitniot on Pesach, although some only do so after checking to make sure no grain is mixed in. Rema states that the Ashkenazic custom is to prohibit kitniot.

Reasons for the stringency of kitniot

Mishna Berura explains that the prohibition of kitniot is an added chumra (stringency), and is not an essential part of the injunction against chametz. He gives two reasons for the chumra:

  1. Grains are occasionally mixed with kitniot and can’t be separated properly. If they’re cooked or baked together they could leaven, which would make them chametz.
  2. Sometimes rice and other kitniot are made into flour and baked into “bread.” Uneducated people may could confuse permitted kitniot “bread” or flours with chametz bread or flours from the five grains, which could lead to a Torah violation.

Both flour made from kitniot and whole kitniot are prohibited – since the rabbis did not want to differentiate between the two (lo plug), and the first reason applies to whole legumes as well.[5]

The original kitniot early poskim mention as prohibited were rice, buckwheat, millet, beans, lentils, peas, sesame seeds and mustard. [6]

What are the characteristics of kitniot?

  1. Grows in the ground

Rav Yaakov Ariel teaches that the blessing for kitniot is “adama,” which means that it does not grow on a tree (etz).[7]

  1. Looks like a grain

Taz relays a differentiation between different spices called kimmel (fennel, cumin, or caraway seeds) which only prohibits carum kimmel (caraway) , because its seeds look like a grain.[8]

  1. Grows like a grain

Rama prohibits mustard.[9] Taz questions how it’s different from anise (pimpinella), which Rama allows, and suggests that mustard is prohibited because it grows in pods like other kitniot.[10] As explained above, kitniot pods look similar to ears of grain.

Should we add new foods to the list of prohibited kitniot?

Chok Yaakov states that in his humble opinion  we shouldn’t be overly stringent; as kitniot is a chumra to begin with there’s no reason to add to the list.[11] Be’er Hetev quotes Chok Yaakov and indicates that it’s sufficient to check foods similar to kitniot to ensure grains are not mixed in.[12]

Rav Moshe Feinstein specifically ruled that new foods should not be prohibited as kitniot, people should continue to observe their family custom. In reference to peanuts he said that those whose custom was not to eat them should follow their custom,  but they should be certified kosher for Pesach for those who don’t have this custom.[13]

On the other hand, over time, legumes such as corn, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds were added to the prohibited list based on local custom or their resemblance to the original kitniot. There are now over 50 types of kitniot listed by the OU and Star K. Some gained widespread acceptance, such as corn and chickpeas, while others remain a subject of contention, like rapeseed (canola, lecithin).[14]

Is coffee considered kitniot?

In the 17th century coffee was introduced in Western Europe and Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (1670-1733) was asked if it was considered prohibited kitniot. He does not reject the idea that foods can be added to this list, and states that some say that coffee is kitniot even though he heard that coffee grows on trees. Yet he permits drinking coffee on Pesach, even if the beans are included in the prohibition of kitniot. He bases his ruling on the principle that anything that is unfit for a dog’s consumption is not prohibited due to chametz, explaining that once the coffee beans are  roasted and burned before the holiday they are no longer considered food as a dog would not eat them, so they are permitted from that point on.[15]

The Chida, (Rabbi Chaim David Yosef Azulai 1724-1806) mentions a “Gadol” (Rav Avraham Broda), a prominent halakhic authority, who was strict and prohibited coffee on Pesach, even though it is certainly from a fruit tree. He explains that this stringency was due to concern that people who were unaware of how coffee grows would think it is kitniot, and come to permit other foods that were forbidden, breaking down the fences earlier rabbinic authorities erected to safeguard the Torah. The Chida spoke of his own experience seeing coffee trees: “It is the fruit of the tree which is grown in India and America. A few years ago I saw a coffee tree in botanical gardens in Amsterdam as well as in Pisa and there is no reason to be stringent with coffee.”[16]

In the 19th century, Shaarei Tshuva, Rabbi Chaim Moshe Mordechai Margaliot, discussed this Chida. He rejected the opinion of Chok Yosef, Rabbi Yosef ben David of Breslaum, the son in law of the Gaon mentioned by the Chida, who prohibited coffee on Pesach since he considered it in the category of kitniot. Shaarei Tshuva adds that current local custom is that coffee is not considered kitniot. Furthermore, he agrees with Shvut Yaakov’s recommendation that those who are stringent and consider coffee kitniot should permit consuming coffee that is roasted before Pesach. For those who want to be extra stringent, the coffee can be checked to make sure that it is not mixed with rice or other species. Those who do so will be blessed.[17]

As we see, there are those who wanted to prohibit coffee because people might think the “beans,” which are actually more like berries, are similar to kitniot. Early rabbis permitted it because they knew coffee grows on trees. We can add that coffee beans are not made into flour and are generally not consumed at all. They are roasted and ground and used to flavor a drink. Both in the way it is grown and the way it is used, coffee shows no resemblance to the original kitniot. And even those who want to be strict can rely on the opinion that there is no issue with coffee beans processed before the holiday.

The rabbinic concern that people would mistake coffee “beans” forkitniot was not unfounded. In the early 20th century, many new immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in America and assumed that was the case. To rectify the situation and sell more coffee, a New York advertising agent, Jacob Josephs, consulted with rabbinic authorities. Rabbi Betzalel Rosen ruled that coffee is not kitniot and certified Maxwell House coffee for Passover. His name and stamp of approval were even included in some of the coffee ads which were taken out in the Yiddish newspapers starting in 1923. In 1932 Maxwell House began printing a haggada they distributed free in supermarkets. Maxwell House coffee became associated with Pesach and the question of whether coffee was kosher for Pesach never came up again in the United States. In the 1930’s Maxwell House received OKP certification.

Does coffee need special Passover certification?

This does not mean that all coffee in the stores is kosher for Pesach. Rabbinic authorities rule that unflavored, roasted coffee beans – ground or whole – are kosher for Pesach even without rabbinic certification. However, since alcohols made from grain are often used to process decaffeinated coffee beans or to make instant or flavored coffees, all these require special Passover certification.


[1] Pesachim 35a

[2] Hilkhot Chametz U’Matzah 5:1

[3] Orach Chaim 453:1

[4] Orach Chaim 453:1

[5] Orach Chaim 453:6

[6]  Beit Yosef Orach Chayim 453, Rama 453:1, 464:1, Mishna Berura 453:4, 7, 11

[7] Shut B’Ohala Shel Torah 2:67

[8] Orach Chaim 453:1

[9] Orach Chaim 464:1

[10] Orach Chaim 464:1

[11] Orach Chaim 453:1

[12] Orach Chaim 453:1

[13] Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:63

[14] Avnei Nezer (OC  373) added rapeseed because it grew on pods similar to mustard, which was prohibited in the original decree.

[15] Responsa Shvut Yaakov 2:5

[16] Kuntres Tuv Ayin

[17] Orach Chayim 453:1

Sharona Margolin Halickman

is a graduate (2019) of the Matan Bellows Educators Institute. She is currently studying in Hilkhata - Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute. Sharona is the founder and director of Torat Reva Yerushalayim and teaches at Machon LeMadrichei Chutz La’Aretz.