Don't worry, matzo's still in the clear.
If you’ve ever walked down the international aisle of your local grocery store, you’ve probably noticed a small section on the shelves marked as Kosher. This label, which means that the food meets the Jewish dietary guidelines, can get somewhat confusing when it comes time for Passover, an 8-day holiday that commemorates the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egypt. To put it simply, Kosher for Passover is a stricter version of the basic rules of Kosher. In order to understand the actual difference between the two, let’s break both down.
The rules of Kosher are defined by a rabbinical authority and outlined in the Torah. According to the laws, pork and shellfish are not allowed, as well as any rodents or insects. Additionally, the way in which meat is slaughtered and prepared must follow a certain set of guidelines, including the rule that a Rabbi must be present when an animal is slaughtered. Another rule of a Kosher diet is that meat and dairy are not to be mixed, as well as the fact that Kosher and non-Kosher foods cannot be cross-contaminated when they’re being prepared.
Kosher for Passover can mean something different depending on the version of Judaism that one practices, however it is essentially a stricter version of the basic Kosher guidelines. The major difference between the two is that Kosher for Passover excludes any food that is chametz (or hametz), which translates to “leavened.” This knocks out any of these common five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. This means that pasta, pastries, and most alcohol (except for some wines) are out of the question. Not only is one forbidden from consuming these foods, but they cannot come into contact with the foods you are eating, thus making the ability to get this labeling on certain processed foods quite tricky. However, the only way that these grains can be consumed is in the form of matzah, unleavened bread that is symbolic of the lack of time that Jews had to prepare homemade bread while escaping from Egypt.
If you are wanting to abide by this stricter set of guidelines for the coming holiday, but feel completely unprepared and overwhelmed to do so, don’t worry. On top of the more common, year-round Kosher labels that are what you’ll probably recognize from the grocery store, there is a label created specifically for Kosher for Passover foods (referred to as the OKP symbol). As confusing as this may sound, some year-round Kosher products may not bear the OKP symbol, as they might lack the necessary supervision or equipment to qualify as such. However, if you see the OKP symbol, you know that you’re good to go.
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It is not uncommon for Ashkenazi Jews (a group within the religion that comes from Eastern Europe) to also avoid kitniyot during Passover. This category of grain-like foods includes legumes, beans, rice, and corns. It’s worth noting that in recent years, an 800-year-old ban on rice and beans was lifted, so Jews that were abiding by this restriction now have a little bit more leniency with their diets. Regardless, the rules of Kosher and Kosher for Passover vary slightly in degree based on location and traditions, but understanding the labels on your food can be super helpful when all the rules start to blend together. If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that you definitely cannot have too much matzo during this 8-day holiday.