Buying Kosher Herbs and Spices for Passover

Traditional symbols on a Seder plate

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From special Seder foods to the extra kashrut (kosher law) stringencies associated with the holiday, food factors big in Passover observance. With guests to entertain (and far fewer Kosher-certified convenience foods available during the week of Passover than during the rest of the year), many people find themselves cooking from scratch more often than they ordinarily might.

Of course, herbs and spices are vital to the most delicious recipes. And while many people know that grain-based products like bread or noodles are off-limits during Passover, fewer realize that there are special considerations to keep in mind when buying herbs and spices, too. Here's a primer on why dried herbs and ground spices need special Kosher for Passover certification, along with tips for buying herbs and spices for the holiday.

Look for "Kosher for Passover"

In the past, the general consensus in many Kosher-observant communities was that it was permissible to buy sealed containers of pure ground spices or dried herbs for Passover, as long as they had year-round Kosher certification. Now, ground spices and dried herbs must be certified as Kosher for Passover if they are to be used during the holiday. What has changed? Food manufacturing processes, for one.

Rabbi Dov Schreier, of the Orthodox Union—also known as the OU, and the world's most prominent kosher certification body—explains that ground spices may contain additives, emulsifiers, or anti-caking agents that aren't Kosher for Passover. Manufacturers aren't required to list these ingredients on labels, so there's no way for consumers to tell if that jar of cinnamon contains non-kosher ingredients, or was processed on chametz (food that is not Kosher for Passover, like bread) equipment that would render it unfit for Passover use.

Supply and Demand

During the year, it's easy to find an incredible range of Kosher-certified herbs, spices, and spice blends. During Passover, that selection seems to shrink considerably. Part of this is because of the manufacturing issues discussed above. Part of it, though, is simple supply and demand. As Rabbi Schreier explains, "supply and demand occur on two levels—on the manufacturer side and supermarket side. That's especially true in today's modern world of inventory supply—thanks to barcodes, supermarkets know exactly how many jars of garlic powder they've sold."

Since a relatively small percentage of consumers seek out Kosher for Passover herbs and spices, and only during a brief time each year, these are unlikely to outsell the other spices on the shelf. Can't find your favorite spice this Passover? You can always try letting the manufacturer know. "If you and a million of your closest friends petition for a certain spice to be Kosher for Passover the following year," says Rabbi Schreier, "I guarantee it will be." 

Fresh Herbs

One of the most overlooked options is to choose fresh herbs for Passover. Fresh herbs have superior flavor, and are increasingly available in markets, especially at this time of year. Plus, since Passover is also known as Chag Ha'Aviv, or the Festival of Spring, fresh herbs make an especially fitting recipe enhancement. Fresh herbs do not require special kosher certification, even during Passover. Just be sure to wash them well and check for bugs, which aren't kosher any time of the year.

Whole Spices

Whole spices are another great option and pose none of the adulteration concerns that ground packaged spices do. (Ashkenazim should be aware, however, that some spices are considered kitniyot, grains and seeds forbidden at Passover). Once the holiday begins, it's best to purchase packaged whole spices that have a reliable kosher certifying mark, though most rabbinic authorities would not require a special Passover certification. Before the holiday starts, most maintain that it's even fine to buy unpackaged whole spices (which might not bear kosher certification). Just be sure to check for extraneous matter from bulk bins, and store these spices separate from non-Passover items.

If you opt to buy whole spices, you'll need a grinder for Passover, too. 

Kitniot Spices

Here is a list of spices that fall into the kitniyot category:

Please note that there are differences in rabbinic opinion as to whether certain spices are considered kitniot. If you are not sure of your family or community minhag (tradition) regarding these or other spices, consult your local rabbi.