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Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
Although most consumers would never suspect it, it seems that it is quite common to use fenugreek in the creation of maple flavors. Fenugreek is an inherently kosher item which doesn’t pose year round kashrus concerns, and this article will consider whether it should be classified as kitnios.
Colloquially, the term “kitnios” refers to a group of foods which Ashkenazim refrain from eating on Pesach, but the truth is that the term precedes the custom. As relates to hilchos kilayim, vegetables are divided into two groups – zaronei gina and kitnios.1 The former refers to foods where one eats the seed and flesh (e.g. cucumber, tomato) or just the flesh (e.g. green pepper) and the latter refers to foods where just the seed is consumed (e.g. beans, sesame seeds).2 There is a subclass of this latter group known as tevuah, which refers to grains (e.g. wheat, barley), a specialized form of kitnios.3
It is reasonable to assume that the early Acharonim who established the Pesach minhag had this definition of kitnios in mind when they recorded the custom to not eat “kitnios”. If we take this approach to its logical conclusion, fenugreek would be forbidden on Pesach, as the edible portion of the fenugreek plant is, in fact, the seed. Further, a prominent Posek who accepts this strict opinion points to Rashi (Beitzah 13a s.v. tilsan) who states that tilsan/fenugreek is a form of kitnios. Of course, Rashi isn’t discussing the minhag to not eat kitnios on Pesach (which started hundreds of years after his death), but the argument is that just as Rashi classifies fenugreek as kitnios for the purposes of the Gemara he’s discussing, so should we for our purposes.
However, there is a clear indication that the minhag to not eat kitnios on Pesach is not as bound to the literal definition of that term as has been suggested above.
Rema4 rules that anise and coriander aren’t included in the minhag of kitnios. These spices are similar to fenugreek in that only the seed is consumed so why aren’t they forbidden? Darchei Moshe5 enigmatically addresses this issue by referring the readers to Tur O.C. 204, which is the section that discusses the berachos recited before eating food, and appears to be unrelated to hilchos Pesach. However, further analysis shows that in that location Tur rules that if one consumes foods which grow in the ground the bracha is ha’adamah, but the bracha recited before eating spices by themselves (i.e. not as an accompaniment to another food) is shehakol since that is not the typical way to eat them. It appears that Darchei Moshe means to show from Tur that just like spices have a different bracha than other foods because they aren’t consumed by themselves, so too they are different than other “kitnios” and aren’t forbidden on Pesach. The logic for such a position would be that one reason for the minhag of kitnios is that those foods can be confused with the chametz grains, and since spices are rarely eaten by themselves they are sufficiently different than grains (which are commonly consumed as an independent food item) and wouldn’t be confused for them.
According to this approach, Rema’s ruling permitting anise and coriander on Pesach is really a broader exclusion of all spices from the minhag of kitnios.
Let us now apply this principle to fenugreek. Although there are those who believe there is medicinal value to consuming pure fenugreek and there may be indications that it was consumed as-is in the times of the Mishnah,6 in the overwhelming majority of cases fenugreek is used as a spice, and therefore Rav Schwartz has ruled that it may be used for Pesach and included in maple syrup flavors certified for Pesach use.
1 This, and much of the text in this paragraph is based on Rambam, Hil. Kilayim 1:8 (as per Derech Emunah (Beor HaHalacha) s.v. zera) which is cited in Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 297:3.
2 See the previous footnote.
3 See Derech Emunah, Hil. Kilayim 1:45.
4 Rema 453:1.
5 Darchei Moshe 453:2.
6 See Mishnah, Ma’aser Sheini 2:3, but also see Rashi, Rosh HaShanah 12b s.v. hatilsan who says that it is a spice.