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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Is there anything to know about the kashrus of grains?

A. Grains, such as wheat, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and barley, are simple agricultural items which are generally assumed to be kosher, even if there is no formal certification on them.  However, there are some issues that are relevant from time to time, which are worth bearing in mind.

First is that we must differentiate between the five primary grains and all other ones.  Two special halachos apply to those five grains – wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats: yoshon and chametz.  Yoshon basically means that these grains (or anything made from them) may not be eaten until they have been in existence for one Pesach.  In the United States, rye and spelt are always planted in the winter and harvested in the spring, so they are always yoshon, but wheat, barley, and oats which were planted in the spring (i.e., after Pesach) and harvested in the summer, will not be permitted until after the next Pesach.  Many people follow the opinions that yoshon is not a concern outside Eretz Yisroel for grain that was grown by a non-Jew, but for those who are machmir this is something to pay attention to.

As with yoshon, it is only these five grains which can become chametz, and, therefore, flour or foods made from grain must be destroyed or sold before Pesach.  In general, the grains themselves (as opposed to flour made from the grain) are processed without water or moisture and may be owned by a Jewish person over Pesach.  [Oats are an exception and should not be kept over Pesach.]

A potential issue with all grains is that they can become infested with bugs.  Generally, the factories which process the grains do an excellent job of removing any bugs from the grain, but they will become infested if the distributors and supermarkets do not store the grains properly.  Thus, the concern of infestation in rice, quinoa, barley, etc. very much depends on the locale, and how well the individual store takes care of their stock.  Accordingly, consumers are advised to speak to their local Va’ad to learn whether they need to check grain before using it.

One last concern is bishul akum.  That is a surprise for most people, because bishul akum refers to foods cooked without Jewish participation, and the grains seem to be raw.  If they were never cooked, how can they be forbidden as bishul akum?  The answer is that certain grains that appear to be raw are actually cooked at the factory!  Two examples of this are bulgur and instant rice.  In many cases, these are fully cooked at the factory, which means that consideration must be given to whether bishul akum is an issue.  Some factors that hashgachos will consider are (a) does the grain require further cooking by the consumer or will it just be warmed and hydrated by them, (b) does the factory cook with live steam, and is that significant as relates to bishul akum, and (c) are these foods dignified enough to require bishul Yisroel?  For consumers, the certification on the grain is their guarantee that all kashrus issues have been dealt with, and the food is kosher.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, June 28, 2024.