Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passover and Gluten

They say there are two things in this world that must never be discussed over a friendly dinner.  And those are religion and politics. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to food, religion sometimes is intricately linked with what one desires to ingest. 

In fact, Passover is right around the corner.  And with the Passover, comes a seder.  And at every seder is a very important rule.  Throughout Passover, strict Judaic law prohibits the ingestion of any fermentable grains.  The exception to this rule is matzo, grown, harvested and treated in strict accordance with Old Testament laws. 

Since traditional grains are forbidden during the Passover, many people presume that all Passover foods are gluten free.  This is, unfortunately, not true. 

While many Kosher for Passover items are, indeed, gluten free, anything containing Matzo or Matzo flour is not.  Macaroons, safe.  Matzo balls, not safe. 

There is some discussion about whether or not gluten is found in matzo meal.  This debate often crosses into religious territory.  There are individuals who believe that for the sake of unity, they must consume a small amount of Matzo during the Passover seder.  They feel that during the processing of the matzo meal, and the Rabbi's blessing, the gluten is essentially removed from the grain.  Now, it may be that in faith G-d will bless the individual and help their body to avoid damage from a small amount of gluten grain taken solely as a religious ritual.  It may also be that a small amount of gluten grain once a year is not enough to cause permanent damage to an individual who is otherwise extremely cautious. 
However, the matzo meal itself remains a gluten grain.  And as such, it poses a risk to those with Celiac disease, and anyone with a wheat allergy. 

On the other hand, it's corn free for the uncorny wheat eater. 

The corn free celiac will be happy to know that most kosher-for-passover items are safe for cosumption.  The ingredient list should be scrutinized for the words "matzo" or "matzo meal", both of which must be avoided.  There may be a few organizations which do permit corn derivatives in their products, under the assumption that to avoid corn completely only for Passover is an unrealistic endeavor.  However, they will state the source if corn is, indeed, used, out of respect for the strict observers. 

For most traditional wheat and corn ingredients, potato is used as a starch source.  Almond meal is also used freely in Passover foods, so if there is a nut allergy in the house read carefully for that, too.

Kosher is not allergy friendly.  Nor is it a health conscious certification.  My kids were disappointed to see that of all the kosher for passover candy displayed, not one was free of artificial coloring and flavoring.  It's also worth noting that many of the products are full of sulfites.  Kosher products can be a wonderful addition to a food allergy family, but only in that grains are clearly listed on Passover products (as is soy, which is also forbidden during Passover) and milk is also clearly listed, since milk and meat cannot be consumed at the same time. 

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