As a kid, I grew taking Matzo PB&Js to school every year during Passover. It was as much a part of the Passover tradition for me as the Seder itself. And every year in Hebrew School I learned about Jews who owned food businesses and would symbolically "sell" all of their non-Passover-friendly foods just before the holiday began.
Imagine my delight and surprise when, during my company Peanut Butter & Co.'s first year of kosher certification, our representative from the Orthodox Union contacted me with the official paperwork to symbolically "sell" our inventory just before Passover. Every year, I look forward to this email exchange and the subsequent follow-up call from our rabbi.
But this brings up an important question. Isn't peanut butter kosher for Passover? After all, I had been eating all of those Matzo PB&Js as a kid.
The answer is kind of tricky. The Torah prohibits eating chometz, or five specific grains during Passover: wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. There is a second class of foods, called kitenyot which includes corn, rice, peas, lentils, and peanuts.
Over time, Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe began to refrain from eating kitenyot during Passover. I've heard various reasons for this, most of which boil down to wanting to err on the side of caution when it came to cross-contamination. The sacks used to store kitenyot and chometz were often interchanged, and since they were generally stored in the same areas, it was thought that they could be easily mixed up.
Many brands of peanut butter are sweetened with corn syrup, so that means they have two kinds of kitenyot in them. Most brands of jam and jelly are sweetened with corn syrup as well.
Sephardic Jews from Spain and North Africa never really adopted the ban on kitenyot. Adding even more confusion to all of this is the fact that some Jews in America have distilled the laws of Passover into a single dietary restriction: no bread.
So.. Is It Kosher for Passover?
It really depends on what tradition you follow and how observant you are. One thing's for sure: whether you eat it during Passover or any other time of year, a Matzo PB&J is delicious, if not a slightly messy treat.
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.