Every year at Passover the great debate rages: to eat kitniyot or not. Kitniyot are a classification of food that Jews of Ashkenazi descent (European) do not eat and Sephardic Jews (Mediterranean) do eat them. For example, Ashkenazi Jews would not eat rice on Passover and yet, Jews from Morroco, Spain, or Turkey would absolutely eat rice on Passover. Some Jews won’t eat corn or corn products like corn syrup (which is ubiquitously in almost everything processed here in the U.S.). Corn of course can be turned into corn meal.
Kitniyot is a classification of foods that includes grains and legumes such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Some forbid not only the grains and legumes but also any products derived from them such as peanut oil or sesame oil! The prohibition in the Torah for Passover forbids the eating of Chametz which comes from 5 different grains only: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye.
A custom grew in the South of France in the 13th century to include a larger and larger group of grains as kitniyot. Because people might get confused about what was permissible and what was not! Prohibiting kitniyot was a way to make sure that no one violated the rule of possessing chametz. The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim 453, defines kitniyot as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chsmetz grains, yet are not halachically considered in the same category as chametz.
The Conservative Movement of Judaism several years ago felt that so many people were worrying about whether or not a product had kitniyot in it or something derivative of kitniyot that they did away with the category permitting kitniyot because people were losing sight of the holiday by being enslaved with the food prohibitions. The point of Passover is to celebrate freedom!
I know when I lived in Israel for a year, Passover in 198,3 I attended a seder of distant relatives. All were vegetarian and had been born in Israel. Needless to say I was shocked to have been served rice because growing up I know we were not allowed to eat it. I learned from that experience about kitniyot and the differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish traditions.
So as Passover approaches you too will have to answer the big debate—kitniyot? Yes or No on Passover?
In either case, I wish you and yours a joyful, sweet and kosher Passover!