For weeks before Passover, observant Jews will clean out their kitchens, looking for hamatz (not permitted on Passover), kitchens will be changed over to be made usable for Passover. There will be a flood of shopping at stores that set up special Passover sections. Even Costco set up its Passover section weeks ago. Holiday cooking begins for the Seders. A transformation occurs as we prepare to move into Passover eating mode.
For Sephardic Jews, the rules are different. Except for Moroccan Jews, Sephardim are permitted to eat rice, beans, corn and derivative products. This is a game changer, meaning Sephardim can use many regular items off our grocery shelves during Passover. As I write this column, I advise checking with your rabbi on foods you have questions about as there may be exceptions I am not aware of.
Rice was a staple for Middle East Sephardim and permitted on Passover. It was not for Moroccan Sephardim and they are not permitted to eat rice, bean and corn products.
In the week before Passover, the women in my family always checked the rice by laying out a white pillowcase on the table. They would pour out the rice and carefully inspect it for wheat. Wheat is often grown in the same fields as rice, so there was the belief that you might find grains of wheat in the rice. The inspection removed the wheat or any suspicion. Today most rice is commercially grown and the rabbis I consult with say the inspection is no longer necessary. I still do it; some habits are hard to break!
Sephardim are permitted to use many off the shelf products that have corn and bean product derivatives listed as ingredients. For example, we can use Heinz Mayonnaise, but it has to be a new jar. The new jar is necessary because using a jar from during the year will be hamatz from the flatware used in the jar. The same is true of most products used during the year. If using the same brand and item, open a new package for Passover to avoid any contact with hamatz.
Off the shelf cereal like many ice cream products or cereals like Corn Chex, Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles are all fine to have in the house and serve on Passover. Vegetable and corn oil, sesame oil and rice vinegar are kosher for Sephardim (excluding Moroccan Sephardim).
Passover kashrut guidelines for Sephardic Jews are not lax, but they are less restrictive. Sephardim still do not eat bread or pasta and the cereals we are permitted are very limited. For example, Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes are not permitted. Rice Chex is not permitted because of the malt.
Our rabbis carefully examine products and ingredients and each year there are changes to the Kashrut Guidelines and lists circulated with the brand and names of acceptable products.