What Is Matzo?

What is matzo? As a Jewish person, I get asked this so much that they might as well replace one of the Four Questions with this one and call it a night. But hey, it’s cool of people to want to know, so if that’s you, you cool person you, read on and learn something new about the giant, historical, unsalted cracker that is matzo!

What is the origin story of matzo? 

Matzo (pronounced maht-zuh, and sometimes spelled matzah or matzoh) is quite simply an unleavened bread that is eaten pretty much exclusively during Passover, a Jewish holiday in the spring. Why do we eat matzo at Passover? Why are those nights different from all other nights? Well the origin story goes that when the Jews were escaping slavery in Egypt, they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise, so they made unleavened bread to take into the desert where they wandered for 40 days and 40 nights. Now, in order to remember that event, Jews eat Matzo on Passover (among a bunch of other very specific foods) to remind ourselves of that aforementioned unleavened bread back in Egypt. But I have a few questions. Namely, if naan and pita are also unleavened bread (in that they don’t have yeast), how come matzo is like a less-salty, slightly burnt water cracker and not a delicious bready pita? That has always been a mystery to me and I’m clearly not salty about it at all.

But anyways, another part of Passover is not being allowed to eat any grains that could ferment and become leavened. In fact, even matzo must be kneaded, rolled, and baked within a span of 18 minutes or it will begin to rise and will no longer be considered matzo. These five forbidden grains are wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. But here’s the thing: You can have wheat as long, as it is baked into matzo. You can also then grind the finished matzo up into a flour and use that (called matzo meal) to bake desserts or make matzo balls for soup, which is popular outside the Passover season. You can also buy premade matzo meal. It’s all pretty fascinating (and fairly pedantic), but certainly more fascinating than anything else.

What can I use matzo or matzo meal for?

Seeing as every Jewish person is forced to eat this stuff for eight days every year, there are QUITE a few recipes out there using various matzo components: there’s matzo tiramisu, there’s matzo ball soup, there’s chocolate log cake, there’s breaded chicken (but the breading is matzo), matzo brei (scrambled eggs with matzo), matzo chilaquiles (someone actually did this), chocolate-covered matzo, and so much more. Literally, anything you could make with plain crackers you could make with matzo—you just have to be creative!

If you’ve never tried matzo, it is definitely worth trying at least once, but I suggest not trying it plain and instead having it with cream cheese or salted butter. On Passover, it is eaten with charoset (a ground-up mix of fruits, nuts, and wine) which symbolizes the mortar the Jews used to build things as slaves, and I know that sounds pretty dark, and it very much is, but y’all, charoset is good. Definitely try it if you get the chance. And if you do try matzo, whether you try Yehuda, Streit’s, or Manischewitz, let me know what you think!

Fun Fact: Every year on Passover a piece of mato called the afikomen gets hidden somewhere in the house and then all the kids try to find it and the winner gets some money (usually, like, a single dollar). Our family friend used to hide it in his tucked-in shirt—genius. We never found it, I only heard about the hiding spot after the fact. I bet it’s still in his shirt to this day.

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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