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What is Matzo?
Matzo, which is pronounced maẓẓah is a type of unleavened bread that is traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the Passover holiday as well as year round. Matzo can take the shape of a whole pita type flat bread or resemble a large cracker that can be broken up and cooked in various ways, using recipes that have been passed down through generations. Matzo is a type of bread which signifies Jewish heritage, tradition and freedom.
The story behind matzo, that is told to Jewish children during Passover, begins with the hasty exodus of the Israelites (Jewish People) from Egypt. In their hurry to escape enslavement from the Egyptian Pharaoh, the Israelites were forced to bake their bread without having enough time to let it rise; the result was unleavened bread which came to be called matzo. This bread is eaten as part of the Passover meal, which is called a Seder, as well as throughout the week of Passover. This tradition is in accordance with the Torah, the book of Jewish teachings and guidance, in which it states:
You are not to eat any hametz [bread]…for seven days you are to eat with it matzoh, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste. Thus you will remember the day you left the land of Egypt as long as you live.
Besides being a symbol used to commemorate the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, matzo also reminds the Jewish people to be humble and is considered lechem oni, or "poor man's bread." The bread offers a lesson in humility as well as reminding the Jewish people to appreciate their freedom from enslavement under the Pharaoh.
When is it required to eat Matzo?
Jewish people are obligated to eat Matzo during the Passover Seder meal but during the rest of the Passover week, consumption is optional.
Removing all traces of Bread from the Home
In preparation for the week of Passover all bread (hametz) is removed from the home and matzo is used in its place. In an effort to remove any traces of bread, the house undergoes a thorough cleaning and everyday dishes are stored away while special Passover dishes are used in their place.
Time to make the Matzo
Traditional matzo is made with only flour and water, once the water makes contact with the flour, according to the Torah, the baking process must be completed within 18 minutes. The matzo is baked in a very hot oven. This 18 minute time frame is followed to ensure that no fermentation takes place before it is baked. If fermentation takes place then according to the Torah, it would no longer be considered matzo.
The five acceptable flours that may be used to make matzo include wheat, oat, barley, rye and spelt. The flour that is used to make matzo must at least have the potential to rise.
How Matzo is Made in Israel
Types of Matzo
- Shemurah Matzo is a type of matzo where the wheat is watched from harvest to baking to ensure that no fermentation has taken place. This type of matzo can be handmade or machine made.
- Machine made Matzo is mass produced and sold at supermarkets primarily by two leading companies Manishevitz and Strietz. This type of matzo is only “watched” from the time of grinding.
- Enriched Matzo, including anything other than flour and water, is not considered true Passover matzo by many, but may be acceptable for the elderly, infirm or young children who cannot digest plain matzoh. Some Passover observers who are less strict may also choose to eat enriched matzo during the week of Passover.
- Matzo that is not Kosher* for Passover can be eaten at other times of the year. This type of matzo is made without following the same guidelines used to make matzo that is kosher for Passover.
*The term Kosher means: satisfying the requirements of Jewish law.
Some Varieties of Matzo Include:
- Mediterranean Flavored
- Organic Spelt
- Organic Matzo
- Thin Unsalted Matzo
- Thin Tea Matzo
- Whole Wheat Matzo
- Egg & Onion Matzo
- Everything Matzo
- Egg Matzo
- Yolk Free Egg Matzo
- Chocolate Covered Matzo
Ashkenazi Jews tend to eat a larger cracker like matzo while Sephardic Jews eat a soft pita type matzo.
Matzo Eaten in Place of Bread
During the week of Passover, matzo is eaten in place of bread, such as with butter, cream cheese or to make a sandwich.
Using Matzo in a Recipe
While there are many recipes, such as matzo balls and matzo brie, that use matzo as a ingredient some Ashkenazim, primarily Hasidim, do not cook with matzo, since they believe that mixing it with water may allow leavening. When liquid touches matzo it is called "Gebrochts." Non-gebrochts recipes may substitute potato starch for matzo meal.
Recipes Using Matzo
Matzo is ground down into meal; matzo meal can be purchased, and then made into dumplings which are traditionally served in a chicken broth.
Sheets of matzo are broken into pieces and softened with hot water; the softened pieces are mixed with egg and heated in a sauté pan. Matzo brie is often served with a topping of apple sauce.
Matzo meal pancakes are made from fried matzo meal, egg, and milk.
Forms of the Word
Because of the transliteration of the word Matzo מַצָּה, from Hebrew, there are a variety of spellings including matzah, matso, motsa, motso, maẓẓo, matza, matzho, matzoh, mazzah, motza, and mozza.
Jesus and Matzo
Some Christians believe that communion wafers are based on matzah since it was the bread that Jesus used during the Last Super which some experts believe was a Passover Seder.