What Is Matzo?

What is matzo? Here's everything you need to know about this humble bread, which is most often served on the Jewish holiday of Passover.

As Passover approaches, you’ll see the shelves of your local stores lined with matzo. This bread is known by many names: matzo, matzah, matza. Whatever you call it, matzo is an essential part of celebrating Passover.

What Is Matzo?

Matzo is an unleavened bread made from flour and water. Speed is the name of the game if you’re whipping up a batch of homemade matzo. You have exactly 18 minutes from the moment you add water to flour to mix, roll out and bake the flatbread. After 18 minutes, dough begins to rise, making it unsuitable for eating during Passover.

What Does Matzo Taste Like?

Matzo has been described as a big cracker, and that’s exactly what it tastes like. Because matzo is an unleavened bread, there’s no rising that occurs. The result is a light cracker that takes on the flavor of whatever you’re putting on it. It also tends to be pretty dry, so it’s the perfect vessel for toppings like charoset, butter, jam, tuna salad or whatever you’re in the mood for.

When Is Matzo Served?

A modern Jewish American family celebrates Passover together. The Seder leader breaks the middle matzohalbergman/Getty Images

We spoke to Gloria Mezikofsky, a Taste of Home community member, who shared some background on what it means to celebrate Passover. “Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery under Pharaoh in the land of Egypt to the land of Israel; a new beginning,” she says.

According to the Torah, when the Egyptian pharaoh finally agreed to free the enslaved Jews, they had to leave—fast. With not much time to prepare for their journey, Moses’ people couldn’t afford to wait for dough to rise, and baked their bread unleavened.

Gloria adds, “Matzo is symbolic of their hurried exodus and a need to leave many treasured items behind. One staple item was flour.”

Today, Jews commemorate their ancestors’ flight to freedom by eating this same unleavened cracker-like flatbread. This is why Jews are forbidden to eat or keep chametz (leavened grain foods) in the home during Passover.

Different Types of Matzo

The most popular matzo is plain matzo. But there are almost as many types of matzos as there are types of bread! There are specialty matzos, like those made from whole wheat flour or spelt flour, and of course, gluten-free and organic matzos. There is round matzo, which has a beautiful and rustic look, and the classic square matzo. There is matzo with seasoning, such as everything bagel, garlic, egg or onion matzo.

And there’s a place for all of those matzos. For something like cream cheese and jam, you might want to stick to egg or plain matzo. But for other dishes, like matzo brei, any of the more savory flavors will do.

And while it seems a little odd, not all matzo is kosher for Passover. If you keep kosher, you’ll want to check for the kashrut symbol on the box. Since you’ll probably have some extras by the end of Passover, here are a few ways to use up your leftover matzo.

Products Made with Matzo

There are different types of matzo products you can pick up at the supermarket.

  • Matzo meal, or ground matzo, is used to make matzo balls for matzo ball soup. You’ll see it in plenty of other recipes, too, like Passover rolls or matzo meal pancakes. Some people include matzo meal in their latkes.
  • Matzo farfel is crumbled matzo. While matzo meal’s texture is similar to breadcrumbs, farfel is essentially a roughly crumbled cracker. It’s fantastic if you’re looking to make a crunchy topping, like for a kugel.
  • Matzo cake meal is even more finely ground than matzo meal. It’s used in baking.

What to Make with Matzo

Chocolate Covered MatzoTMB Studio

Although matzo is a must for any Passover seder menu, you can eat it all year round. There’s a reason my grandma always kept a box tucked away in a cupboard—it’s a handy ingredient to add to a variety of dishes. You can use store-bought matzo to make pizzas, top it with cream cheese in lieu of your morning bagel and even make sweets like matzo toffee.

Matzo meal works as a substitute for breadcrumbs in falafel, fried chicken or fish cakes. You can get creative and use matzo crackers to make nachos or farfel to whip up your favorite stuffing recipe. It’s sure to be a hit!

Passover Recipes to Pair with Your Matzo
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Risa Lichtman
Risa Lichtman is a chef and writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the owner/chef of Lepage Food & Drinks, a small food company featuring Jewish seasonal foods, providing takeaway all around Portland. She has previously published poems in Poetica Magazine, the anthology The Art of Bicycling, Maggid: A Journal of Jewish Literature, and The Dos Passos Review. She lives with her wife Jamie, their dog Isaac, and their cat Sylvia. Follow her at @risaexpizza, or find her delicious food offerings on @lepagefoodanddrinks.