Matzoh, the flat, unleavened bread eaten during the holiday of Passover, is one of the most distinctive Jewish foods. Made from nothing more than flour (typically wheat, but also barley, spelt, rye, or oat) and water, it represents the simple bread the Israelites took with them when they left slavery in Ancient Egypt.
When most people think of matzoh, they envision flat, square crackers dotted with fork prick-like perforations. They also tend to think, "boring." But there are actually many different varieties to choose from, including gluten-free, chocolate-covered, and even soft versions. Spice up this year's matzoh routine by stocking your cabinet with one or more of the following matzoh variations.
You might call square matzoh "the classic" — the one most people know and love (or at least tolerate). Today matzoh's shape is ubiquitous, but it is a surprisingly modern invention, dating back to the late-19th century when companies like Manischewitz started mass-producing matzoh in factories to supply the country's growing demand.
Like many industrially-made foods, the focus was on ease of preparation and packaging, and a uniform, square shape fit the bill perfectly. Food for thought the next time you spread a layer of cream cheese onto a square — and not a circle, triangle, or hexagon — of matzoh.
Ritually speaking, shmurah means "guarded" in Hebrew, and refers to matzoh made from grain kept under close supervision from the time it is harvested until it is ground, formed, and baked, to make sure no accidental fermentation occurs. Observant Jews tend to favor it over machine-made square matzoh, especially during the seders.
Shmurah matzah has a firmer snap than square matzah and is usually round in shape with blistered, irregular edges — the equivalent of wood-fired, thin-crust pizza compared to a standard slice.
Many Sephardic Jews (who hail from Spain and the Middle East) prefer their matzoh soft instead of crunchy. Like square or shmurah matzoh, it is made with just flour and water, but gets rolled out more thickly like a pita, so it retains its softness after baking.
Like whole wheat pasta or bread, whole wheat matzoh is identical to the refined white flour version, except that it is made with stone ground whole wheat flour. It tends to have a slightly toasty flavor and a rich brown color. And thanks to the whole grain, it packs a higher nutritional punch.
Over the last few years, a few brands of matzoh made from oat flour have hit the market, which means gluten free seder-goers no longer have to skip out on the matzoh course. They tend to be pricier and a bit drier and less flavorful than their wheat-based cousins. But for people allergic to wheat or with celiac disease, they can be a godsend.
Rye matzoh, which is made from a mix of wheat and rye flours, can be hard to find. And don't expect to bite into the crunchy equivalent of rich, malty rye bread! With no fermentation allowed, the flavor is significantly more muted. But for seder-goers looking for something different to break up their unleavened bread routine, it is worth tracking down a box or two.
Matzoh made from spelt flour tends to be light and airy with delicate flavor. It is not gluten-free, but is suitable for people who are allergic to wheat.
Delicatessens and diners have helped popularize an eggy breakfast dish called matzoh brei, which soaks crumbled matzoh in whisked egg, then fries it in butter, a la French toast. But egg matzoh actually refers to matzoh enriched with eggs or sometimes fruit juice, which makes the resulting cracker tender and flavorful. While technically considered kosher for Passover, many people avoid egg matzoh, particularly during the seder, because it strays from the pure flour and water formula.
Following the age-old wisdom that "everything tastes better dipped in chocolate," several companies have developed versions of milk or dark chocolate-coated square matzoh. While not necessarily ideal for the seder, it makes an indispensable treat throughout the rest of the holiday. You can also make your own, caramel-enriched version of the Passover confection, following Marcy Goldman's recipe.
What's your favorite sort of matzoh?
(Image credits: Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock; Tomer Turjeman; gilya/shutterstock)