Ingredient Intelligence

Everything You Need to Know About Matzo

updated Feb 9, 2023
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matza on a sheet pan
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Most people have heard of matzo ball soup or seen it on a deli menu, but have you tried the product that makes up those pillowy, schmaltzy dumplings? You might notice boxes of matzo popping up on the shelves of your local grocery store around spring. This because the eight-day (seven days in Israel) spring festival of Passover takes place around this time.

Matzo plays an integral part of the week of Passover, with deep religious symbolism that connects the eater with loved ones, past and present. But many people don’t know what matzo really is or why it’s eaten. Here’s a quick introduction to the star of the Seder! 

What is Matzo and What Is It Made Of?

Matzo (also sometimes spelled matzah or matza) is an unleavened bread made from flour and water. It’s crunchy, very mildly flavored, and resembles a giant water cracker. The matzo we see in America is of the Ashkenazic tradition. Sephardic matzo is softer and thicker.

After the ingredients are mixed together, no more than 18 minutes can pass before the dough is formed and baked. If the dough sits any longer, the matzo is not considered kosher for Passover.

You may see flavored matzo, such as onion and everything bagel, at the market, but they aren’t appropriate for Passover. The Torah specifies that only matzo consisting of wheat, barley, oat, rye, or spelt flour and water should be used at a Seder, the ceremonial meal held at the beginning of Passover.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

What Does Matzo Symbolize?

Matzo is eaten to commemorate the end of Jewish people’s enslavement and their subsequent exit from Egypt. The “bread of affliction” is a reminder of the haste in which the Jewish people left. Customarily, all of the chametz (HA-mets), or fermented or leavened grains, in the house must be removed for Passover, so matzo is eaten instead of leavened bread.

Passover requires strict diet modifications for all foods, from packaged snacks and condiments to cooking oils. What is and what isn’t considered kosher for Passover depends on regional and familial food traditions.

Is Matzo Gluten-Free?

Because it’s typically made from wheat flour, matzo is not gluten-free, but gluten-free matzo, which is made from tapioca or potato starch, does exist! Gluten-free matzo tend to be sold as matzo-style squares, which may be kosher for Passover, but they shouldn’t be swapped for traditional matzo at the Seder.

What Does Matzo Taste Like?

It depends on who you ask. Some people really like it, and others find it a little dry! I personally think matzo has a pleasant earthy taste. With several different brands at the market, you can taste a few to see which you prefer. Matzo is sold salted and unsalted and is eaten year-round. When shopping for matzo for Passover, look for boxes that are marked “Kosher for Passover.” This means that the matzo was made under Rabbinic supervision, ensuring the absence of any leavening agents.

What Is Matzo Used For?

Because matzo itself doesn’t contain any flavoring, it’s a versatile ingredient that can be used in a lot of kosher for Passover recipes. You can also buy it ground into a meal, which is great for making cakes, like my personal favorite coffee cake, and other sweet treats.

My extended family looks forward to this time of year for one reason: matzo brie (pronounced Maht-ZUH BRY), a delicious cross between an egg scramble and French toast. In this breakfast treat, broken pieces of matzo are soaked with water (or milk) and egg and then cooked in a hot skillet. You can also make matzagna (aka matzo lasagna), where sheets of matzo replace noodles. Experimenting with matzo in the kitchen is a great way to make memories with a fun, family-friendly food project.