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Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Matzah

March 29, 2015 | by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Did you know, the TSA has special regulations for security checks on passengers carrying handmade matzah?

It’s Passover, and that means Matzah … never mind 1000 jokes about what to do with the leftovers. On the topic of matzah, historically we started with dough, until Pharaoh, after much tsouris in the form of plagues, let our people go. Now, We Jewish slaves were way too smart to trust this guy, and thought “Let’s get the heck out of here.” The point being, with the Egyptians after us, who had time to wait for the bread to rise? So instead our “bread” on the run was an unleavened mixture of flour and water that turns hard and flat when baked and is still consumed by Jews across the world thousands of years later.

At the White House Seder, the Secret Service hides the afikoman.

So, in honor of the great Matzah, here are...

Eight Things You Didn’t Know About Matzah:

1. Israelis Keep A Sharp Eye: As we know, matzah dough must go from mixing to baking in under 18 minutes or the matzah is deemed not kosher. These laws are taken very seriously around the world, including in Israel. According to the Times of Israel, approximately 950 establishments will be under the Chief Rabbinate’s kosher certification for Passover in the “secular” city of Tel Aviv! Chef Noam Dekkers of Liliyot in Tel Aviv calls the process of changing over for Passover “logistical mayhem” but other chefs, such as Pastry chef Avi Melamedsonm who makes yogurt mousse, poppy cake and a flourless chocolate fudge on the holiday, calls the restrictions liberating. I guess it depends if you are a person who sees the cup of Elijah half full or half empty.

2. Only God and The Secret Service: Since 2008, when during the Obama campaign aides created their own makeshift Seder, the White House has had one. The tradition has continued, albeit with some innovations. For example, The Emancipation Proclamation is read; the Secret Service is in on the hiding of the afikomen, and finally, at Seder’s end, after raising a glass and saying “Next year in Jerusalem,” a new custom emerged, adding “Next year in the White House.” Obviously this Seder went on too long.

3. Brother & Bother: When in 1838, a matzah-dough-rolling machine that would make mass production possible was invented by Frenchman, Isaac Singer, this “new change” started an internal holy war! As late as the 1950s, some rabbis were vehemently opposed to machine-made matzah (matzahs were round and traditionally made by hand). Some of the debate focused on economics. While hand-made matzah meant jobs for the poor, machine made matzah was more affordable for the poor. Opinions rolled in, and machine made matzahs gained acceptable but interestingly, recently, handmade matzah has actually experienced an impressive resurgence. Just like the Passover seder itself, the debate continues.

4. The Shape Is The Thing? In 1912, Manischewitz, as technology and packaging grew, started making square matzahs where prior, all were round.

5. Where in the World? As matzah gained a rep, Edward Carlin of the Department of Industrial Exhibits sent a letter to Fredrick Margareten (Horowitz Brothers & Margareten’s) inviting them to exhibit a model of their bakery at the 1938 World’s Fair. Their response? Not great, and as a result, the World’s Fair went matzah-less.

6. The Great Matzah Showdown: In 2013, decided to have a matzah showdown among three National brands: Manischewitz (made in New Jersey) vs. Yehuda (from Jerusalem, Israel) vs. Streit's (Manhattan’s Lower East Side). The first criteria? Taste. This begs the question: does matzah actually have a taste or is it just a scooper for charoset? It does. The best had a hint of sweetness from the wheat along with a smokiness and char. The three were judged during a blind taste test using only plain matzah for Pesach. The second criteria was Texture. Judges were looking for crisp and dry, but not too dry. The third aspect, which was not a true criteria, was Price.

To their surprise, the judges found marked variations among the three. Likening both flavor and texture to the crust of good bread that was both light and crispy … the least expensive, reported J. Kenji López-Alt, Managing Culinary Director, Yehuda, from Israel, was crowned the winner! However, matzah is a personal experience, and there are definitely fans of both Streit’s, which the judges found paler and blander, and Manischewitz, the most expensive, that many grew up with, which was the thickest and most uniform.

7. The Flying Matzah: In 2014, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told Jewish travelers: they’ll take care of our Passover matzah! The TSA offered ways to safeguard our precious bread that included sensitive pat-downs on inspection. As matzah is of course brittle and easily breakable, instead of putting our boxes in the plastic containers that slide through a scanner, Jews can opt for a more gentle screening of the holiday food. Their website on the matters says the following: ““Passengers traveling with religious items, including handmade matzah, may request a hand inspection by the TSO [transportation security officer] of the items at the security checkpoint. Some travelers will be carrying boxes of matzah, which are consumed as part of the Passover ritual. Matzah can be machine or handmade and are typically very thin and fragile, and break easily.”


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