[UPDATE BELOW] Several years ago, I was excoriated in the Forward for declaring once in a Gothamist post that matzah "is in fact disgusting." Apparently this assertion made me some kind of race traitor. But I spent many years being force-fed this nightmarish "food" until I discovered, at the ripe old age of 14, that neither I nor my grandmother would be immediately struck by lightning if I ate bread on Passover.
Sure, matzah is mandated by the Torah, but it is an incredibly poor substitute for bread. Bread is the most versatile food on the planet, and matzah is a tasteless slab of cardboard. One day of matzah doused in butter and salt is tolerable, but eight is unthinkable—plus, on Passover you can't eat any leavened food or legumes, so everything from pasta to ice cream with corn syrup in it is tossed out the window. Then burned for good measure.
So when I was presented with this "fancy" matzah from The Matzo Project, I was enticed. Co-founded in Brooklyn by former summer camp friends Ashley Albert and Kevin Rodriguez, the hip-branded matzahs come in regular sheet-form and in chip form, with flavors like Salted, Everything and Cinnamon Sugar. They promise to taste a lot better than that flavorless rubbish our ancestors were thoughtless enough to bestow upon us. "We wanted to make something that people wouldn't compare to cardboard," the box crows. "What we got was...SURPRISINGLY DELICIOUS MATZO."
I was skeptical, but the matzah is indeed surprisingly delicious. Unlike the stuff you buy from Streit, for instance, the Matzo Project's stuff doesn't need to be doused in butter and salt to even resemble food. It's more like a cracker—snappy and savory, and not too crumbly.
I wondered why no one had thought to make matzah taste good before. What skills did these wizards have to make this work?
Then I took a closer look at the box:
Something about this matzah is not quite right. pic.twitter.com/AUMZlIzIvR
— Rebecca Fishbein (@bfishbfish) April 5, 2017
Indeed, the reason this matzah doesn't taste like matzah is because it is NOT KOSHER FOR PASSOVER. It is NOT matzah. It is a cracker. An incredibly tasty cracker, but a cracker nonetheless. Upon further inspection, I found that this "matzah" was made with barley flour, rosemary extract and sunflower oil, all of which were verboten on Passover for Ashkenazic Jews until a bunch of rabbis made some tweaks last year and are still banned in my mother's home, which is what really counts. According to the Jerusalem Post, Ashkenazic Jews can't eat matzah made with liquids other than water, and so depending on how cool your rabbi is, you may or may not be allowed to serve the Matzo Project's wares at your seder.
The Matzo Project's matzah is still delicious, certainly. I ate two bags of Matzo Project "chips" and two slices of "matzo" just this morning. But it is also definitive proof that the marker of REAL matzah is not that it's unleavened or blessed by a rabbi —it's that it tastes like a UPS box, and no culinary innovation will change this.
You can find the Matzo Project's "matzo" in the cracker aisle at a number of local retailers.
[Editor's note: Shortly after finishing this matzah hot take, Rebecca was struck by lightning. She will be remembered fondly for her big scoops, spilling drinks on her computer, and dulcet laughter.]
Update 5:04 p.m.: We reached out to Albert and Rodriguez to find out a little more about why this delicious matzah wasn't Kosher for Passover, thus ruining my dream of a tolerable seder. Here's what we got:
We've deliberately chosen to not get the extra "kosher for Passover" certification for a whole bunch of (what we think are) good reasons.
1-We want our matzo to be a year-round cracker and NOT something that's just for ritual use.
2-We're making it for people who care more about it being unleavened than they do about it being "made official" by a certifying agency. For someone like me, the fact that it's "matzo" is all I care about on Passover. (The rest of the year, I just care about it being delicious!)
3-Most importantly, we find some of the requirements of certifying something as "K for P" counterintuitive to our mission of making this a year-round, all-inclusive cultural product. (Namely that it must be "untouched" by non-Jewish hands. How can we offer it to people from different backgrounds if we deem them unworthy to touch it??)
We're a small-batch company and we make our product with clean, simple ingredients in a completely Kosher bakery...which was a feat onto itself. Those for whom the "K for P" stamp is important have plenty of other options for the holiday...and they can eat ours the other 51 weeks of the year!
Albert also pointed out that the matzo flour is not technically barley flour but the same all-purpose flour other matzah companies use, though it may be enriched with some barley flour.