For diabetics who keep kosher, or for those who take a stab at it during Passover, this coming week can turn a comfortable routine of carb-counting topsy-turvy. During Passover, observant Jews are forbidden to eat anything containing wheat, barely, spelt, rye, or oats. This means that the carb-containing staples of most everyday diets–bread, noodles, cereal–are out. The one exception to this rule is unleavened bread, matzah. And at the Seder, the ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover, observant Jews are required to eat matzah.
This can create difficulties for diabetics. Since matzah is eaten only one week out of fifty-two, most of us aren’t used to predicting its effect on blood sugar. Matzah, formed in a thin sheet, is cracker-like so it’s easy to think that it would have a lower carbohydrate content than bread. But it’s important to remember what matzah is by definition: unleavened bread. Although it hasn’t risen to bread’s fluffy proportions, matazh contains the same basic ingredients. And because the average piece of matzah has a significantly larger diameter than the average slice of bread, it also contains more carbohydrates. A typical piece of matzah has 23 grams of carbs–the same if not more than in a slice of bread.
Standing in the kosher aisle of my local supermarket, I was confronted by more varieties of matzah than I (as a person who has attended a total of three Seders in my life) knew existed. Five Grain, Salt and Pepper, Egg and Onion, Tea, Whole Wheat, Mediterranean, Everything, Lightly Salted, Unsalted, Salted. Clearly, matzah has come a long way since its first impromptu creation on the backs of fleeing Israelites. But which brands have the least amount of carbs? Which varieties are the healthiest? And of course, which taste the best? Here are some to try:
Israeli Matzah, made by Osem. One piece, weighing 32 grams, contains 25 grams of carbohydrates. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Israeli about this matzah, which consists solely of wheat flour and water–unless you count the package’s pen-and-ink illustration by “two very talented Israeli artists” featuring Israelites wandering through a land of sand, palm trees, and pyramids. While the nebulous taste of Israel eluded me, the matzah itself is good, standard fare, with a satisfying crunch. And the packaging is definitely aesthetically pleasing.
Whole Wheat Matzos, made by Manischewitz. One piece, weighing 28 grams, contains 23 grams of carbohydrates. This matzah has a denser, firmer texture than the Israeli matzah, and is slightly bitter in taste. A major caveat: the edges of the matzah were burned. This might have just been a problem with the batch I had, but if you’re intent on getting whole wheat flavor, it might be best to try a different brand.
Israeli Matzah: Rye, made by Osem. One piece, weighing 30 grams, contains 19.5 grams of carbohydrates. In taste, texture, and appearance this matzah is almost identical to Manischewitz’s whole wheat flavor (and in fact, as it contains a greater percentage of wheat than rye). It lacks the burned edges, though, and with fewer carbs than the whole wheat variety, it’s the clear winner of the two.
Spelt Matzo, made by Streit’s. One piece, weighing 28 grams, contains 23 grams of carbohydrates. Spelt is a species of wheat, and the taste of this spelt matzah isn’t discernibly different from the common wheat variety. But because spelt is higher in protein and B complex vitamins, it’s a more nutritious option.
Egg Matzohs, made by Horowitz Margareten. One piece, weighing 34 grams, contains 28 grams of grams of carbohydrates. This is the lightest and fluffiest matzah of the bunch, and has a distinctly eggy taste. It’s also sweeter than most matzah, which explains its high carb count. I found this matzah delicious, but be warned: according to Ashkenazi tradition, only children, elderly and infirm people are allowed to eat it.
Organic, made by Yehuda Matzos. One piece, weighing 30 grams, contains 23 carbohydrates. This matzah isn’t just organic; it has the “healthy” taste of whole grains and is flecked with brown wheat. Its appearance and rough and bumpy texture give it a homemade feeling.
Dazzled by varieties of matzah available in the supermarket, I first piled my shopping basket high with the most exotic flavors I could find. Then I noticed the fine print on the lower corner of most of the packages: Not For Passover. Back on the shelf they all went…expect these two, which I couldn’t resist. If you need your matzah fix after Passover has ended, or if you aren’t too stringent about keeping kosher in the first place, you might want to give them a try. Not only do they taste good, but also they’re relatively low in carbs.
Mediterranean Matzos, made by Streit’s. One piece, weighing 28 grams, contains 18 grams of carbohydrates. I was hooked by the list of ingredients: sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil. The prominent taste, though, is that of salt. Not that the matzah is too salty. And while the hints of tomato and basil are less dominant, they’re still in evidence. An added bonus: of the different varieties reviewed, this matzah has least amount of carbs per piece.
The Everything! Matzos, made by Manischewiz. One piece, weighing 28 grams, contains 22 grams of carbohydrates. The exclamation point is a bold statement, but the matzah lives up to its name. Like the everything bagel, it’s got it all–poppy, salt, onion, and garlic.