What's Not to Like

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Paul Ward has been eating matzo religiously for 25 years. Even though he's not Jewish.

"It's a seasonal snack food I really like," says Ward, 44, the owner of a Northwest Washington gardening business. "Kind of like eggnog at Christmas. I get whatever brand's on sale." He crumbles the unleavened bread of Passover into soup and swaps it for the tortillas that might otherwise accompany his black beans and onions. Since he also keeps matzo in his truck to supplement the lunches of his crew, Ward goes through "way more than five boxes in a few weeks' time."

Flour, water, a method of perforating the dough and a maximum prep time of 18 minutes are what's required to make matzo. "The bread of affliction" plays a central role in the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews' freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt and begins just after sundown April 12.

Americans consumed 8.2 million pounds of matzo in the 12 months ending in February, according to David Rossi, vice president of marketing for the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns the Manischewitz brand. And though the flavor and texture of plain matzo has been likened to cardboard, Rossi has survey data that show plenty of people, like Ward, eat matzo just because they like it: Among 1,000 respondents in a 2004 independent online poll who identified themselves as "non-Jewish," 24 percent had purchased a Manischewitz product. Matzo was at the top of the list.

"It's a flavor carrier, and it's good plain," Rossi says. Manischewitz's unsalted matzo is its most popular flavor during Passover, but the company's egg-and-onion variety is its best-seller overall. Manischewitz sells the most matzo in the United States, followed by Streit's, but Israeli-made brands have flooded the market over the past decade. They account for 33 percent of Passover sales, Rossi says. This year, 19 brands are available.

Ward may be typical of the matzo consumers who seek only the basic commodity, which is on the shelves year-round in the kosher section of larger grocery stores. "It's cheap and filling," he says. "The way it's marketed in the stores, why wouldn't you buy it? Try some Jewish. It's right up there with any other ethnic food."

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