They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. If the majority of Jewish holidays had a single tag line, that’s what it would be, and Passover is no different.
On Passover Jewish people around the world re-tell the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. When the Jews fled from Pharaoh in order to escape slavery, they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise so they ate unleavened bread. During the holiday, which begins on April 18, many Jews take up wheat-free and yeast-free diets to commemorate the exodus. Passover represents more than half of annual Kosher food sales worldwide, according to Kedem, a New Jersey-based Kosher food manufacturer.
Each year, the Kosher food industry releases new products in time for the Kosher-for-Passover food rush, and this year there’s a proliferation of gluten-free and organic items.
“It’s a segment within a segment,” says Roy Wolf, vice president of Matzot Aviv, a matzah manufacturer based in Israel.
Matzot Aviv first started making organic matzah in 1997, but Wolf says the timing was premature. They sold these organic matzot in a few small shops in the United States and in Israel, but stopped because of a lack of demand. A few years ago the company successfully brought its organic matzah back. In time for this year’s Passover season, the company has launched a new line of organic matzah products including matzah farfel, matzah meal and cake meal.
Creating organic matzah costs more and takes more time, Wolf says. The USDA must inspect the product during several stages of production. But, Wolf says it’s worth it, and the demand for organic Kosher-for-Passover products increases every year.
Wolf says Matzot Aviv considered creating gluten-free matzot, but the rabbi who certifies the company’s food told him gluten-free matzah cannot be defined as matzah. “Matzah, by definition, must be made out of different kinds of wheat,” Wolf says. “There’s no such thing as gluten-free matzah.” There can be gluten-free Kosher products, and even gluten-free Kosher-for-Passover products, but none of it can be called matzah.
Still, the Passover food industry is tapping into the gluten-free food market, which is set to grow by $1.2 billion throughout the next five years, according to research by Datamonitor.
Kedem has launched a new line of gluten-free Passover foods including cake, cookie and frosting mixes in addition to a line of cereals. Yehuda Matzah, the biggest matzah producer in Israel, which distributes matzot to 30 countries world-wide is producing a gluten-free matzah this year. “We feel there’s a market of people with celiac disease who need it,” says Yehuda Export Manager Michael Kandel, even though he’s quick to point out that gluten-free matzah should not be used during the seder, the ritual Passover meal. Truly kosher-for-Passover matzah must include flour, which people with gluten-free diets cannot eat.
Nicole Smith, a 27-year-old who lives in the Northern Chicago suburb of Glencoe, Ill., discovered her wheat allergy about six years ago. She says avoiding matzah during Passover isn’t that difficult. The challenge lies in avoiding traditional foods like matzah ball soup and kugel. It’s like telling your family you’re on a diet during Thanksgiving.
“When you say you can’t eat gluten because it makes you sick, they don’t understand and they get offended,” Smith says. “They don’t understand when you don’t want to eat the kugel.”
This post is part of an ongoing partnership between Civil Eats and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course on food reporting. Over the next several months we will regularly feature stories from students in the class.