A Solution in Sight For The Matzah Sensitive

27 Adar 5772

March 21, 2012

spelt-matzah-11Flight LY028 landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in the early morning and while most passengers were anxious to get some sleep, this was not the case with Rav Shmuel Meir Katz. Rav Katz had just flown in from Lakewood, NJ to supervise the baking of three different grains of machine matzah. At 10AM the first pouring of gluten-free oat flour was scheduled to take place. Numerous Rabbonim, mashgichim and a member of the US GFCO (Gluten-Free Certification Organization) were anxiously awaiting the Rov’s arrival. The next few days were tiresome indeed; baking spelt, whole wheat and gluten-free oats but Rav Katz’s dedication on behalf of those who are wheat sensitive or celiac knew no bounds.

Why are so many individuals relying on these special matzah runs? Is it Celiac disease? Gluten intolerance? Wheat sensitive? Or maybe just those prone to constipation?

In this article we will discuss the matzah alternatives according to their halachic preference. Wheat matzah for the seder night always has preference over other grains for those who can handle wheat and so we will begin with the advantages of whole wheat matzah and then carry on to spelt and gluten-free oat matzah.

Whole Wheat Matzah

Today we know that whole grains will decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. Whole wheat matzah is a very good source of fiber and manganese and a valuable source of magnesium. Researchers have found that foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones. An international study on allergy and asthma in childhood has found that increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%. While all this is valuable information for whole grains throughout the year, for Pesach many will turn to whole wheat matzah as a solution to constipation and aid of the digestive system.

Many have a misconception that all matzah is whole wheat. Regular matzah is made from refined grain, which means that the bran and the germ is removed, leaving only the starch and a little protein. Even without bleaching the flour, the flour is refined. Refined grain can then be further ruined by bleaching it to make it look whiter. Regular machine matzah that is sold on the market is made from refined unbleached flour. Most hand wheat matzah is made from 30%-80% whole wheat. 100% whole wheat matzah is made from unrefined grain, which means, most of the whole kernel is ground up, without removing anything except the inedible husk, thereby allowing all the qualities to be gained from the whole wheat.

Spelt Matzah

Many people who suffer allergic reactions after eating wheat do not react to spelt.  Spelt has high water solubility; therefore, nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body, making it easy to digest. Spelt features a host of different nutrients. It is an excellent source of manganese, and a good source of protein, copper, and zinc. It is high in protein (significantly higher than wheat), higher in B complex vitamins, and spelt is high in both simple and complex carbohydrates. These complex carbohydrates are an important factor in blood clotting and stimulating the body’s immune system. Spelt is a superb fiber resource. Its nutrients contribute to lower risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease, type 2 diabetes, and can lessen occurrences of migraine headaches and help women avoid gallstones and some cancers. Unlike other grains, spelt’s husk protects it from pollutants and insects which allow growers to avoid using pesticides, thereby keeping the spelt grains organic.

Over decades, modern wheat has been drastically changed to be easier to grow and harvest. This in turn creates high gluten content in the wheat to produce high-volume commercial baked goods. On the other hand, spelt has preserved many of its original traits and continues to remain highly nutritious and full of flavor.

As far as the gluten is concerned, spelt has less glutamic acid / glutamine than normal wheat. Spelt has less of the proteins whose breakdown products cause celiac disease, compared to normal wheat, but these levels are still sufficiently significant to pose a problem for those with confirmed celiac disease. For those who have signs of wheat intolerance and are not diagnosed with Celiac disease, Spelt matzah may be an excellent choice for Pesach.

The fiber in spelt can also help to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. The presence of fiber also contributes to the cholesterol-lowering potential of spelt.

For those who are not wheat sensitive but find the wheat matzah affecting their digestive system, spelt matzah is a good tasting solution to this yearly challenge. Those looking for a high kashrus standard for their spelt matzah, have had a wonderful opportunity, in recent years, of shmurah matzah available as hand matzah and machine matzah.

Gluten-Free Oat Matzah

While oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, resulting in slower digestion and an extended sensation of fullness, gluten-free oat matzah is not eaten by individuals for this reason alone. Oats by nature contain bitter enzymes, which are normally extracted by the use of steam. For a Pesach production this is not an option, because it would cause the matzah to become chometz, so gluten-free oat matzahs often have a slight bitter aftertaste. For the purpose of this article we will focus on the advantage of oat matzah for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease as opposed to those who are wheat sensitive.

The idea of producing gluten-free oat matzos was first conceived over twenty years ago by Rabbi Efraim Kestenbaum. Rabbi Kestenbaum’s concern for those with celiac disease knew no bounds and as a result of his tireless efforts, thousands of individuals worldwide are able to eat matzos that satisfy the requirement of their strict diet. In recent years, the Lakewood Matzah Bakery, known for their high kashrus standard of spelt and wheat matzos, have joined the plight of the gluten-free, adding gluten-free matzos to their list of fine production.

Gluten sensitivity is thought to affect approximately 6% of the general population. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include bloating, abdominal discomfort, pain or diarrhea; or it may present with a variety of symptoms including headaches and migraines, lethargy and tiredness, attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity, autism and schizophrenia, muscular disturbances as well as bone and joint pain.

Recent research indicates that a difference exists between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. If clinical tests rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy for an individual, a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity can be considered.  The treatment for any of these conditions is a gluten-free diet. In the case of celiac disease, the diet is life-long and even ingesting very small amounts of gluten-containing food could damage one’s health, whereas in the case of gluten sensitivity the withdrawal of gluten from the diet may only be temporary.

Gluten sensitivity can develop at any point in life, and symptomatic disease may appear years after disease develops.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough helping it to rise and to keep its shape. For this reason, making matzah out of gluten-free flour is extremely complex. In all runs of machine-made gluten-free oat matzah, a large percentage of the dough goes to waste during the difficult production. The lower the level of gluten is in the dough, the more complex the production is, thus causing a rise in costs and intricate kashrus supervision.

Why can’t other grains be gluten-free? With the exception of oats, all grains naturally contain gluten.

Gluten-free oats are grown differently because there is evidently a common cross-contamination problem with oats grown and prepared in the traditional way. When they were tested, most commercially prepared regular oats had unacceptable amounts of gluten. Gluten is measured in ppm, parts per million. Mainstream oat products due to contamination contain numbers of up to 920 ppm.

The acceptable standard by the FDA for being considered gluten-free is 20 ppm.

There are now three companies in North America that grow and produce oats in very strict procedures to eliminate the gluten problem. Producing matzah from grains grown in any of these farms do not ensure that the matzah is below the required FDA level. Contamination of the oats can occur at various stages of matzah production. Contamination can occur before harvesting, during the milling process and in the matzah bakery itself. To ensure minimal levels of gluten it does not suffice to use gluten-free flour; contamination must be prevented until the final product is packaged. In some matzah companies, the

Gluten Free certification organization (GF) tests the gluten level at three intervals of production.

So for those who follow a specific grain diet throughout the year, you can probably find that specific grain for Pesach as well. For those suffering specifically on Pesach with issues such as constipation, you may want to try a more appropriate grain or at least whole wheat!

Organic whole wheat, organic spelt, and gluten-free oat shmura matzah can be purchased in most health food stores worldwide.

They can additionally be be ordered directly from the Lakewood Matzah Bakery in Lakewood at 732-364-8757, or in Israel at 077-901-5645.


  • pesach aceman
    March 21, 2012 - 17:15 | Permalink

    why does a rabbi from lakewood have to fly in to be the mashgiach are there none here or is it because it is lakewood matzah bakery and they want to have ‘made in Israel’ on the label

  • Nachum
    March 22, 2012 - 16:37 | Permalink

    Here’s an alternative: Eat a *real* k’zayit sized piece, about half the size of a credit card tops.

  • March 28, 2012 - 23:36 | Permalink

    I am assuming that poster Nachum does not suffer from Celiac disease or Crohn’s or gluten sensitivity. only someone who doesn’t understand what the smallest amount of “cheating” can do, would propose such a “solution” which makes no sense medically or halachicly.

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