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Matzah on Pesach can be made from white (refined) or whole grain wheat (or any of the other allowed grains).

Did our ancestors typically bake with refined or whole grain wheat?

Were the first matzah white (refined) or whole grain wheat?

Why do we see more white (refined) matzah nowadays?

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  • White flour would have been more expensive, so I'd guess probably poor people had whole wheat matza just like they'd have had whole wheat bread – Double AA Apr 2 '18 at 21:26
  • "Why do we see more white (refined) matzah nowadays?" - In U.S. at least, white sugar, white rice and white flour is cheaper and more "common" than their unprocessed form. You would think that the processing should add to the cost. Manufacturers are actually looking for shelf life in the store. The white form has a longer shelf life, therefore, it costs less. When things cost less, people are more likely to buy it. In short, it's a supply / cost / demand issue that makes white flour more common. I don't know if whole wheat matzah involves a different baking time than white. Anyone know? – DanF Apr 2 '18 at 23:37
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The flour used to bake matzot has changed through the years. However, grains have soaked to enable separation of the bran and germ (present in whole wheat) from the starchy endosperm (what makes the "white" in white flour) for almost all recorded history (will get you a citation later).

The Egyptians generally had pretty bad flour, using soft stones to do their milling. They often wound up with lots of rock dust mixed in with their flour. See "On Food and Cooking" for more details. So, presumably the first matzot were made with flour like this, likely from Khorasan-ancestor wheat.

Zohar Amar claims that matzah used to be baked with a coarse-ground flour, much like semolina, but I don't think his claims are convincing. See his book חמשת מיני דגן.

There is a disagreement among the Amora'im regarding this question:

אמר רבה בעל נפש לא ילתות מאי איריא בעל נפש אפילו כולי עלמא נמי דהא תניא אין לותתין שעורין בפסח הכי קאמר בעל נפש אפי' חיטין דשרירי לא ילתות א"ל ר"נ מאן דציית ליה לאבא אכיל נהמא דעיפושא דהא בי רב הונא לתתי ובי רבא בר אבין לתתי ורבא אמר אסור ללתות ‏

Rava initially felt this was not a good idea (he eventually changed his mind), and Rav Nachman basically said whoever holds like Rava is eating terrible bread (the "white vs whole wheat" debate is fairly old!). Since Rava changed his mind and said that it's obligatory to soak the grains (and thus have white flour) -- "הדר אמר רבא מצוה ללתות" -- it seems that in the times of the Talmud, most people baked matzah preferentially with white flour.

However, from the times of the Ge'onim and on we no longer soak grains. See, for example, Rambam (easier to find the source online, but it's explicit in the Geonim):

וּכְבָר נָהֲגוּ כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּשִׁנְעָר וּבְאֶרֶץ הַצְּבִי וּבִסְפָרַד וּבְעָרֵי הַמַּעֲרָב שֶׁלֹּא יִבְלְלוּ הַחִטִּים בְּמַיִם גְּזֵרָה שֶׁמָּא יִשְׁהוּ וְיַחֲמִיצוּ:

Thus, in the middle ages most flour was likely coarsely-sifted whole wheat. Nowadays, most "white" matzah flour today is actually partially whole wheat (about 60% extraction), since it's stone ground whole wheat that's sifted.

  • Amar notes though that despite the opposition of the Geonim and the Rambam, many Yemenites tempered their wheat through to the 20th century – Double AA Apr 3 '18 at 16:56
  • @DoubleAA Their tempering process involves placing the grains in between layers of a particular plant and not soaking in water. – Eli Lansey Apr 3 '18 at 17:57

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