As Passover approaches, families around the world are busy ridding their homes of chametz, leaven, the holiday’s forbidden substance. Read on for 14 facts about this antithesis of matzah whose deficiency gives Passover its distinctive flavor.

1. Most Foods With Grain Are Chametz

Chametz is defined as any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and rise. In practice, just about anything made from these grains is considered chametz: flour, cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items with a chametz ingredient such as malt.

Read: What Is Chametz?

2. It May Not Even Be Owned on Passover

On Passover, it is forbidden to consume chametz, derive benefit from it (such as feeding it to a pet or gifting it), or even retain it in your possession. This prohibition is repeated several times in the Torah.1

Read: 14 Passover Facts and Traditions Every Jew Should Know

3. It Commemorates the Haste of the Exodus

After the Plague of the Firstborn, Pharaoh chased the Jews out of Egypt, not even giving them enough time for their dough to rise.2 To commemorate the haste of the Exodus, we are instructed to only eat matzah (unleavened bread) on Passover, and to refrain from consuming chametz.3

Read: 20 Exodus Facts Every Jew Should Know

4. Clean in Advance, But Don’t Overdo It

In the weeks and days preceding Passover, Jewish homes around the globe are given a thorough cleaning to remove any trace of chametz.4 Don’t overdo it, though: It’s chametz you’re after, not dust. Standard spring cleaning can be done after the holiday or omitted altogether, as far as Passover is concerned.

Read: How to Clean for Passover (in 10 Days or Less)

5. Sell What You Won’t Expel

Not all chametz must be eliminated. If you have large quantities of this imminent contraband or otherwise do not wish to get rid of it, there is an alternative endorsed by Jewish law: selling your chametz before Passover to a non-Jew and purchasing it back once the holiday is over.5 This sale is a 100% legally binding transaction and must be conducted by a competent rabbi. All sold chametz must be stored away for the duration of the holiday.

Read: FAQs About the Sale of Chametz

6. It Is Searched for at Night …

The night before Passover, a candlelit search is conducted for any remaining or forgotten chametz. Any area in the house where chametz might still be found is searched.6 In addition to looking for previously ignored bagel crusts and Cheerios, it is customary to hide 10 carefully wrapped pieces of bread throughout the house for the searcher to find.7

Read: Search for Chametz

7. … and Burned the Next Morning

The next morning, the eve of Passover, a fire is prepared (following all necessary safety precautions) into which any chametz discovered the night before is tossed, along with any leftover chametz that will not be sold.8 Following the burning, a declaration is made renouncing ownership of any chametz that somehow evaded discovery and is found somewhere in your possession.9 (A similar declaration is made the night before after concluding the search.)

Read: Burning Chametz

8. The Prohibition Begins the Morning Before

The deadline for chametz consumption is the morning before Passover begins, two halachic hours before midday. (A halachic hour is calculated by dividing the daytime hours into 12 equal parts.) After this time, non-consumption methods of benefit are permitted for one additional halachic hour, after which the prohibition of chametz is in full force.10

Check: The Final Time for Chametz In Your Area

9. It Requires a Menu Makeover

Due to the ubiquitousness of chametz in our cuisine, preparing Passover food requires a complete overhaul. When going Passover shopping, make sure all manufactured items—including ones not obviously chametz—feature not only a kosher symbol, but a kosher-for-Passover one too.

Read: Passover Shopping

Luckily, Jewish women have been cooking Passover dishes for millennia; recipes and ideas abound, ensuring your family will enjoy delectable, chametz-free meals throughout the holiday.

Browse our collection of Passover recipes

10. It Is First Cousins With Matzah

What is chametz’s closest relative? Matzah, of course! Made of flour and water, only a few minutes of fermentation differentiate between leavened dough and Passover’s iconic cracker-like food. Matzah is prepared following strict procedures and guidelines to ensure it does not become chametz.

Read: 18 Matzah Facts Every Jew Should Know

11. It Was Not Allowed on the Altar

When delineating the laws of sacrifices, the Torah instructs that no leaven should be offered on the Altar.11 All meal offerings (menachot) were therefore brought either as flour or as matzah. The portions of the meal offerings eaten by the priests were also not allowed to be leavened.12

Read: The Biblical Temple Sacrifices

12. Shavuot Was an Exception

On the holiday of Shavuot, two loaves of newly-harvested wheat flour were brought to the Holy Temple. These were the only meal offerings to be brought as chametz. However, they were not sacrificed on the Altar. Instead, after a waving procedure performed with the loaves and two sacrificial lambs, they were eaten by the priests.13

Read: The Two Breads

13. The Thanksgiving Offering Also Had Chametz

In the Temple era, if you survived a dangerous encounter or situation, you would bring a thanksgiving offering (Korban Todah). (Today, a special blessing is said in lieu of this sacrifice.) Along with an animal sacrifice, 40 loaves were brought, 10 of which were chametz. These loaves were not offered on the Altar; instead, they were shared between the priests and the person who brought the sacrifice.14

Read: Showing Gratitude

14. Its Message Lasts Long After Passover

There is more to the all-out search and eradication of chametz than clearing your toddler’s pretzels from beneath the couch. Leavened dough rises and swells, symbolizing arrogance and conceit. A matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting humility and subjugation of the ego. Passover emphasizes the lengths we must go to eradicate our personal chametz, the self-inflating pride and egotism that impede our relationships with our Creator, our loved ones, and our fellows.15

Read: Chametz: What Would Your Psychologist Say?