Bread is probably one of the most popular types of carbs in the Western World, next to pasta and rice. And it makes sense: rice wasn’t cultivated until 6000BC, while pasta and other noodles weren’t even a thing until 25AD. Bread, on the other hand, has been around since the dawn of time, with scientists finding evidence that prehistoric peoples have been baking bread for almost 10,000 years. Talk about stale!
A Brief History of Bread
Leavened or raised bread was believed to have been discovered by Ancient Egyptians. Legend has it that Egyptian bakers discovered the creation of leavened bread when they left out un-raised flatbreads out in a warm place, activating the natural yeast and puffing up the dough. From there, they found out that adding this magical yeast produced a fluffy, puffy bread product.
This process of baking leavened bread used to be the norm, with bakers just leaving out unbaked pieces of dough and letting it sour, with bakers relying on airborne yeasts to ferment the dough. This fermented dough was then added to a fresh batch of bread to help it rise. It wasn’t until 1665 when an unknown baker added brewer’s yeast (the type of yeast to make beer) to his dough, thereby paving the way to the commercial production of bread.
The Birth of Pita
While every civilization has created some type of bread throughout their history, one of the oldest, most ancient types of bread is pita. Pita bread has been traced back to Ancient Mesopotamia (or, Modern day Iraq), with the Mesopotamians creating a prototype Pita (Pitatype?) by stone grinding grain and mixing it with water before baking it in an open fire. This proto-pita-type flatbread is believed to be over 14,000 years old, making it one of, if not the, oldest type of bread there is.
This was the process of creating pita bread for the longest time: grinding it between two pieces of stone. Soon enough, the ancient peoples figured out that tying up the stones and having cattle drive it around a stationary stone was an easier, more economical way to not only create bread but also increase production and thereby create an enterprise out of it.
Another theory states that it was the Bedouins who might have discovered the process to create pita bread. Historians believe that the Bedouins created pita bread after long days wandering the desert. They did this by mixing water with powdered grain and then shaping them into flat, round loaves. This simple, easy loaf was then baked by placing at the bottom of a cooking vessel and placed directly over an open fire. In lieu of utensils, the pita bread was used to both mop up sauces, but also as an edible serving vessel.
This ancient process is still actually utilized in remote Arab and Israeli villages, with community ovens and bakeries opening up their hearths to the community and baking everyone’s bread en masse, where people can bring their homemade loaves to be baked by professional bakers.
Today, pita bread is one of the most popular types of bread there is, with worldwide frozen pita bread sales at $35 million. This is thanks to Middle Eastern immigrants taking their favorite bread to their new homes, spreading the good word of pita to every corner of the world.
But how is pita bread much healthier than regular bread? Well, to start, pita bread has very simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast, olive oil, and salt. Meanwhile, modern regular bread (like the sliced white bread you see in the supermarket) usually has other stuff like eggs, sugar, and preservatives.
Basic Pita Bread Recipe
So what is pita bread made of? If you want to cut out the empty carbs from your life and make some pita bread at home, here’s a basic recipe that anyone can make!
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (90 to 100 degrees F/32 to 38 degrees C)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, or more as needed
1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
Step 1: Place yeast into the work bowl of a stand mixer and add 1 cup warm water and 1 cup flour. Whisk together and let stand 15 to 20 minutes for the mixture to rise and make a loose sponge. The mixture will bubble and foam.
Step 2: Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and salt into a sponge; add 1 3/4 cup flour. Mix at low speed, using a dough hook attachment, until dough is soft, supple, and slightly sticky. If dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add up to 1/4 cup more flour, a little at a time.
Step 3: Knead the dough with the machine on low speed until slightly springy and still soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and form into a ball.
Step 4: Wipe inside of the bowl with 1/4 teaspoon olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl to cover with a thin film of oil; cover the bowl with foil and let sit until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Step 5: Remove dough from bowl and place onto a floured work surface. Lightly pat into a flat shape about 1 inch thick. Use a knife to cut dough into 8 pieces.
Step 6: Form each piece into a small round ball with a smooth top, pulling dough from the sides and tucking the ends underneath the bottom.
Step 7: Cover dough balls with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Step 8: Sprinkle a small amount of flour on a work surface and top of a dough ball; gently pat dough ball flat with your fingers, forming a flat, round bread about 1/4 inch thick. Let dough round rest for 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough balls.
Step 9: Brush a cast-iron skillet with remaining 3/4 teaspoon olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Lay pita bread into a hot skillet and cook until bread begins to puff up and the bottom has brown spots and blisters, about 3 minutes. Flip, cook 2 more minutes and flip back onto original side to cook for about 30 more seconds. Pita bread will begin to puff up and fill with hot air. Stack cooked loaves of bread on a plate; when cool enough to handle, break pieces of bread in half and open the pocket inside for stuffing.