Everyone has a favorite type of flatbread! These delicious breads are extremely flavorful, have multiple uses, and can be served with virtually any dish.
Plus, there’s a wide variety to choose from and no shortage of pairing options.
Whether you’re nibbling on them as an appetizer before your meal comes out or biting into a midday snack, flatbreads always satisfy. You can even enjoy a spread with tons of delicious toppings as your main course!
So, what types of flatbread are there? The most common and popular types of flatbreads include tortillas, pita bread, naan, shaobing, parathas, focaccias, and golzemes. They are all extremely flavorful and pair with a variety of cuisines, toppings, and spices.
Today, we will be looking at all these flatbreads, from their origin, how they are made, the different varieties you get, and of course, how they can and should be used.
Let’s explore some more popular types!
What Are Flatbreads?
Flatbreads are thin bread made from flour, water, and salt. Other enriching ingredients may be included like yogurt and milk.
Leavening agents can also be included depending on the type you are making.
A majority of flatbreads are unleavened, but dough such as pita dough and naan require a leaving agent.
Flatbreads are the earliest and simplest forms of baked bread. They are often used in countries where ingredients to bake with are scarce.
Almost every country has its own type of flatbread unique to them.
Flatbreads serve a duel purpose. They serve not only as a basic staple food but also serve as plates and cutlery.
If we think of pita bread, a filling can be placed inside, no plates or cutlery is required.
Flatbreads come in various shapes and sizes. They can differ from a few millimeters in thickness to a few centimeters.
Tradition is often important when it comes to flatbreads, not only by the way they are made but also in the way they are baked, as well as what they are served with.
Tortillas are one of the most popular, well-known, and common types of unleavened flatbreads you can find.
In the United States alone approximately 120 million tortillas are consumed every year.
These flatbreads were created by the indigenous people of Mesoamerica as far back as 500 BC.
Originally these flatbreads were made from maize hominy meal, but today they are also commonly made using wheat-based flours.
Tortillas can be made by hand, but today commercially made tortillas (and to some extent homemade tortillas) are made using tortilla presses.
Varieties Of Tortillas
There are two main varieties of tortillas you can find today; corn tortillas and flour tortillas.
Corn tortillas are made from hominy, a type of processed corn.
In Mexico there are three different types of corn that are used; white maize, yellow maize, and blue (or black) maize. Their kernels naturally grow in different colors and different shades.
This creates beautiful flatbreads that are not only delicious but adds a pop of color. White and yellow corn tortillas are the most common types you can find.
Tortillas also come in a wide variety of sizes ranging between 2.4 and 12 inches (6 – 30cm).
How Corn Tortillas Are Made
Traditional corn tortillas are made using corn that has been nixtamalized. This is a process where maize is cured in limewater to remove the tough skin.
The kernels are then ground and cooked and finally kneaded into the dough.
This dough is then rolled into very thin patties with a specific rolling pin or pressed flat using a tortilla press.
Finally, the tortillas are cooked on a very hot comal (a type of traditional terra cotta griddle) or a more modern griddle made from light sheet metal.
Today, most corn tortillas are made with machines to produce very uniformly shaped and sized products.
Corn tortillas should preferably be served warm to keep them nice and soft. When they cool, they often become rubbery in texture or grainy.
How Flour Tortillas Are Made
This other popular type of tortilla is made from finely ground wheat flour. They are made in a very similar way to corn tortillas are, the main difference being the dough.
The ingredients for a basic flour tortilla dough include flour, water, fat, and salt.
Commercially manufactured tortillas also include leavening chemicals like baking powder and stabilizers to extend their shelf life.
Taste And Texture
Corn tortillas are surprisingly pliable and have a firmer and chewier texture compared to wheat tortillas.
They have a very distinctive toasted corn flavor which you have to take into consideration when developing a recipe.
Flour tortillas on the other hand have a much softer, extremely pliable texture.
Their taste is more neutral and perfectly suited for elaborate and complexly flavored fillings. They have a slightly sweet flavor depending on the recipe used.
Some traditional Mexican dishes made using tortillas include enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, tortilla soup, and tostadas.
Corn tortillas can also be warmed and served as an accompaniment to grilled meats or soups.
Flour tortillas are also often served in this way but are paired with dishes from other cuisines.
An example of this is to make Greek-style wraps, or as a bread accompaniment for Indian curries.
Flour tortillas are usually used for burritos and quesadillas because of their soft and pliable texture.
You can also use them in similar ways to corn tortillas, they will just add a more neutral flavor to the overall palate of the dish.
2. Pita Bread
Pita bread is a yeast-leavened flatbread that comes in a round form. Pita bread is known for its unique opening that is used to insert a delicious filling.
The opening is created by baking the flatbread in a hot oven where the raising agent (the yeast) and liquid create steam that allows the dough to form a large air pocket.
This air pocket creates a double-layered flatbread.
Pitas bread most likely originated in the Middle East, Fertile Crescent, and Greece.
There is no exact way to determine the exact origin since there aren’t enough records on these bread and it most likely developed from another type.
However, around 4000 years ago, the Mesopotamian culture was already making Pita-like flatbreads that were prepared in a traditional tinûru (tandoor) and resembles Tandoor bread as we know it today.
Pita’s may be referred to by other names, depending on the location. In Turkey, they call this bread Pide and in the Middle East, it is known as Khubz.
How Pita Bread Is Made
Pita bread is traditionally made from flour, water, yeast, and salt. There are a variety of recipes that include other ingredients and flavorings.
There are two main types of Pita bread. The ingredients don’t differ and they both are prepared in the same way.
Where they do differ is in the way they are baked. Pita bread can either be baked in a hot oven or on a hot open surface.
Pita bread is prepared by forming a basic dough that includes yeast. The dough is then shaped into flat round discs and left to proof for a short amount of time.
The bread is then baked or cooked in a hot oven or on a hot surface.
When it is baked in an oven, the tray is preheated to help set the dough in place and help form the air pocket.
Once the heat is applied, the steam creates an air pocket and the flatbread puffs up.
This is the part where people freak out and think they have made a mistake when preparing the dough, but it is the way of knowing you made fantastic dough.
The Pita bread will deflate as it cools, but the two layers will stay separated.
Taste And Texture
When baked, the pitas have a crisp outside and a soft and chewy center. The Pita’s will become more flexible once they have cooled.
Pita bread has a well-balanced flavor and may include a slightly sweet taste if sugar was added to the recipe.
Other than that, they make excellent neutral accompaniments or serving vessels.
Pita bread can be used in a variety of ways!
They are usually used to hold savory fillings (usually meaty ones), as an accompaniment for dips and sauces such as hummus or tzatziki, or to make traditional Shawarmas.
In more western countries they are often used to serve leftovers in. This can be anything from a thick stew, casserole, and even Asian stir-fries!
As we said, it is a very neutral flatbread that works well with everything and anything!
3. Naan Bread
Naan is a leavened flatbread that originated in India, the western part of Asia, Mesopotamia, and ancient Egypt.
Naan may have been derived from bread that was made in Persia on hot pebbles.
It was first mentioned around 1300 A.C, but many believe that it may have been used well before then.
Today, we mostly associate Naan with Indian cuisines, but many others have adopted it in their own way.
Naan, much like Pita bread, is a thicker type of flatbread. The shape however is very unique; it has more of an oblong, oval shape to it, making it very recognizable.
The unique shape comes from natives slapping the dough against the wall of traditional ovens.
How Naan Bread Is Made
Naan is usually made from flour, water, salt, and yeast, however today we get a variety of ingredients and methods.
Cheat naan is made from a combination of self-raising flour and yogurt.
Some enrich the dough with butter, sugar, or milk which also gives it a richer flavor and color.
Another classic technique used for naan is when herb butter is made and brushed onto the naan after it has been cooked.
To make naan, a simple dough is formed and kneaded to develop the gluten. After kneading, the dough is left to rise for a few hours.
This helps relax the gluten strands and create a very flexible dough.
It is then divided into balls, rolled out into its oblong shape, and flattened. The flatbreads are then cooked on a hot griddle pan or inside a traditional oven.
Once cooked, as we have mentioned, it is brushed with some butter and served immediately.
Taste And Texture
Naan has a similar texture as pita bread but only when it has been enriched with butter, yogurt, or milk.
Un-enriched naan bread can potentially have a very bland flavor, which is why these are used with spicy curries.
Enriched naan has a much more flavorful taste and can be served as an accompaniment or as is.
Naan is mostly served as an accompaniment to Indian dishes such as curries, kebabs, and vegetarian sides like dhal.
In South Asia, naan is used as we know it today; cooked and brushed with flavored butter and served as an accompaniment to other dishes.
In Indonesia, naan is made to be more like a roti. The shape is different and is thinner and rounder, and the recipe also includes classic Indonesian spice mixes.
In Myanmar (a country in Southeast Asia) naan is served at breakfast and accompanied by coffee and tea, just as it was served years ago to Noble families.
Shaobing is a flatbread that, unlike other flatbreads that tend to be savory, can be classified as sweet too.
This flatbread is well known in the northern part of China, but not very popular in the Southern parts.
It was allegedly brought from the Western Regions (Xiyu) but there isn’t a ton of factual history to support this.
Shaobing is related to Asian Naan and Eastern Pita flatbreads which help explain its shape and thickness.
It is usually served at breakfast with soy milk and tea and is often filled with a wide range of fillings including steamed eggs.
Types Of Shaobing Bread
There are three main types of Shaobing which are all prepared in different ways.
This flatbread is made from flour, oil, sesame, and other seasoning ingredients. It has a beautiful golden exterior and soft texture.
When they are oval-shaped, they tend to be salty or used for savory recipes, and when they are round they are intended for sweeter dishes.
This translates to sesame cake. It is made from the finest pigs suet, white flour, sesame seeds, and salt.
Magao can be shaped into any form and be used for salty dishes, sweet dishes, and also spicy dishes.
It too has a beautiful golden crust and is traditionally baked on a barrel surface.
The Shaobing is served as a traditional snack in the province of Shandong. The shape resembles a horseshoe shape and is as thin as paper.
The back of the Shaobing is full of crisp holes where the front is covered with sesame seeds.
Taste And Texture
The taste and texture of Shaobings can differ depending on the variety of the Shaobing and the region it is made in.
Huangqiao Shaobing and Magao have a golden crisp outside and a softer textured inside where Zhoucun Shaobing is a thin crisp texture.
The addition of sesame seeds also provides texture. Shaobings can be either sweet, salty, or spicy depending on how they are served.
Shaobings are mainly served as breakfast items but can also be served as snacks in certain regions, depending on the type of Shaobing being served.
Savory Shaobings are usually filled with steamed eggs with a savory filling.
A traditional flatbread, paratha is unleavened and native to the Indian continent.
Paratha is especially popular in countries where wheat is a staple ingredient. It is also popular in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh.
Paratha translates to layers of cooked dough, which describes the flatbread pretty well!
The flatbread can be served either plain or with a filling. The most common stuffing includes spiced mashed potatoes that are followed by dhal (lentils).
Parathas can also be served as breakfast food or a snack at tea time.
How Paratha Is Made
Parathas are made by combining flour, salt, oil, water, and ghee. Once the dough is formed, the laminating process starts.
A very simplified version of what happens is that the dough is rolled, layered with ghee, folded, and rolled again.
This is done several times to create multiple layers as if you are making puff pastry.
Parathas can be baked on a Tawa (concaved disc-shaped frying pan) or extremely hot pan. They are then sometimes finished off by being shallow fried in oil or butter.
Taste And Texture
Paratha has a very rich and buttery flavor profile thanks to the ghee.
The layers that are created during the preparation also creates an extremely unique flaky texture that virtually no other flatbread can compete with.
The filling is what mainly determines the exact flavor you will end up with – as with all flatbreads.
Parathas, just like other flatbreads, can have various uses. They are more commonly used in savory dishes, but can also be used in sweet recipes.
Sweet parathas are eaten as a dessert that is sprinkled with sugar and sometimes cinnamon.
For savory dishes, they can be used to fill or as an accompaniment for dips, sauces, and other dishes.
What also makes them unique, besides their flaky texture, is that they are served at any time of the day. Parathas can be served at breakfast or even as a snack at tea time.
Focaccia is probably one of the most well know flatbreads all over the world.
Although traditional Foccacias are not always like we know them today, they are still similar.
Focaccia is a traditional Italian baked flatbread. It is similar in style to pizza and can sometimes even be known as Pizza Bianco.
The difference between Pizza and Focaccia is mainly that Focaccia is left to rise after being shaped, where pizza is baked instantly.
Focaccia is believed to have originated in North Central Italy before the Roman Empire was found.
The name Focaccia is derived from the Roman word Panis Focacius that refers to heart bread (the way focaccia was traditionally baked, on hot coals). The bread was mainly used as a dipping bread.
How Focaccia Is Made
Flour, olive oil, water, salt, and a small amount of yeast are combined to create this Italian flatbread.
Savory focaccia is topped with rosemary, garlic, onions, salt, and sage.
Essentially the dough is made, left to rise, flattened, and left to rise again. The dough is shaped into a rectangle and dotted with olive oil, rosemary, and salt (depending on the version being made).
The flatbread is then left to rise again and baked in the oven to crisp.
Sweet varieties have also made their way to the table. Focaccia is topped with raisins, pears, honey, sugar, and lemon peel – just a few examples to make your mouth water!
The varieties are endless! They can range from focaccia that is baked hard like biscuits, to bread that is made with cornflour to create a soft version called Voltri.
Focaccia col formaggio is made in Recco, near Genoa, and consists of two paper-thin layers filled with stracchino cheese.
Taste And Texture
Focaccia has a soft texture and is only a few inches thick. The crust on the other hand is crispy and chewy.
The traditional focaccia, as we have mentioned, is flavored with salt, olive oil, ad rosemary.
But, because there are so many different flavors and versions, the exact flavor will depend on what you used to flavor it with.
The dough itself, if completely un-garnished, will have a neutral flavor.
Focaccia can be served along with condiments such as anti-pasta, used as a dipping bread for fine grade olive oil or balsamic vinegar (the traditional Italian way).
It can be served as an appetizer, or even just as a snack with a well-balanced wine.
The uses for focaccia are endless!
Gözleme is a flatbread from Turkey, unleavened, and usually stuffed with a savory filling.
The word Gözleme is derived from közleme, the Turkish word meaning to cook or grill on embers. Gözleme is traditionally cooked over a traditional sac griddle.
It was served originally as a breakfast item or a light snack made at home.
Gözleme has been made in Turkish homes for so long that it has now even received fast-food status in the new era.
Savory fillings have since then also shifted to a variety of sweet fillings.
How Gözleme Is Made
Gözleme is made with a basic dough that includes flour, salt, and water. Yeast can sometimes be added to the product depending on the desired outcome you want to achieve.
The dough is brushed with butter and oil, rolled thin, and filled with a variety of fillings before being sealed. The Gözleme is then cooked over a hot griddle.
There’s no shortage of unique fillings used! Maybe you’ll even come up with your own medley.
Various fillings include meats (which can be anything from seafood to minced beef or chopped lamb), vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, etc.), tubers (radish, sweet potatoes, and potatoes), cheese (feta and a variety of Turkish cheese) as well as fresh herbs, spices, and eggs.
Traditional fillings such as minced beef and onion, spinach and feta, and chives with potato have migrated to contemporary new fillings with a variety of flavors like chocolate and orange, banana and walnut, drizzled with honey, and smoked salmon with eggs.
Gözleme can be served as a snack or appetizer and is seen as comfort food in Turkey.
The filling determines the use of the flatbread, for example, sweet Gözleme will either be served with tea or as a dessert.
Gözleme with heavier fillings such as minced meat or chopped lamb can be served as an entire meal.
Fillings that have cheese in them are usually served as appetizers!