Pita bread is a versatile flatbread that is soft and slightly chewy. It's baked in a hot oven and traditionally found in the Middle East, Greece, and the eastern Mediterranean region. Thanks largely to the popularity of gyros, its use has spread worldwide. Many versions feature a pocket that you can stuff, and pita is also used as a thin triangular cracker perfect for dipping into hummus.
What Is Pita Bread?
The word pita (or pitta) comes from the Greek language, and the bread has been made for thousands of years throughout the Middle East. Pita bread is a leavened flatbread made from yeast, water, and flour, and several recipes include a bit of sugar and salt. It's traditionally baked on a stone surface, and herbs and spices can be added to the dough for extra flavor.
Most pitas are baked at high temperatures (450 F to 475 F). The water in the dough turns into steam and causes the pita to puff up to form a pocket. When removed from the oven, the layers of baked dough remain separated inside the deflated pita, allowing the bread to be opened to form a pocket. Greek-style pita tends to be flatter, making it perfect for a wrap.
In modern commercial bakeries, pita is prepared on automatic lines that produce thousands of loaves per hour. The ovens are much hotter than traditional clay ovens, getting up to 800 F to 900 F; each loaf is baked for just one minute. The pitas are then air-cooled for about 20 minutes on conveyor belts before being shipped immediately or stored in commercial freezers.
Pita vs. Naan
Pita and naan are two popular flatbreads that are very similar and good substitutes for one another. While pita is round and often associated with Mediterranean cuisine, naan is oval-shaped and served throughout the Middle East and India. A bit larger, naan tends to include yogurt or eggs to produce a softer bite, and it doesn't have the pockets found in many types of pita. Additionally, naan is primarily used as a dipping bread for curries and similar dishes, while pita is more commonly a wrap or pocket bread for sandwiches.
Pita Bread Uses
Pita is surprisingly versatile and a nice light bread to serve alongside any meal. The pocketless variety is most often used in Greek cuisine for souvlaki and gyro sandwiches. The thinner type with pockets is preferred for falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, and other Middle Eastern selections.
Pita also makes an excellent salad bowl, and it can become the base for things like pizza or take the place of heavier bread when making grilled sandwiches. You can cut pita into triangles and toast them into crispy pita chips to use as a dipper for hummus and the like.
What Does It Taste Like?
Pita is a neutral-tasting bread that is similar to other flatbreads. The texture tends to be light with a semi-dry and dense, chewy bite. It's an ideal base for bold flavors.
Pita Bread Recipes
There are several pita bread recipes if you'd like to make your own. Whether you buy or bake it, many delicious recipes feature pita.
Where to Buy Pita Bread
To get the freshest pita bread, make it at home or look for a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern market where you're likely to find the least expensive loaves. Several online stores ship freshly baked pita bread every day as well.
Most supermarkets carry at least one brand of pita bread. Its often found in the bread aisle or deli section alongside freshly baked artisanal bread. You may see white, whole wheat, low carb, or gluten-free varieties.
When buying pita, check the expiration date and softness. Many stores purchase pita in bulk, freeze it and set it out to thaw. Softer loaves are fresher, while loaves that feel more firm may have been frozen and thawed.
Both homemade and store-bought pita should be stored at room temperature for no longer than one week. You can freeze pita for several months, but it may compromise the flavor.