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Health Food of the month - Flatbread

November 2019


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Diet & Supplements Index

There is a reason bread has been called the “staff of life”. Throughout history bread has been a staple food in many countries and has been identified as one of the oldest man made foods.

When we were young, bread in most families was fairly mundane, either white or brown and just a few more exotic types available. The first slicing and wrapping machine was installed in the Wonderloaf Bakery in Tottenham, London, in 1937, and by the 1950s around 80% of the bread sold was bought as a sliced loaf.

What a change we have seen in our lifetime. Today go into any supermarket and there will be shelves of different types of bread, ciabatta, full grain, sourdough rye, corn bread, soda bread...sometimes it can all be a bit overwhelming.

Funnily enough it is one of the oldest breads that is now a top seller...and that is flatbread.

Flatbreads usually have the same base ingredients as other breads -  flour, water and salt -  but they are unleavened. Leavening is the action caused by an additional ingredient that produces a gas which makes the dough rise; yeast is one of the most usual leavening agents used in bread.

With flatbread, no leavening agent is added so the bread remains as its name, flat. Sometimes you can get slightly leavened bread such as pita bread.

Well before flatbreads became popular in modern Britain, we may have been singing about them in school in the Waltzing Matilda song. The “damper” referred to in the song is an unleavened bread.

The first flatbread many of us came across was Naan bread which arrived along with the early Indian restaurants here. Many other different countries had their own special style of flatbreads as well, and in more recent years many of these different types of flatbreads, often made with a range of additional ingredients such as yoghurt, olive oil or herbs, have become popular. One of the good things about flatbreads is that they are so versatile. Today they can be topped or filled with a wide range of nutritional ingredients, or used as a side or a substitute for potatoes or rice for many different meals.

In many ways flatbreads are all very similar, and really one has to eat each type to understand the subtle differencies. However, some of the more common flatbreads that are now available include:

Tortilla. This means small cake in Spanish, and originally comes from Mexico where the bread was made with corn flour because that was the local cereal. Now it is available made with wheat flour as well and is a pancake type of flatbread, often used as a wrap and filled with savoury fillings.

Naan bread has a little leavening agent added so that it is slightly risen and more doughy than traditional flat breads. It is served with many Asian dishes and is sometimes used rolled and filled with savoury fillings.

Roti bread is similar to Naan but is usually baked on a griddle until it is very thin. Again it can be served with many savoury meals or eaten with yogurt and honey.

Pita bread is from the Middle East and is another flat bread that has a little leavening to make it rise slightly into a soft more doughy sort of texture. Because it rises, pita bread is often separated to form a pocket which again can be filled with different savoury fillings.

Focaccia comes from Italy and is another flatbread that includes a little yeast to make it partly rise. It often includes olive oil and can be flavoured with rosemary, basil or other herbs. It can be used as a base for pizza or just as a side dish to many meals.

Bannock is as it sounds a Scottish flat bread. They are traditionally made with barley or oatmeal dough and cooked on a stone placed on a fire.  Today modern bannocks often have some baking powder or baking soda added as a leavening agent to help to rise a little and can be cooked in the oven. It can be used with many dishes.

Pissaladière is from France and not a bread that is as yet commonly found in the UK. But many visitors to the Provence area of France will know this pizza style bread that rises to be just a little doughy and usually topped with onions and/or olives and anchovies.

Pizza bread is a type of flatbread which has had a small amount of leavening agent added, and the dough is left for about an hour or more to help it rise the required amount.

One of the great things about all the flatbreads is that you can adapt them to your own recipe and taste, serving them with a wide range of different savoury and sweet dishes.  Flatbreads can be a useful healthy addition to any diet and certainly can help to add variety and new styles to traditional meals.

On a health aspect, flatbreads are similar to normal everyday breads; but the availability of whole wheat or enriched versions are less common. However, flat breads are easy to make and you can find lots of different recipes for flatbreads on the internet including at:


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