From South Asian chapatis and roti to Italian focaccia, Armenian lavash, Indian naan, Spanish tortillas, Iraqi laffa and Middle Eastern pita, flatbreads were one of the world’s earliest foods and the method of baking them has barely changed in 10,000 years.
Spelled pita in America and pitta in the UK, the fabulous flatbread is famous for having a pocket to deposit all sorts of delectable delights. However it seems as if the pocket was a much later development and may have been created as a fortunate mistake. Whether totally flat or with a pocket, pita bread in all its various forms has been with us for thousands of years and here’s the lowdown of how pita bread is produced in a factory.
A Short History of Pita Bread
Flatbread, later to become known as pita bread, can trace its roots back to the Stone Age, around 14,500 years ago. The ancient Natufian people from the Levant region – modern day Turkey and much of the Middle East – made flatbread from wild grains.
Approximately 12,000 years ago when humans became agricultural, they made primitive forms of bread from wild wheat, barley and plant roots. However it wasn’t until around 2,000 BC that pita-like flatbread became a basic and central element of the Middle Eastern diet. It has remained that way ever since. In fact how pita bread is made hasn’t changed in thousands of years, although it has become slightly more mechanical.
Pita remained a flatbread without a pocket which, according to food historians, may have come about as a lucky mistake. When they are baked in an oven, the steam creates a pocket of air and it blows up like a balloon. Slice it open and there’s a world of possibilities. Here, we’ll tell you how pita bread is produced in a factory. It’s the yeast we can do.
How Pita Bread is Manufactured
Like all foods made in factories, the process of pita bread production starts with the raw ingredients.
First up is the flour. From huge storage silos, it’s delivered via huge blowers to an automated sifter which shakes the flour through three increasingly fine sieves to filter out any impurities. Sensitive magnets filter out any pieces of metal.
While the flour is being sifted, technicians prepare the rest of the ingredients – sugar, salt, yeast and preservatives. These ingredients along with the sifted flour and water are added to a huge mixer.
To find out how pita bread is made, the mixing is one of the most important elements of the entire process. The ingredients are mixed together to form a perfect dough and once the technician is happy with the consistency, the dough is ejected into a bin and from there it goes into a hopper.
From the hopper, the dough is sent to a machine known as a dough divider which does exactly what you think it’s going to do. It forces the huge lump of dough into round holes and a guillotine divides it into sections. The small lumps of dough move across a floured conveyor belt under a roller that flattens them, while flour from an overhead sifter dusts them to prevent them from sticking to the machines.
The flattened dough discs ride up a long conveyor belt up to a warm area where over a period of around 15 minutes the yeast ferments and the dough rises. Once the fermentation has taken place, the dough is flattened again under a roller.
Next in the process of how pita bread is manufactured is the sheeting. Sheeting involves rolling the dough extremely thin and doing so in one direction only creates the classic oval shape. A final roller makes the dough even thinner and it then goes through a second fermentation. Warming machines activate the yeast again and after 15 minutes they have thickened up.
This is where the magic happens. This is the key to pita bread production. After they have fermented and are at the perfect shape and thickness, the pita bread dough goes into the oven at a temperature between 400 and 500 degrees centigrade for just 15 seconds. This type of flash-baking causes the residual water in the dough to turn to steam, in turn puffing up the pita bread and creating an air pocket. Next, the cooked bread cools down for 20 minutes on a moving conveyor belt and, as the temperature reduces, they deflate while still retaining the gap between the top and the bottom.
Technicians inspect the pita breads for tears or other damage and once they are happy, they’re stacked in piles and move along an automated conveyor to be automatically bagged and sealed. From the flour coming from the silo to the packaged bread, the entire process takes around an hour. This is the final step in the process of how pita bread is made.