Cultural change is an evolutionary process. People conduct many aspects of daily life in different ways, adapting according to outside influences as, gradually, everything changes—the methods and tools of work change; the conditions of work change.

Bread, however, is still a great unifier. Bread, in its multiple shapes and flavors, is a universal concept representing good food, and bakers use the ancient tradition of breaking bread to introduce new and borrowed influences to today’s bread products.

One of the advantages of bread is that, no matter where a recipe originates, it still begins with three or four simple ingredients.

“The skill of the baker is essentially still primitive, and the best bread is something that is worked with the hands,” says Richard Bertinet, owner of the Bertinet Kitchen & Bakery, Bath, UK.

“The art of baking bread is to create something from practically nothing, and that is where the real skill of a baker is employed. Give a measure of flour to 10 different bakers, and each one will make something different,” Bertinet asserts.

The quality of bread depends not only on physical chemical properties of the whole formulation—the interactions of leavenings, proteins, liquid ingredients, etc.—but also on the properties of the flour itself. These determine the behavior of the flour during the technical and chemical processes involved in creating a loaf of bread.

The most important properties of flours for bread include: quantity and quality of the gluten (or, as will be demonstrated later, the ingredients that substitute for gluten in those products meeting today’s gluten-free trends); flour hydration capacity; the dough’s ability to form and retain gases; and the starch gelatinization abilities.

Flat Effect

When it comes to ethnic or “world breads,” the most common by far are the flatbreads, developed in every culture as traditional, easy-to-prepare food. Ingredients and formulations are legacies, with some recipes reaching back into prehistory and the dawn of agriculture. Flatbreads’ enormous popularity in recent years is a testament to their influence on Western bread preferences.

Flatbreads are made throughout most of the world, with examples running from tortillas and pita to Indian chapatis, na’an and tandoori roti; Sri Lankan parotta; Turkish yufka, bazlama and pide; Iraqi lafah; Persian taftoon; Armenian lavash; Ethiopian injera; Italian ciabatta; Greek gyro bread; and even seasonal Jewish matzah.

Flatbreads can be defined in two basic groups—single-layered or double-layered. These can each be divided into the sub-groups of leavened and unleavened breads. Although some are allowed to rise, a true flatbread has highly different characteristics from a high-volume pan bread (think of the difference between a true ciabatta vs. a focaccia bread).

True flatbreads have lower specific volumes but high crust and crumb ratio compared to pan bread. A leavened flatbread has a shorter fermentation period in comparison to pan bread. They also have different production conditions, based on the need for a higher baking temperature and shorter baking time.

For example, whereas Khorosan barbari, lavash, tandoori roti, pide, etc., are classified as leavened single-layered flatbreads, yufka and parotta are classified as unleavened single-layered.

Pita is a classic, two-layered flatbread. Freshly baked flatbreads are soft and elastic. When kept at room temperature, they stale rapidly—usually within a few hours—and become hard and tough.

Chapatis present the challenge of being particularly short-lived. Traditionally, they are prepared twice a day (for lunch and dinner) and, unless eaten immediately after preparation, stale rapidly and become difficult to chew. On the other hand, the currently trendy high-fiber ingredients are more suitable in flatbreads than loaf breads, because they can go into the formulation without causing a loss of quality.

Interestingly, this high-fiber grain advantage comes from ancient historical needs that drove the development of traditional breads.

Based on heritage grains and primitive milling techniques, they, in turn, have more modest flour-quality requirements.

Examples include the aforementioned injera bread, a nearly crepe-like item from teff flour, or millet breads and breads using the most ancient cultivated grain, barley. Barley’s geographical origins reach back to the Fertile Crescent of 11,000 years ago or so, and the high-fiber, high-protein grain has been successfully added into single-layer flatbreads, from Turkish bazlama bread to South Asian chapatis.

Two-layer flatbread is widespread in Middle Eastern and North African countries and has become increasingly popular in the rest of the world. Two-layer flat bread commonly is produced from high-extraction flour, making it subject to widespread acceptance as a high-fiber product.

Flour Power

The quality of any bread depends on a wide range of components, but flour is, of course, foremost. Flour quality is subject to multiple influences, beginning with the genetics of the grain and its growing conditions; the quantity and quality of raw materials used with it in the formulation (leavenings, conditioners, etc.); and the bread-making methods themselves.

Quality of bread is determined as being easily digestible; having a delicious flavor and enticing aroma; and not easily crumbling or staling. It also must be readily portable and have a high nutrition value. In many cultures, bread has been a primary source of calories in the diet for millennia.

Wheat flour breads, such as lavash, are generally produced from soft, white wheat flours of higher extraction levels. The extraction levels or rates have to do with the level of protein and minerals (“ash”) in the final ingredient. For example, a flour that uses the entire grain has an extraction rate of 100% with a mineral content of about 2%.

Plain white flour, with an extraction of about 55%, contains only about 0.4% ash. It also will contain about 11% protein. Generally, flour which has an extraction rate of 80% or below is preferable in most flatbread types.

Research is a constant, as bakery scientists strive to bring technical exactness to ancient Old World recipes. For example, in a study to determine the most appropriate wheat of many types for Arabic bread which is double-layered Arab-style flatbreads, researchers concluded the breads of this category with the most desirable characteristics can be obtained from hard wheat flour containing 10-12% of protein and over 6% starch.

In another study Arabic bread made of durum wheat flour yielded a softer texture in comparison to ones made with bread flour. It has also been shown by manufacturers of Indian-style chapati breads that mixing durum wheat flour and Indian wheat flour raised the quality in batch production.

Durum wheat flour can endure more starch breakdown than soft wheat flour through the grinding process. With this higher proportion of starch “damage,” water absorption increases, leading to greater starch gelatinization. In this manner, the crumb in the final product becomes softer.

Wheat, of course, is not the only source of flour. With the unprecedented growth of gluten-free products, traditional non-wheat flour breads are crowding onto bakery shelves as a renaissance of Old World recipes make their way back to the limelight. In addition to the previously mentioned teff, breads from millet are currently among the most popular, as are chickpea four offerings—such as the Italian flatbread called faina—and breads from barley and potato flours.

Processors working with different grains or from truly traditional recipes can sometimes find modern versions of familiar flours will behave differently in some bread dough formulations. Also, less common flours can have wide variations in performance.

For this reason, processors should work with millers and suppliers to determine the characteristics of the flour that best suits the formulations. Many millers are positioned to help create custom flours and flour blends to suit clients’ specific needs.

Water and Salt

As a fundamental component of bread, water helps the dough achieve a homogenous mixture of all the other components, providing the dough with the desired viscosity and elasticity. This impacts the structure and has the ultimate effect on the quality and shelf-life of the final product.

Water functions as a dissolving agent for the many organic and inorganic substances in a bread dough formulation. It is the substrate that helps dissolve not only the hydrophilic components, such as salt and sugar, but also distributes hydrophobic components, such as fats and hydrates—normally insoluble proteins.

There is a wide range of flours used in bread production for optimal water absorption. Although flour used for pan-bread making has optimum water absorption within a narrow 60-65% window, flour used for flatbread production can have an optimum water absorption level varying from as low as 38% to as high as 85%.

Salt—one of the basic components of bread dough—has functions beyond flavor enhancement. Used in the appropriate amounts for the formulation, it is responsible for high bread quality, carrying water molecules and balancing the effects of leavening components.

While the popularity of flavored, infused and other exotic salts is a matter of trend, save these for the flavoring aspects on top of the bread. The best salt for baking should be pure, clean, bright and white and should have a high dissolving level in water.

All Rise

Many breads are made of leavened dough with fermentation. Dough is fermented by bakers’ yeast or sourdough. Sourdough is an ancient and popular method of bread fermentation. Sourdough is a portion of dough saved from the previous baking that is incorporated with flour, salt and water to produce the risen bread. Sourdoughs are complex biological systems characterized by a dynamic interaction among endogenous lactic acid bacteria and yeasts.

The major products of yeast fermentation are CO2 gas (carbon dioxide) and ethanol. Gas is retained and dough is leavened during fermentation.

Sourdough fermentation has a positive effect on bread quality, because it improves bread flavor and texture, and prolongs shelflife due to the formation of antifungal compounds. It also delays staling.

Each “starter” of sourdough has its unique characteristics, imparting subtle differences in flavor, texture and chew. Some bakeries use sourdough starters derived from originals that can be decades old.

Sourdough fermentation can actually modify cereals’ healthfulness in a number of ways: It can improve texture and palatability of whole-grain, high-fiber or gluten-free breads; add stability; increase levels of various bioactive compounds; retard starch bioavailability; and improve the bioavailability of some forms of minerals.

A growing trend in fermentation pointed out by Aidan Chapman, teacher at the Bread Ahead Bakery and Bakery School in London, UK, is the use of natural yeasts. “There’s a good swing toward people wanting to learn the joys of wild yeast baking,” he exclaims.

According to Chapman (who promotes using organic, locally milled flour and whole grains as much as possible), interest in bread making in general has been high, too, with some 5,000 students per year attending the school. He also noted a huge popularity in sourdough bread and like products.

Handy Work

Most breads, especially those containing wheat flour, are started by mixing flour, salt, water and various other ingredients to form dough, require kneading or leavening. Not only does kneading during dough mixing involve the combining and blending of the formula ingredients, it serves to develop the structure of the dough and resulting finished bread. With gluten-developing flours like wheat, the kneading process helps the gluten develop.

Many types of flatbread are made of unleavened dough without fermentation or rising. Even though these formulations are not fermented, they still require a “resting time” in order to allow for adequate water absorption of starch and proteins in the dough after mixing. Otherwise, the final product will be tough and dry. Typically, only a period of 30-60 minutes is needed for this stage.

However, it should also be noted that over-extending the resting period can cause loss of quality in these unleavened flatbreads—the same as over-rising can impact leavened breads. Once absorbed, water, being a solvent, will begin to break down the structure of the other ingredients.

Bake Time

Typically in bread making, the stages of dividing, rounding and sheeting will vary according to tradition. Sizes and shapes affect final texture and size. For example, pieces that are made round acquire that shape in order to achieve even distribution of gases and liquid, gas retention and good flattening.

Angled shapes will provide dryer, browner crisper corners secondary to greater exposure to over heat for an increased Maillard reaction. These are favored traits in some products, lending an increased crunch and toasty-nutty flavor.

The sheeting phase is highly important. It affects the release of the gasses inside the structure, again affecting the final texture. For flatbreads, depending on the type of bread, dough is sheeted in thicknesses of 2-10mm. Variation in flatbread thickness affects the quality to a great extent by altering the total surface area exposed to heat and the driving off of water and gas.

Special ovens able to attain high temperatures are used in creating many “world breads” that began life as recipes slapped on stones, bricks or metal placed directly over a roaring fire. Temperatures of 350°-550°C for a quality bread production are not unusual. In fact, some bread formulations, even in batch production, still are baked on metal or stone plates heated to high heat.

For example, yufka is best baked on a hot plate for 15-30 seconds; lavash is baked on the oven walls at 320°C for 15-40 seconds and pide is baked in the oven at 320°C for 18 minutes. Pita bread is best baked in a hot oven at 370°-500°C for 30-45 seconds. When flatbread is baked at high temperatures in a shorter time, it achieves better crust characteristics.

It’s been said that bread is the staff of life. In spite of diet crazes that attack wheat in specific or bread in general, the consumer attraction to traditional, rustic breads—today referred to as artisanal or ethnic breads—never wavers. Bakers can play a major role in keeping up the traditional formulations that position bread as the center of enjoyment for any meal.

Tradition Meets Trend

Pol Lepoutre, president and owner of Midipain-Painpetifour Bakeries in Saint André de La Roche, France, manufactures traditional regional breads. One of the company’s specialties is smaller versions of classic products, such as sourdoughs, some of which have been reformulated as gluten-free due to high consumer demand.

“All our raw materials and ingredients are sourced from their country of origin,” says Lepoutre. “The wheat flour is from farms using integrated management, and we use our own, homemade yeast.” Lepoutre also points out that no colorants are used, yet all the breads are colored because of the natural ingredients, such as lemon, pepper and olives.

“Our recent big challenge was to develop a gluten-free range of breads, with real bread texture and flavor.” Lepoutre describes the process as involving lots of fine-tuning and “practice, practice, practice.”

The sourdough starter responded differently to the different combinations of flours Lepoutre used to zero in on the right textures a sourdough should have, even though it was missing the fundamental ingredient—gluten— that gives a sourdough it’s signature crunchy crust and chewy texture.

“All of the gluten-free breads ended up having to have their own specific homemade sourdough,” Lepoutre explains. “That’s why the process has to be adapted product by product.”

The basic recipe ended up using water, buckwheat flour, corn flour and white rice flour. For some of their other breads, Midipain-Painpetifour may use various combinations of white-rice flour, potato starch, corn flour, buckwheat flour, glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour. They also found sunflower oil to be ideal for these products.

Lepoutre’s head of R&D, Jean-Christophe Citerne, also had to develop a special bread for the Prince of Monaco for the 10th anniversary celebration of his Royal Highness’. “All of our developments are driven with the health of our customers and the wish to have richly and authentically flavored breads,” he says.

Mediterranean Modern

Traditional breads can adopt modern influences in some singular ways. Fougasse is a traditional French Mediterranean bread, originating in Provençe. When executive chef Yogev Yehors of CarneBirra Restaurant in the trendy Sarona neighborhood of Tel Aviv asked baker Yaron Schneller to develop an innovative and exciting new bread for the Italian-style steakhouse, Schneller came up with Black Sea Fougasse, an anchovy-flavored sourdough.

The dough is based on strong, protein-rich, Italian durum wheat and Manitoba wheat flours, blended with a durum wheat biga (Italian-style sourdough culture). Schneller used salted anchovies, with their oil, to keep the dough moist, then infused the dough with Black Sea algae. The result? A Mediterranean-style bread with a deep, heady aroma and flavor of the sea, with a dramatic black tint the color of Kalamata olives.

Flat Facts

  • America is becoming a more ethnically diverse nation, as Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern populations rise. This multicultural growth is likely to increase demand for unleavened flat breads and decreased demand for traditional American, sliced sandwich breads.
  • In the year ending October 25, 2014, flatbread sales totaled $286 million in the US. Regular packaged and sliced breads sold in the bread aisle (in-store bakeries, farmers markets, ethnic food stores etc.,) totaled $10 billion.
  • Flatbread sales grew at a 7% annual rate from 2012-2014, far outpacing the total bread category.
  • Pita bread is the top selling flat bread in the US, at $98.9 million in 2014.
  • Na’an sales totaled $22 million in 2014, far outpacing lavash at  $10 million. Both of these ethnic flatbreads are enjoying strong  double-digit growth following small starting bases in 2012.
  • Americanized flat breads (those not described as pita, na’an or other ethnic descriptor) are a close second at $96.7 million in 2014 sales.
  • Products classified as bread “thins” hit $34.9 million in US sales in 2014.
  • Pizza crusts are included in flatbread sales, as they commonly are used for wrapped sandwiches.

World Breads

A sampling of trending bread products from around the world technical information contributed by Chris Flores, Ratio Bakshop (

•    Chapati

Chapati describes an unleavened, single-layer Indian flat bread. The classic formulation for chapati is whole-wheat flour, salt, oil and water. Chapatis are typically consumed immediately after preparation. Some 80% of wheat produced in India is consumed as chapatis, which are commonly circular, about 6in in diameter and a tenth of an inch thick, pre-cooked.

Traditionally, chapatis are prepared by making a dough of whole-wheat flour and water, followed by resting and sheeting of the dough. Freshly baked chapatis are soft, pliable and elastic, but when kept at room temperature, they stale within few hours and become tough and rigid.

Chapatis may be manufactured on a large and mechanized scale, but staling might become a critical factor consideration. Options include a number of natural preservatives and dough softeners that could compromise texture authenticity, if not applied with skill. Processors should seek suppliers of baking ingredients who have in-house technologists with the expertise to overcome such challenges.

•    Tandoori roti

An unleavened, single-layer flat bread, roti is prepared from a dough made by kneading together flour, water and salt. The dough is sheeted and baked in a tandoor oven (an oval in-ground or enclosed oven, the walls of which are plastered with clay). Fired to high heat by wood or natural gas, the sheeted dough is placed on a cloth pad and, with the help of the pad, slap-pasted to the heated walls of the tandoor. Depending upon the heat, the roti is baked for 60-90 seconds.

 •    Scandinavian Rye Flatbread

This type of bread is produced in the Scandinavian countries and is especially popular in Finland. It is prepared by mixing a blend of barley, oat and rye flours with water; rolling the dough to a thin layer; and baking on a hot plate. Traditional production of Finnish sour rye flatbread includes a well-developed sourdough starter, rye flour, wheat flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water.

Sometimes inclusions of wheat berries, currants or nuts are added. All ingredients are mixed to form a cohesive dough and allowed to ferment for 45 minutes. Dough pieces are rounded and sheeted to about a third- to a half-inch thickness, then baked at 230°C for 30 minutes.

•    Finnish Rye Bread

Ask any Finn living abroad what he or she misses the most about their home country and the answer will likely be ruisleipä, the dark brown, usually flat, rustic rye bread. Unlike its Scandinavian cousins, the Finnish version uses 100% rye flour. “Ruis gives power to the wrists” is a traditional Finnish saying, describing the dense, earthy bread with lots of “chew.” Finnish rye breads are on the cusp of becoming breakout trends in the rest of Europe and the West.

 Finnish bakers are adapting, creating ryes in a variety of shapes, sizes and formulations. It can be round, oblong, triangular, with a hole in the middle or sliced; mixed with barley or wheat. Finnish-style rye has even been made into tortilla-type chips and dressed up with flavors like chili, lemon, onion and garlic.

High competition between large bakeries is the rule in Finland, but the smaller bakeries adhering to original formulas and using all rye are producing the most popular versions of this product, with crisp exteriors and soft interiors.

•    Tortilla

The tortilla is not only a common food in Central and South America but, according to some surveys, is the most popular bread in the US, having surpassed sliced bread. Classically a thin, unleavened single-layer flatbread, it traditionally is made from finely ground corn flour (masa) or wheat flour and is characterized by a flexible texture and easy handling. Wheat-flour tortillas are baked products that have been produced in Mexico for centuries. Corn tortillas are commercially produced from ground whole-grain corn, water and lime (calcium oxide).

While most commercialized production includes a list of conditioners and preservatives, authentic corn tortillas will contain only these three ingredients and no more. Commercial tortillas are produced by taking the dough and dividing it into pieces that are passed twice through two pairs of sheeting rolls.

After the first passage, oval-shaped, flat dough is formed. It is then passed through the second pair of sheeting rolls fixed at a 90° angle to the other pair. After the second passage, a round shape is produced. Sometimes, they are hand-stretched to the desired final shape and thickness.

•    Pita

The Middle Eastern pita breads have become incredibly popular in the US and the rest of the world in the past decade. Pita are typically soft, circular, leavened double-layered risen flatbreads that form a pocket when baked. Pita breads are made with flour, water, bakers’ yeast and salt. In pita bread production, all the ingredients are mixed into fully developed dough with a temperature of 24.5-25.5°C and fermented about one hour.

The dough is then scaled, rounded, then given an intermediate proofing of 15-20 minutes. The relaxed dough pieces are sheeted and then undergo a final proof of 30 minutes in a cabinet maintained at a temperature of 30°C at a relative humidity of 95%. Then, the dough sheets are layered in a hot (370°-500˚C) hearth oven for baking. The two-layered structure or pocket formation of pita breads is created by steam during baking. Exposure of the flat loaves to the very high temperatures in the oven causes an almost instantaneous formation of top and bottom crusts.

As the heat penetrates the interior of the loaf, it transforms the interior moisture into steam within 30-45 seconds. The steam, being confined by the external crust, expands the loaf into a puffed form that consists essentially of only the top and bottom crusts, thus forming the pocket.

•    Lavash

Lavash bread is a large leavened, single-layer flatbread, elliptical shaped, 9-15in long, 5-9in wide, but only 3-5mm thick. It’s a wheat-flour bread similar to pita, using only salt, water and bakers’ yeast as the remaining ingredients.

In lavash production, all ingredients are mixed and kneaded into a fully developed dough and fermented for 30-60 min at 30°C. The dough is then scaled, divided, rounded and given a final proof of 15-20 minutes at 30°C, after which the dough pieces are sheeted then baked at a temperature of 320°C for 15-40 seconds. Lavash are typically baked in a special oven and kept at oven walls for baking.

World Bread Buyers? Foodies!

America’s Foodies have a well-known love for the type of culinary adventure and food tourism that takes the taste buds on a journey through the new, the novel, and the unique. But Foodies aren’t alone in their admiration for gastronomic gnarliness.

Consumers from all walks of life are gravitating toward the latest culinary trends and dietary fads, though generally to a lesser extent than their Foodie counterparts. In the recently-released report, Foodies in the U.S.: Opportunities for Restaurants and Retail, 2nd Edition, Packaged Facts data reveals a striking trend in the way American consumers think about food based on growth between 2007 and 2014 in the number of consumers who “strongly agree” with statements expressing attitudes toward food. Five of the seven statements with the fastest-growing number of adherents contain the word “new” and relate to new food products, recipes and drinks.

“Undoubtedly, one of the threads running through the food culture today is an unending quest for new and exciting food products and experiences,” says David Sprinkle, research director Packaged Facts. “Foodies in particular are deeply immersed in searching for the next big thing in the food world.”

Packaged Facts data reveals foodies are more likely than adults on average to strongly agree that good food is really important to them (76% vs. 41%). However, there is an even greater gap between foodies and the average consumer when it comes to keeping up with the latest food trends, being the first to try out new food products, liking to experience new flavors and ingredients they’ve never tried before and liking to try out new food products. Not surprisingly, survey data in the report also show that a taste for gourmet food differentiates foodies from the average consumer. More than half of foodies like to eat gourmet food whenever they can, compared to less than a quarter of adults on average.

In the report, Packaged Facts pinpoints a subsection of Foodies identified as the Trendsetter Foodie segment, consisting of Foodies who “agree a lot” with the statements that “I like to try new recipes” AND “I like to try out new food products. Trendsetter Foodies total around 29 million and represent about 12% of the adult population.

Whether they be Millennials, Gen-Xers or Boomers, Trendsetter Foodies share a common underlying desire not only to seek out new food experiences and products but to try new things of all kinds, whether shopping at a new store, wearing new clothing styles or buying new gadgets. Moreover, there is a noteworthy similarity in the eating habits, food preferences, food shopping habits and attitudes toward cooking at home of Trendsetter Foodies of all ages.

Packaged Facts National Online Survey data reveal that Foodies have an above-average likelihood of being under the age of 35 and thus falling within the Millennial generation, and Millennials account for around 36% of the Trendsetter Foodie segment. Millennials have embraced the foodie culture and absorbed it into the broader youth culture to the point that in many ways the foodie and youth cultures have become one. A preference for globalized food styles, a quest for intense and exciting flavors and textures, an unending search for what’s trending in the restaurant world, an attachment to farm-to-table restaurants, a cascade of Instagram posts of “what we’re eating right now,” the food truck fad and locavore food shopping habits are just a few of the hallmarks of Millennial foodie fixations.

Naturally there is good reason for packaged foods marketers, grocers and foodservice executives to ramp up their efforts to attract foodies from the Millennial generation. However, it is also important to recognize that Millennials are not the only influential consumer segment among foodies and that marketing to foodies does not mean marketing to Millennials exclusively.