What is Flatbread?

Mary McMahon

Simply put, a flatbread is any kind of bread that is flat. It may be made with unleavened dough, as is the case with many varieties, or it may be made from leavened dough that is flattened out before baking. Many cultures have their own version, and it was probably one of the earliest bread products ever made. Some of the oldest extant examples of food found in tombs and archaeological sites have been flatbreads. They vary widely in size, shape, texture, and ingredients.

A flatbread pizza.
A flatbread pizza.

Unleavened flatbread has a special symbolic role for several religions, especially Judaism. Matzo is a common example, and it traditionally takes the form of a rectangular crisp cracker. Tortillas are a softer version, made with corn or flour, depending on the region and the dish. The disparity between these two dishes helps to illustrate the wide range of flatbreads eaten around the world.

A gyro sandwich made with flatbread.
A gyro sandwich made with flatbread.

Some other examples include chapati, injera, pizza, pita, lavash, puri, barbari, arepas, and naan. Many of these breads are designed to work like eating utensils for scooping up foods from a common serving platter. They can also be wrapped or rolled around foods, stuffed like sandwiches, or eaten plain. Almost every culture with access to grain has devised some kind of bread that is flat, made from ingredients like wheat, teff, corn, rye, or rice.

Most flatbreads are based on wheat flour, and do not feature any leavening ingredients.
Most flatbreads are based on wheat flour, and do not feature any leavening ingredients.

The most basic flatbread is made from ground grain and water. Many cooks also add salt and oil for additional flavoring. Leavened breads may be made with various yeasts, and they may also include eggs in some cases. The variants certainly do not stop with the basic recipe, however, and the dough can be mixed with herbs, spices, and vegetables, such as dill, thyme, cumin, coriander seed, onions, or garlic. In the case of pizza and focaccia, the bread may be topped with an assortment of ingredients.

Tortillas are a soft type of unleavened flatbread.
Tortillas are a soft type of unleavened flatbread.

Many varieties are very easy to make at home, and they make an excellent supplement to ethnic and traditionally styled meals. Many cookbooks include multiple recipes for flatbread, along with suggested variations to make them more interesting. Bakeries and grocers also usually carry multiple varieties, and they may lay in special stocks for religious holidays and special events. Travelers should also put some energy into trying out regional specialties, as unique recipes often carry a long and interesting cultural and culinary history that natives are often happy to share.

Ground corn kernels can be used as an ingredient in flatbread.
Ground corn kernels can be used as an ingredient in flatbread.
Matzo crackers, a type of flatbread.
Matzo crackers, a type of flatbread.
Related to millet, teff is a small, gluten-free grain that can be used in flat breads and cereals.
Related to millet, teff is a small, gluten-free grain that can be used in flat breads and cereals.
Pita bread, a type of flatbread.
Pita bread, a type of flatbread.

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Discussion Comments


When it comes to flatbread, pancakes are the best, in my opinion. They go so well with all types of breakfast food, and they taste great with just about any syrup or fruit topping.

Most people make their pancakes with butter. This type goes well with maple syrup. However, when you have fatty meats like sausage and bacon, you might want to consider making your pancakes with something lighter.

My husband’s sister is a health nut, and she gave him a recipe for applesauce pancakes. You can’t taste the applesauce, and it serves as a butter substitute. This trims lots of fat and calories off of the pancake batter, and I don’t feel so bad eating them with bacon.


Pizza is by far my favorite flatbread meal. I make the dough at home using a powdered mix and half a cup of hot water. I simply stir it up, form it into a ball, coat it with olive oil, and place it in a round pan to rest for five minutes.

Next, I flatten out the dough with my fists until the bottom of the pan is covered. I prick it with a fork and cook it for five minutes.

Then, I take it out of the oven, paint it with tomato sauce, and sprinkle pepperoni on top. I don’t like cheese, so that is the extent of my pizza toppings. I cook this for nine more minutes, and it is ready to eat.

I make this pizza for my husband, but I add mozzarella on his. While we don’t agree on cheese, we do agree that this homemade pizza is every bit as delicious as restaurant pizza, and it is much cheaper, too!


I like making my own chips out of tortilla flatbread. It’s a great way to use up those extra tortillas before they go bad. Since they are often sold in packs of eight, I usually can’t eat them all before their expiration date.

I chop them into triangles and coat them with a glaze of margarine. Then, I sprinkle them with a mixture of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin.

I bake them at 350 degrees until they look crispy and brown spots appear. I squirt them with lime juice for an extra kick.

These chips go great with fajitas or any Mexican dish. I like to crumble them over spicy soups instead of crackers.


I recently discovered the type of flatbread called pita pockets. There is a slit in one end of the pita bread, and you can cram meat or vegetables into the pocket.

I got the whole grain kind, because I’m always trying to go for the healthiest option. I made some grilled chicken, and I stuffed that in there, along with shredded green leaf lettuce and diced tomatoes. I squirted some comeback sauce into the slit for extra flavor.

The flavor of a whole grain pita pocket is kind of neutral. Since it is neither salty nor sweet, you can choose whether you want to make a meal pocket or a dessert pocket out of it. Sometimes, I like making a mixture of chopped fruit and preserves and filling the pocket with that instead of using it for the main course.


Naan bread is one of my very favorite kinds of bread. I first had it when I was living in the UK. Indian food is a lot more popular over there and naan bread is a common feature at any grocery store.

There is something very rich and almost oily about naan bread. The flavor by itself is more delicious than any bread I've ever had. I wish that it was easier to find here in the states. I have had some great naan at Indian restaurants but you rarely see it in the stores.


Ethiopian cuisine makes wide use of flat breads. In fact this style of cooking rarely uses utensils at all.

Instead, diners tear off chunks of this bread that is very flat and spongy. It is kind of like a tortilla made of sourdough (trust me, it is a lot better than that sounds). They use the bread to grab pieces of meat, vegetables and sauces. In lots of cases Ethiopian food is kind of wet and soupy. There is a lot of stew like dishes. This makes the bread ideal for soaking up all the sauces and oils that coat your plate.

It is really a novel and delicious way to eat dinner. The fork is handy sometimes but it is not the only way to eat. Most big cities have at least one Ethiopian restaurant and it is definitely worth checking out


I have been delighted to see how many cooks are experimenting with flatbreads these days. Situated somewhere between a sandwich and a pizza, the flat bread is a unique kind of food that presents lots of exciting opportunities for cooks.

Another thing that is great about flatbreads is that the sky is basically the limit. You can choose almost any flavor profile that you can imagine and most any ingredients that you choose. There are really few ways to go wrong with a flatbread. I will be interested to see what kinds of unique new ideas start showing up on menus.

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