Updated: Dec 21, 2019
Pita bread, a favorite pocket bread that has been a family staple in the Middle East, has made its rise in popularity in America next to the well known focaccias, baguettes, ciabattas and a variety of other common European breads.
Pita bread is a category of yeast-leavened flatbreads that has been around in some form since prehistory. Originating in the Fertile Crescent region, likely somewhere near present-day Jordan, this round, wheat flour based bread has spread worldwide. The modern name “pita” comes from the ancient Greek word for bread, but its authentic Middle Eastern regional names are “khubz” or “aish.” Today, you can purchase it from a wide variety of different establishments. Local pita bread producers include Elie Baking Corp., Mario’s Lebanese Bakery, Joseph’s Bakery, Korbani’s Bakery, and Sam’s Bakery.
Part of pita bread’s appeal stems from its unique properties. Many forms of pita include a built in pocket to stuff with ingredients of your choice, a feature that has led some to replace their utensils with pita! As a single piece of pita bread – which are often called loaves – come in various sizes. Some are no larger than your average sandwich and they make an excellent vehicle for portable meals. Their mellow flavor also allows them to be filled with a large variety of food from many divergent palates, and many find the pita itself to be quite filling. Other loaves can be large, similar to a burrito tortilla, which is a more common find in the Middle East. You can find these larger pita bread loaves at local Middle Eastern bakeries or markets and depending on location, at large grocery stores such as the Big Y.
Elie Baking Corp
Established: 1992 by brothers Elie, Abe and Al Ata.
About: Growing up together on their family farm in Lebanon, the Ata Brothers decided to move to America and start a restaurant that would serve a selection of authentic dishes. It became clear to them after word spread of their restaurant that people found their pita bread to be especially top-notch. Demands began to come in from other restaurateurs that wanted to serve the Ata Brothers’ bread in their own establishment. Soon the trio grew their restaurant into a full-service commercial bakery that now operates primarily in the North-Eastern region of the United States.
Elie Baking Corp specializes in pita, but they have expanded into bagels, wraps, and other styles of flatbread. They offer a wide variety of pitas in both small and large sizes, typically eight to a pack. Their pita flavors include Plain, Wheat, and Tomato. They even offer a special 70 Calorie Pita for those of us who are looking to watch their weight!
Mario's Lebanese Bakery
Established: 2008 by Chef Maroun Ellakis.
About: Living in his home country of Lebanon, Maroun Ellakis began to work in kitchens at age fourteen. Eventually, he moved to the United States and bought out an existing bakery, retooling it into Mario’s Lebanese Bakery. Ellakis has since expanded his business further and he now accepts online orders nation-wide, with support for several international destinations, too!
Mario’s Lebanese bakery offers up a wonderful selection of meat pies, manaeesh, and bread. Their pita bread is more traditional, being made without preservatives or added flavors. Their pita is usually sold by the piece, with a large priced at $1.85 and a small priced at $1.10, but they accommodate larger orders for those who need them.
Established: 1972 by Joseph Boghos.
About: Joseph’s Bakery is an Armenian-American, family run business that has been maintained for three generations. Today, Joseph’s Bakery has built a name for themselves by providing high quality baked goods in both classic and modern configurations. Their prepackaged products can be purchased by the case on their website.
Joseph’s Bakery offers a varied lineup of baked goods, such as lavash bread, flatbread, wraps, tortillas, pizza dough, and pancakes. While they do offer traditional wheat pita bread, they pride themselves on their “Heart Friendly” line of pita, which has been designed for those sensitive to trans-fat and cholesterol. Both varieties come six to a pack and they can be picked up starting at $2.99.
Established: 1978 by Nemer Korbani
About: Korbani’s Bakery has been operating for more than thirty years under the close guidance of the Korbani family. They pride themselves on preparing their bread and deli selection the old fashioned way, with much of their food being made from scratch.
On offer at Korbani’s Bakery are grape leaves, stuffed squash, and spinach pie, amongst many other things. Their pita bread can be bought six loaves to a pack, or by the dozen in-house, with the large dozen costing $4.50 and the small $4.00.
Established in 1961 by Salim Yamin
About: Having been born in America, the late Salim Yamin would spend much of his youth in Lebanon, with his future wife Georgette, before moving back to America to start his business. Nearly six decades later, Sam’s is considered by locals to be some of the most authentic Middle Eastern food you can get.
Beloved for their meat pies, tabouli, and leban. Sam’s Bakery makes their pita in the traditional style and they’re sold by the half-dozen—large loaves for $1.85 and small loaves for $1.10. Sam’s is one of the more out of the way local spots, but the great food they serve has kept them in business for going on sixty years now!
A YallaBoston.com Favorite: I love Sam's small pitas that have sesame seeds encrusted all around on each side - the toasted sesames add a delightful flavor to the bread that goes great with just about everything you can fill in a pocket.
How is Pita Bread Made?
Modern day, commercial pita bread is produced similarly to other commercial breads. Large industrial mixers are used, which allow for closely controlled humidity and temperature during the dough making process. The dough is then left to sit and develop, much like any yeast dough, before being made into evenly sized balls. The dough balls are fed through a sheeting machine, which flattens them out into uniform, round shapes, which are typically allowed to sit and rise once more. The baking process is done with industrial ovens, which can reach temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees. The rapid application of heat helps to evaporate remaining moisture in the dough as it rises, resulting in puffed up loaves of pita with nicely formed inner pockets. The steam left over from the rapid-baking finds its way out through natural holes in the seal of the pocket and as the bread cools it flattens out into the familiar pita shape.
What is Saj and Marouk Bread?
Saj or Marouk bread – is an especially thin bread that is similar in taste to pita. During preparation, the marouk is spread so thin that it can become translucent, given it a lighter texture than pita and making it more suitable for certain kinds of wraps. Marouk is traditionally cooked on a saj - watch below!
Traditional marouk aka "mountain bread" as its pridefully called, is baked in a variety of ways, with the dough being largely similar to what you’d see used in commercial pita bread, albeit in a much smaller quantity. A common method is to tuck the dough into itself before rolling it out, which helps to form a pocket whilst baking. Another popular option in Lebanon is to toss and turn the dough into a large, thin circle before cooking it on a domed griddle called a saj. Bread prepared this way is also referred to as saj, and doesn’t feature a built in pocket, but it can be folded around ingredients to function similarly to pita bread.
What is a Saj?
Saj griddles are large metal domes with a heat source underneath. While one can cook many different things on a saj, they are often used to make bread, which is then called saj bread. Flatbreads made on a saj are often much thinner and lighter than breads baked in a conventional oven, which makes them ideal for many different culinary combinations. When tossing the dough for saj bread, it often gets stretched to several feet, resulting in huge sheets of saj that can be cut down for smaller dishes, or wrapped up and sold as a small tapestry of bread.
The world of pita is wide and varied. It is a food that lends itself to customization, both during the baking process and afterwards. With each new culture that adapts pita bread, it becomes something just a little bit different, but it remains ever familiar to diners worldwide. Given how adaptable and delicious it can be, it isn’t surprising that we’ve been eating pita for thousands of years! Even if you are far away from the bakeries highlighted here, you can surely find your own local pita spot to continue the indelible tradition.
What to Eat with Pita Bread?
The pocket on pita bread is utilized to create endless combinations. In the Middle East, it is common to see diners fill or pair their pita bread with hummus, kabobs, salads, vegetables, and various other mezzes. This could be seen as the more traditional pita palette.
In America, consumers have taken full creative advantage of pita’s unique design. Pita bread has been used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; portable pizzas full of mozzarella and tomato sauce; and crouton packed salads with blue cheese dressing. People have even stuffed them full of ice cream for a Middle Eastern spin on the ice cream sandwich. The only limit upon what you do with your pita is how imaginative you can get!
Where to Buy Pita Bread Online?
There are only a couple local Middle Eastern bakeries that ship pita bread to your door and if you don't live close to a Middle Eastern market, an alternative is to purchase other common brands through Amazon Prime.
These brands include:
Do you have a favorite brand? Feel free to share your thoughts below!