An A-Z of breads from around the world
Ever wondered about the difference between chapatti and parathas, or wanted to be able to tell your focaccia from your grissini? Ana Blanco explains all this and more in our A-Z of world breads.
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Arepa is a flat, round, cornmeal patty that is eaten in Venezuela and Colombia. It can be baked, fried or cooked on a charcoal grill, with fillings like grated cheese, ham, black beans, chicken salad and avocado, shredded beef or perico (Venezuelan-style scrambled eggs). To make arepas, you'll need a special pre-cooked corn flour, water and a pinch of salt. As it’s made from cornflour, arepa is gluten-free.
The traditional bagel is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. Bagels originated in Poland but are now popular in many parts of the world, including Canada and the United States – and famously on London’s Brick Lane, where you can buy them 24 hours a day. Watch out for some flavoured bagels, such as cinnamon and raisin or even chocolate chip, which may contain higher levels of added sugar, though they are likely to still be a better choice than biscuits, cakes or doughnuts. What you put on your bagel can also affect how healthy it is but with some adaptations the traditional bagel filling of smoked salmon and cream cheese can be a heart-healthy choice. Opt for a low-fat cream cheese and keep to a small portion of salmon or go for cold baked or poached salmon instead of smoked which will be high in salt.
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Chapati is popular Indian flat bread made with wheat flour. Instead of being baked, chapatis are toasted over a griddle till they are freckled gold. You can eat it as is, or with cooked lentil soup or vegetable dishes like Indian curry -or even make sandwich wraps. Chapati is usually made from wholewheat flour and cooked without oil, so is often a healthier choice than other flatbreads like naan or parathas. They sometimes come buttered, so if this is the case it’s better to use an unsaturated spread rather than butter or ghee.
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Damper is a traditional Australian bush bread that was once cooked over in the hot coals of a campfire, but can also be baked in a normal oven. The basic ingredients are flour, water, a little salt and sometimes milk. Baking soda can be used for leavening. It’s traditionally eaten with dried or cooked meat and can be a great partner to a hearty winter stew.
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An English muffin is a small, round, flat type of yeast-leavened bread which is usually sliced horizontally and toasted. As teatime treats go, they’re not a bad choice, but it depends what you put on them. An unsaturated spread is a more heart-healthy alternative to butter. Eggs Benedict, made from muffins, bacon, poached egg and buttery hollandaise sauce, is best kept for an occasional treat – but poached eggs on wilted spinach atop a muffin can be a delicious, and healthier, breakfast (W. American muffins are a very different product, more similar to a cake, and are higher in sugar and fat.)
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Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread made of strong (high-gluten) flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. It can be used as a side to many meals, as a base for pizza or as sandwich bread. Focaccia is often sprinkled with additional salt or topped with other salty ingredients such as olives, so be careful about trying this type of bread too often. It can also be quite oily which will make it higher in calories than other bread, so make sure you read food labels on pack if you are buying it in the supermarket. Or make your own focaccia without salty additions on top – try flavouring it with fresh rosemary or topping it with sliced tomato instead.
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Grissini are generally pencil-sized sticks of crisp, dry bread originating in Italy. They are crisp all the way through and can be flavored with various herbs, seeds, and spices to complement whatever else you may be serving. A few grissini at the start of a meal can be a healthier alternative to garlic bread or bread and butter.
Injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally, injera is made out of teff, a tiny round grain that flourishes in the highlands of Ethiopia. Ethiopian food is traditionally served on a large injera. This slightly sour flatbread is used to scoop up the meat and vegetable stews which are on top.
Knäckebröd is a flat and dry type of bread or cracker, containing mostly rye flour. Many kinds of knäckebröd also contain wheat flour, spices and grains. It’s rich in fibre, and is traditionally served together with cheese and herring, but can be eaten as a crispbread topped with whichever toppings you choose. They are light and keep fresh for a very long time.
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Lavash is a thin flatbread of Armenian origin, popular in the Caucasus, Iran and Turkey. It’s made with flour, water, and salt. Lavash is traditionally cooked in a tandoori oven, and is low in fat. Toasted sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds are sometimes sprinkled on before baking. Lavash is soft when fresh and dries to become crispy.
Matzo / Matzoh
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Matzo is unleavened bread in the form of large crackers, traditionally eaten by Jews during Passover holiday. The flour may be made from the five grains mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. There are two major forms of matza: the hard form of matza which is cracker-like in appearance, and the soft matza which looks like Greek pitta or like a tortilla.
Naan is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread found in the cuisines of West, Central and South Asia. A typical naan recipe involves enough yogurt to make a smooth, elastic dough, and is cooked on the sides of a tandoori oven. Naan breads are usually brushed with butter or ghee just before serving, so those you buy in restaurants or supermarkets may be high in fat and/or salt. Naan breads can also come with extra toppings or fillings such as minced meat, garlic (which may have extra butter) and peshwari (with dessicated coconut, dried fruit and sugar). Depending on which topping or filling you choose, these can add quite a lot to the fat and calories to your meal.
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Obi Non is a kind of flatbread popular in Afghan and Uzbek cuisine. It is similar to naan bread and is also cooked in a clay oven, called a tandir or tandyr. Obi non contains flour, yeast, milk, water and salt.
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Paratha is a layered Indian flatbread made from whole wheat flour. It’s also popular in other countries such as Singapore, Burma, and Malaysia. Parathas are typically high in fat as they’re usually fried or cooked using oil, butter or ghee, and may also have butter or ghee folded into the layers. A healthier option would be to make them with a little oil and bake them in the oven. They are often stuffed with different fillings like potato, onion, vegetables, eggs, and spices.
Qistibi is a popular traditional dish in the Tatarstan and Bashkortostan areas of Russia. It is a baked flatbread with a filling inside, which are placed on the one half of the flat cake and is covered by the other half. Its most popular filling is said to be mashed potato, but can also be meat sauce or millet.
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Roti is an unleavened flat bread, similar to chapatti, which is made in almost every part of India, and is also popular in the Caribbean. They contain whole wheat flour and water, and are often coated with ghee or butter to improve their taste, which can make them high in calories. If you are making a pile of roti then just butter every second or third roti rather than each one. You will still get the flavour, but with less fat. Tandoori roti is baked in a tandoori oven, so may be a healthier option. In many parts of the West Indies roti are served with a spiced filling as a snack.
The traditional bread of Ireland is soda bread, which main ingredients are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda is used as a leavening agent instead of yeast. This will add sodium to your loaf and, like the sodium that is in salt, too much can affect your blood pressure so make sure you follow the recipe carefully and only use the amount you need. Early Irish cooks used bread soda or baking soda instead of yeast, because Irish flour was too soft (low in gluten content) to make yeasted bread. Because it doesn’t need to be left to rise, this is a quick and easy bread to make.
A tortilla is a type of soft, thin flatbread made not from maize meal and/or wheat flour. They are used to prepare many Mexican dishes like tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and wraps. Fajitas can be a healthy choice with a few simple adaptations, but avoid enchiladas which come with lots of cheese or chimichangas which are deep fried. Tortilla chips are deep-fried pieces of tortilla, often with added salt and other flavourings, but you can make your own healthier version by brushing tortillas with a little oil and baking in the oven until crisp.
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There are many different types of unleavened bread. The one pictured here is rieska, a Finnish flat bread made with oat, barley or potato. They are made similarly to crispbreads, but are not dried into a crisp. You can also sprinkle the tops with sesame seed, poppy seed or crushed shredded wheat before baking. They are often eaten warm with a glass of milk.
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Vánočka is a sweet bread studded with raisins and topped with almonds and sugar. It’s baked in Czech Republic and Slovakia traditionally at Christmas time. Preparing a vanocka isn't simple and so there are a variety of traditions about how to prepare it, including wearing a white apron while mixing the dough, or jumping up and down while the dough is rising. Like other festive European breads, such as stollen or pannetone, vanocka is rich in butter and sugar so is best kept for special occasions.
Pita bread is served at just about every meal in the Middle East. It can be used for dipping, or to make sandwiches, and is often available in wholemeal and white versions. Wholegrains are an important part of a heart-healthy diet, so go for the wholemeal version of any bread when you can. Wholemeal pitta with some reduced fat (or home-made) hummus and vegetable sticks can be a delicious snack or light lunch.
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Yufka is paper-thin, round, and unleavened flat bread from Turkey, with some similarities to lavash. It’s usually made from wheat flour, water and salt. Some add a bit of vegetable oil. Yufka is used in sweet pastries with nuts or dried fruits, or in savoury ones with cheese, meat and vegetables. As with filo pastry, it’s lower in fat and saturated fat than other forms of pastry like puff pastry or shortcrust, but take care as the fillings it contains can add lots of fat, salt and sugar.
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Zopf is a type of Swiss, Austrian or German bread made from white flour, milk, eggs, butter and yeast, usually found twisted or plaited. Legend has it that the shape arose from a custom that Swiss widows would bury a plait of their hair when they buried their husbands. It’s traditionally served for Sunday breakfast along with butter and jam, but can also be served with soft cheeses and cold meat. Like brioche, this is a rich, buttery bread, so is best kept as an occasional treat.