Gluten free diets are becoming increasingly popular, driven by rising awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. For those avoiding gluten, finding tasty gluten free bread options can be challenging. Pita bread is a popular flatbread in many cuisines that would seem difficult to make gluten free. However, several companies now produce gluten free pita bread that provides a good substitute for traditional pita.
What is pita bread?
Pita bread is a soft, slightly leavened flatbread that is a staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It is recognizable by its round or oval shape that forms a pocket, allowing it to be opened up and stuffed with a variety of fillings.
Traditional pita bread is made from wheat flour, water, yeast and salt. The dough is kneaded to develop the gluten, giving pita its signature soft and puffy texture. During baking, the yeast fermentation causes the dough to expand and form the pocket in the center.
Pita has a delicate texture. When fresh, the interior is soft and the outer layers are flaky. As it cools and stales, pita becomes chewier and firmer. Both fresh and stale pita can be used in a variety of dishes.
The role of gluten in pita bread
Gluten is the main protein found in wheat and gives bread its structure and texture. When wheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded, the gluten forms an elastic network that traps the gases produced by yeast during rising and baking. This gives bread its characteristic chewy texture and allows it to rise.
For pita bread, gluten provides stretchiness to the dough that allows it to expand and create the pocket. Kneading develops long, strong gluten strands that provide this structure. Without gluten development, pita dough would not be able to properly inflate and form the signature pocket shape.
Gluten also contributes to pita’s soft and fluffy interior crumb when fresh. When gluten is hydrated, it forms a matrix that gives the bread bounce back when pressed. As pita goes stale over time, the gluten network crystallizes and makes the bread chewier.
Challenges of making gluten free pita bread
Creating a tasty gluten free pita bread presents several challenges:
Lack of gluten structure
Gluten free flours, such as rice, tapioca, and potato starch, lack the elastic gluten proteins required to form the stretchy dough needed for pita. Gluten free doughs are batter-like and loose rather than exhibiting the cohesiveness of wheat dough. Without gluten, the dough cannot properly trap gas bubbles and expand to form the pocket.
Dense, heavy texture
Gluten free flours also tend to result in denser, heavier breads. Gluten proteins have a lightweight structure compared to other molecules. Using flours like rice that lack this aerated structure yields bread that is much denser than a traditional pita.
Crumbling and dryness
Without the bindings provided by gluten, gluten free breads often lack the structure to rise properly and resist crumbling. They also tend to dry out quickly, becoming dense and dry. Producing a pita with the soft interior and tender, flaky layers found in traditional pita can be very difficult with gluten free ingredients.
Difficulty forming pockets
Even if the dough can rise somewhat, the lack of stretchy and elastic gluten means the gases often escape rather than inflating the flatbread to form the signature pocket. Gluten free pitas may puff up a bit but lack the dramatically expanded, rounded shape of a wheat pita.
Solutions for making gluten free pita bread
Food scientists and bakers have developed several strategies to combat the challenges of gluten free pita dough:
Using stabilizers and emulsifiers
Adding ingredients like xanthan gum, guar gum, lecithin, and psyllium husk can help mimic some of the binding and moisture retention properties of gluten. These stabilizers improve the structure and crumb of the bread.
Using a blend of flours and starches can help create a dough with more structure. For example, rice flour mixed with tapioca and potato starches can form a more resilient dough. Whole grain flours add fiber and protein.
Additional yeast or chemical leaveners like baking powder can give more rise to the dough, allowing it to better trap gases and inflate. Resting and proofing times may need to be adjusted.
Eggs and dairy
Adding structure-enhancing ingredients like eggs and yogurt helps bind the dough. Fats like oil make the pita more tender and pliable. Milk and cheese also add moisture and softness.
Gums and hydrocolloids
Specialized baking additives can mimic gluten’s effects. Xanthan and guar gums thicken and bind. Cellulose gum and konjac add viscosity and stability. Hydrocolloids like psyllium, chia, and flax seeds absorb moisture.
Adapted baking method
Rolling the dough thinner, baking at high heat, and sandwiching two dough layers can help the pita puff up and form a pocket. Brushing with oil or steam injection while baking improves expansion.
Commercial gluten free pita bread options
Thanks to these solutions, several brands now offer high quality gluten free pita bread:
Against the Grain
– Made with a blend of starches and flours like brown rice and tapioca
– Uses xanthan gum and psyllium husk
– Slightly smaller than traditional pita but with a rounded pocket
– Soft inner crumb but denser than regular pita
– Made with chickpea, sorghum, and rice flours
– Uses yeast, eggs, and oil for softness
– Fills out more fully than other brands
– Has a mild nutty, sweet flavor from chickpea flour
– Ancient grain blend includes millet, amaranth, quinoa, and teff flours
– Hearty, seeded texture from whole grains
– Forms a pocket but is thicker than traditional pita
– Holds up well to stuffing without breaking
– Made with potato starch, rice flour, and tapioca starch
– Xanthan and cellulose gums provide stretch
– Bakes very round with an open pocket
– Exhibits layered, bakery-style pita texture
|Brand||Main Flours||Texture||Pocket Formation|
|Against the Grain||Brown rice, tapioca||Dense, chewy||Rounded|
|Srella||Chickpea, rice, sorghum||Soft||Full|
|Canyon Bakehouse||Ancient grain blend||Hearty, seeded||Thick|
|Francesco’s Pita||Potato starch, rice||Layered, flaky||Open, round|
Tips for using commercial gluten free pita bread
Gluten free pita from the store offers convenience but differs somewhat from wheat-based pita. Here are some usage tips:
– Warm or toast the pita to soften it before use, improving pliability.
– Fill gently without overstuffing to prevent breaking the pita.
– Try rolling the edges for a wrap instead of forming a pocket.
– Avoid wet fillings that make the pita soggy and prone to tearing.
– Use fresh for maximum softness and to prevent dryness.
– Store gluten free pita in the fridge or freezer, separating layers with parchment paper.
Gluten free pita bread recipes
While buying pre-made pita is quick, you can also make tasty gluten free pita at home. Recipes use flours like brown rice, chickpeas, almond and specialty gluten replacers. Here are some popular recipes:
Chickpea Pita Bread
This protein-rich pita uses a blend of chickpea and brown rice flours. Chickpea gives great flavor and nutrition. The dough gets an extra bind and rise from eggs and yogurt. It bakes into rounds with a small pocket.
Quinoa Pita Pockets
Quinoa flour combined with tapioca starch and xanthan gum makes for a hearty, nutty pita. Quinoa provides protein and fiber. The dough gets a long proofing time to develop bubbles and rise. The pitas puff nicely but have a thick crust.
Teff Pita Flatbread
Nutrient rich teff flour handles nicely in this gluten free dough. Psyllium and flax seeds boost binding and stretch. Adding baking powder gives a boost of rise. These bake up like a cross between pita and naan.
Gluten Free Pitzza
This pizza-style pita uses a yeast-free blend of white rice and tapioca flours with baking powder. Proofing the dough twice helps develop air bubbles. The pitas bake up round and puffy with a crisp crust perfect for piling on pizza toppings.
Tools and equipment
Having the right tools can help in your gluten free pita making adventures:
– Stand mixer with dough hook for kneading dough
– Rolling pin and silicone rolling mat for shaping
– Pizza stone for crisping up crust
– Pastry brush for glazing pitas
– Clean cotton tea towels for covering rising dough
Storing and freezing
To maximize freshness follow these storage tips:
– Let pitas cool completely before storing
– Keep pitas in a bag separating layers with parchment paper
– Store at room temperature up to 3 days
– For longer storage, freeze baked pitas in airtight bags for 2-3 months
– Thaw frozen pitas at room temperature or crisp up in a hot pan or oven
Fun ways to fill and use gluten free pita
Gluten free pita offers endless possibilities for use:
Falafel or shawarma wraps
Fill warmed pita with crunchy falafel or shaved shawarma meat, veggies, hummus, and tahini sauce. Wraps hold up well without breaking.
Top baked pita rounds with tomato sauce, cheese and favorite pizza toppings for personal gluten free pizzas.
Cut fresh or stale pita wedges, brush with oil and sprinkle on zesty seasonings. Bake until toasted and crispy for dipping.
Eggs in a nest
Press a rolled up pita into a muffin pan to make cups. Crack an egg inside and bake for a fun brunch dish.
For party nachos, cut pita into wedges and crisp in the oven. Top with all your favorite nacho fixings.
Stuff pita generously with sliced deli meat, cheese, lettuce, and condiments for an easy lunch on the go.
Is gluten free pita bread healthy?
Going gluten free eliminates products made from refined wheat flour in favor of alternative whole grain flours. This can provide some health benefits:
– Increases fiber intake from gluten free whole grains
– Reduces exposure to glyphosate herbicide used on wheat crops
– Eliminates immunotoxic gluten proteins for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance
– Reduces inflammation caused by gluten exposure
However, gluten free substitute flours also have some disadvantages:
– Often have less B vitamins than wheat flour products if not enriched
– Tend to be lower in protein than wheat flour
– Some gluten free flours like rice flour have higher glycemic index
– May be made with more fat and sugar to improve taste
Within a balanced diet, gluten free pita can be a healthy alternative for those requiring a gluten free diet. Focus on incorporating nutrient dense fillings and toppings. But for those without medical need, wheat based pita may offer more nutrition.
Is gluten free pita bread kosher?
Whether gluten free pita is considered kosher depends on the ingredients and manufacturing process:
– Must not contain any dairy, meat or shellfish ingredients
– Should be certified kosher by a rabbinical authority
– Should not be processed on equipment used for non-kosher foods
– Kosher varieties avoid use of leavening agents during Passover
Many commercial gluten free pita brands are certified kosher pareve. Check labels for a kosher symbol like OU (Orthodox Union) or Star-K. Manufacturer websites also specify when products are kosher certified.
For homemade pita, kosher rules apply to ingredients. Most basic gluten free flours and starches are kosher. Buying kosher certified egg replacers, yeasts and additives ensures compliance.
Gluten free pita bread is now widely available thanks to improved recipes using starches, gums and techniques that mimic gluten’s effects. While gluten free pita has a slightly different taste and texture, brands like Against the Grain, Srella, Canyon Bakehouse and Francesco’s create products that bake up with yeasty softness inside and tender layers similar to traditional pita. Filled, toasted, or made into chips, gluten free pita works well in place of wheat-based pita for those on a gluten free diet. With some adjustments, gluten free pita can also be a healthy alternative and provide a versatile canvas for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern inspired meals.