What Is the Difference Between Flour Tortillas & Flatbread?

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The flatbread is a staple in cuisines around the world, from unleavened tortillas in Mexico and papadum in India to fluffy foccacia in Italy and pita bread in the Middle East. The umbrella term flatbread encompasses a wide variety of thin breads made with a number of grains, including wheat flour, corn, chickpea flour, lentil flour, potatoes and rice.

About Flour Tortillas

  • Flour tortillas are a staple in Northern Mexico, where they are used as a wrapper for burritos, enchiladas, tacos and fajitas. They are more pliable than corn tortillas and come in several sizes. Flour tortillas are made by mixing flour, salt, baking powder, lard or other fat and water. The dough is rolled between two sheets of parchment paper, or pressed in a tortilla press. The tortillas are cooked on a hot, dry griddle or fried in oil.

Flour Tortillas and Crackerbreads

  • Some flatbreads are made without leavening, whether air from the mixing process, chemical leavener or yeast. These flatbreads are crisp once cooked, rather than soft and pliable like a flour tortilla, which does contain leavening. Crackers, hard lavash, matzo, Nordic crisp bread and Indian papadum are crisp flatbreads that don't use leavenings. Rather than being cooked on a griddle, most cracker flatbreads are baked or roasted in an oven.

Flour Tortillas and Leavened Flatbreads

  • Some flatbreads have a small amount of leavening added to tenderize the bread and allow it to rise. Pizza is a common leavened flatbread, with the addition of yeast causing the rise in the dough. Flour tortilla recipes sometimes call for leavening in the form of baking powder, but the amount used is too small to create much height. Instead, the baking powder helps create small air pockets in the finished product. Additional flatbreads that use leavening for rise include pancakes, Indian naan and roti, foccacia, gorditas and pita bread.

Other Cooking Methods and Ingredients

  • While flour tortillas contain flour and are cooked on a griddle, other flatbreads use different grains and cooking methods. Flatbreads that use milled flours, such as rye, can be similar to tortillas or other leavened flatbreads. Other grains, such as rice or cornmeal masa, can create a thicker, denser flatbread if used in their whole forms. An example of this is the dense, Mexican cornmeal cake, sopa. Alternately, milled rice flour creates a tender, thin dough, useful for crepes or wonton wrapper, or that can become very crisp when cooked. Some flatbreads are steamed for moistness, such as the Indian idli, while others are fried, like Jamaican cassava cakes.

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