Where’s the History, Joe?

It’s not easy with flatbreads, reader Clay! They are humanity’s oldest form of bread. Indeed flatbreads pre-date wheat! Thirty thousand years ago, flatbreads were made from mixtures of foraged plant and grass seeds, pounded or ground, mixed with water and cooked on flat, hot stones. That basic technique endured for tens of thousands of years, up through the dawn of the age of agriculture, when hunter-gatherers started to settle down on farms and grow large quantities of single crops.

That was roughly twelve thousand years ago, right about the time that early forms of the wheat we know today (emmer and einkorn) started to appear in southeastern Turkey, in Syria and Iran. From there wheat spread all throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and into India (that was about eight thousand years ago).

Were peoples in India eating naan and chapati in those days? It’s hard to say, at least for me. Stone grinding was common then — large scale milling had to wait another five thousand years or so — so it’s a pretty safe bet that some sort of flour was in use at the time. My guess is that something very close was in use then, but certainly rougher, denser and tougher than what we’re used to. But while the flatbreads we eat are qualitatively different than the flatbreads of old, they’re very much in the same tradition, being quick-to-make grain pastes, leavened or unleavened, cooked over very high heat.

4 thoughts on “Where’s the History, Joe?”

  1. We really like injera which is made from one of the oldest grains man has used, Teff. Until recently there was no place here on the frozen tundra to buy teff so my recipe uses buckwheat pancake mix and club soda to get the bubbles. Recently we found a place that sells teff (Minneapolis has the largest Somali community in the US) but I have not tried the real thing yet.

    Would you like the buckwheat/soda recipe?

  2. chappati yes naan maybe not because of the yeasting…there are tons of rotis (out genric term for flatbreads) that use other flours. one favoutire of mine is bhakri, made in desert states, with millet flours. thick and hard if it gets cold, it’s SO yum. i shall find you a recipe if you’d like it.

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