Let’s make a trip into the homemade traditions and types of bread in Greece. If there is one staple in Greek cuisine, that must be their bread. Greek bread is prepared, shaped, and cooked in different ways all over the country, there are many different types of Greek bread, each of them with unique characteristics, varying in ingredients, textures, taste, and even color. Read this article to discover every secret you wanted to know about bread in Greece.
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Types of Greek bread
Bread from Greece: A home-made tradition
Greek bread doesn’t only go well with food but, on occasions, it’s even the most essential ingredient in a dish, like for instance in the Cretan staple dish dakos (or ntakos), but also in gyros, which includes meat, fresh vegetables, yogurt, and sometimes fried potatoes, all traditionally wrapped in a round, flatbread known as pita.
However, that’s not everything: When you visit a Greek fourno (bakery), you’ll find that choices range from the traditional horiatiko psomi, a common type of bread, originally from Greek villages to daktyla, a long loaf of bread that resembles the shape of fingers.
Some types of Greek bread can have olives or nuts, can be cooked with or without olive oil in the dough, and can add seeds on top to enhance the flavor. Paximadia, from Crete, are among my favorite. More Greek bread adds to the list; such as the well-known pita, in its different varieties: Arabiki (Arabian), a very flat kind of bread, or Cypriot, which has a longer shape and forms a pouch that’s perfect for fillings.
Greek bread for special occasions
In Greece, every season, every festivity, every life celebration has a type of bread that goes with it. Food and sharing a meal is an essential part of the Greek culture, as a consequence, being bread such a remarkable ingredient on any Greek table, the logical consequence is that important meals would have their own festive bread.
That’s how we can find the huge and flat lagana bread on Clean Monday, to celebrate the start of Lent. Tsoureki, instead, is the typical sweet bread of Easter, and other occasions.
Christmas tables reserve a special place for christopsomo, or Christ’s bread, usually round in shape, with a cross of dough added on top as a decoration, and sometimes also with walnuts or other nuts.
Gamokoulouro, also known as ploumistò, wedding bread, or xompliastò koulouri in different Greek islands. It looks like a beautiful embroidered ring of bread, and it’s popular in Greece and extremely popular in Crete.
Wedding bread is a true artisan masterpiece that requires a lot of patience and manual work to make. The gamokoulouro is usually given to guests after attending a wedding and is often hand-made by the mother of the bride or the groom. All of them represent a tradition that the country knows how to preserve.
Greek bread: An ancient tradition
In ancient times, bread was a very important ingredient in any person’s diet. Preparations would vary from flour with water, milk, vinegar, honey, and olive oil, of course. The bread came in a plethora of different shapes (flat, round, semicircular, oblong) and contained barley or wheat flour.
However, the different cooking technique was what would define the taste and the type of bread in Ancient Greece. Bread could be baked in the oven, but also cooked floating on water, on coal, basted in oil, or even cooked on a special type of grate.
Bread for the Gods…and for the people
Thalisio, or also thargilio was a type of bread from the Classic period to offer to the gods, and it was usually a special bread made with the cereals of every new crop.
Likewise, people would bake bread for different important occasions and seasonal or religious rituals, a custom that goes back as far as the Minoan ties, on Crete. This tradition continued as time went by, and today, a very common type of holy bread is popana, which people usually take to church for its blessing.
The close relationship between the gods, the crops, and the process of making bread has been a continuous one over the centuries. Today, bread such as christopsomo in Christmas, lazaria and lambrokouloures in Easter as well as different baked pitas for the feast of different saints offer an incredible variety of bread as well as a long-lasting connection between bread and religion.
Greek bread types
One of the Greek varieties that locals enjoy is me prozymi bread, literally, zymi is the dough, while prozymi bread translates as sourdough bread. In this case, the yeast is replaced by a “pro” (Greek for pre) or starter mixture which needs a few days to develop and therefore is good to use. Since this mixture can be kept alive for long periods of time, it is often preserved and used day after day.
Greek bread can present a crunchy, thick, and hard crust, with a soft but compact interior, like in horiatiko or daktyla. But it can also be soft both on the inside and the outside, such as lagana, tsoureki, or pita.
Flour is usually white wheat, white whole wheat, or whole grain, but it can also be corn flour. Corn is used to bake one of Greece’s most humble bread, peasant bread, popular in times of hardship, bobota.
Types of bread from Greece
Let’s see now some of the most popular kinds of bread you will be able to find in Greece, some of them on an everyday basis. While some others will only be available on special occasions.
Original from Greek villages, xoriatiko psomi is, in many places, still baked in outdoor wood ovens. This is a dense type of bread and can be available in different flours or a combination of more than one. Often, the main fatty ingredient of xoriatiko is the famous Greek extra virgin olive oil.
This country-style bread normally comes from rural areas, but can also be found in cities. Its density makes it a perfect companion for sauces, creamy toppings, and olive oil dressing. To enjoy it better, cut it in slices, sprinkle with oregano and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and put in the oven for less than 5 minutes: A fragrant, tasty, tasty and aromatic appetizer in many Greek homes and tavernas.
Daktyla is a sesame-coated bread, traditionally containing yellow (or also country) flour that blends AP flour, whole wheat, and cornmeal. That last ingredient gives a characteristic texture to the loaf.
Daktyla (which translates as fingers) is also known as finger bread, and can be torn apart to separate into smaller portions from a big, oval piece.
Tasty but simple. It has a moderate crumb and tastes like white bread even though it’s quite yellow inside. Good with a topping of cream cheese. Cyprus and Turkey also bake this variety.
This is another classic Greek bread variety, its name means olive bread (elies = olives, psomi = bread) and it has a characteristic Mediterranean taste.
Eliopsomo can come with big chunks of olives, rich olive oil, fresh herbs, and onions. These ingredients are either inside the dough or on top before baking.
Some also say that its secret ingredient is orange juice. In any case, olives and herbs combine with the texture of olive oil. This offers a distinctive and fragrant taste to this rich and savory Greek bread variety.
Karydopsomo is a dark type of Greek bread, combining plenty of taste, color, … and calories! Its basic ingredient, karydes (walnuts) are the main reason for its dark color. Walnuts make this bread ideal for winter.
Tasteful but a bit on the heavy side, karydopsomo is a yeasted type of bread that contains plenty of chopped nuts, as well as other ingredients very high in nutrition.
Its walnutty flavor makes it ideal to pair with a drizzle of Cretan olive oil from the tsounato variety.
Karydopsomo is also perfect with hard, aged cheese and a glass of red wine, better if aged in oak.
Mostly known as Arabian bread (or arabiki pita, in Greece), pita is famous in the Mediterranean. It comes from the tradition of the Balkans and Middle Eastern ovens.
Popular Greek gyros use a flat and compact variety of pita, very flexible and soft, ideal to wrap the gyro ingredients. But pita can also have the shape of a pocket perfect to fill and prepare different types of sandwiches. The Cyprus variety is kind of oval, and the dough is extremely soft and flexible.
In general, pita is a soft delicacy, slightly leavened, with wheat flour as its basic ingredient.
Pita is quite ancient as well, in fact, it goes back to the traditions of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.
In Greece, pita bread is a key ingredient to wrap meat, resulting in delicious souvlaki and gyros sandwiches or wraps, however, it is also perfect as a snack, better if topped with tzatziki sauce or Greek fava.
The Greek flatbread Lagana is similar to the Italian focaccia. Locals cook it on Clean Monday or Ash Monday, the first day of the Great Lent, a very popular day in Greece with several other food traditions.
In ancient times, lagana used to be baked without yeast, but now it’s common to find leavened Lagana. In fact, some people find a resemblance to Jewish matzo or unleavened bread, typical of Easter in several cultures.
Lagana is flat and has the impression of fingertips and a topping of sesame seeds. It also has olive oil seasoning.
Tsoureki, Easter bread
Tsoureki or Easter bread is a sweet yeast bread with ingredients such as eggs, milk, and butter. This bread is a must during Greek Easter, the most important religious observance of the Greek Orthodox faith.
Sometimes baked in the shape of a small bun and often as a three-strand braid tsoureki symbolizes the Holy Trinity. A special kind of Easter tsoureki has red-dyed eggs braided into the dough, representing the blood of Christ. A delicious variety that can last for several days… when it lasts!
Christopsomo, Christmas bread from Greece
Christopsomo is the typical type of bread every family bakes (or buys) to add a festive touch to their Christmas table.
It’s mildly sweet, and the dough is enhanced with flavors such as clove, cinnamon, and orange or lemon zest.
Round in shape, christopsomo usually has walnuts and there’s always a cross of the same bread dough on top.
With the shape of a daisy, margarita is a white flour bread, soft and with sesame seeds.
Every petal of the “flower” is a bum, which you can easily separate, instead of cutting it with a knife. Margarita is excellent to make soft sandwiches and it’s a popular variety in many bakeries.
Other varieties of Greek bread include tiropsomo (bread with cheese), thrakiotiko (from Trace), pinakoti (from Agios Oros), and metsovitiko (from Metsovo).
Koulouri, Greece’s bread ring
With origins going back as late as Ancient times, koulouri remains one of the most popular bread varieties in Greece. Koulouri was a popular treat in the Byzantine Empire, and there are fonts stating that on the streets of former Constantinople (modern Istanbul), this was a popular choice of bread.
Koulouri is simply a ring of bread usually sprinkled with sesame seeds. However, there are endless types of koulouri, it can have honey, cheese, raisins, olives, and even chocolate. The variety from Thessaloniki is probably the most popular one, according to many, the city is, in fact, the birthplace of koulouri.
Traditional bread from Crete
In Crete, no meal can be called such if there’s no bread. Bread has always played a key role in Cretan gastronomy, so much so that in several situations the word for bread, psomi, can even imply the whole meal. The island has always counted many different varieties, usually changing together with the seasons and the occasions.
On the extensive plains of the island (Messara, Lasithi, among others) locals have always cultivated cereals of excellent quality.
On the other hand, the mountainous terrain was no limit to this activity. In the mountains, cereals have always been cultivated on terraces, back from the Minoan times. As a matter of fact, there are findings of large amounts of cereals stored by the Minoans in different palaces and archaeological sites on the island.
The most common cereals for bread are barley and wheat, and even both are mixed together. Baking bread a second time to produce long-lasting rusks is another characteristic tradition on the island.
Unique varieties of Cretan bread
In certain Cretan villages that still keep old traditions, the chobliastres are old women skilled in the decoration of bread. It’s possible to find some of them not far from Chania, in the village of Platanias.
Among the unique types of Cretan bread, there are varieties for every occasion. There’s bread for baptism, engagement, and weddings. There is bread for the groom, for his best man, and for the wedding guests.
Types of bread from Crete
Stafidopsomo is a mildly sweet kind of bread with raisins (stafida is in fact the Greek term for grape). It comes in small loaves, round or oval in shape. Once they add the raisins to the dough, they shape loaves and bake at low temperatures.
This variety has its origins back in the Ottoman occupation, some state it was this variety was first cooked in Crete.
The stafidopsomo is a very popular bread in Greece and its ingredients vary from wheat, and barley, or corn. In many different areas of Greece, people usually enjoy it for breakfast.
Paximadia, the typical rusk from Crete
Paximadia is darker than regular bread, even very dark on occasions and whole wheat or barley flour is the main ingredient. Cretans bake paximadia overnight in ovens already hot but turned off. In this way, the bread cooks from the remaining heat. This produces a dry state without creating brittleness which would make it crumble.
However, the main characteristic of the rusk is its double baking which dries out moisture still maintaining the taste.
Sometimes locals use it for certain salads, first breaking it into pieces and then moistening it with water or olive oil. Stored at room temperature it lasts up to eight weeks or more when using an airtight container.
Despite its Cretan identity, paximadia is a type of bread that perfectly suits the marine soul of the nation. This kind of hard bread was the typical bread of sailors. They would load them on their ships for their long-lasting quality, thus guaranteeing a long-term stock of bread to spend several months at sea.
Some theories even claim that on many Greek islands, the windmills close to the shore would grind the flour for the bread to be loaded on the ships. Mykonos is home to the most famous Greek seaside windmills, you can read about them here.
Types of paximadia
Barley rings or kritharokoulores, wheat pakimadia, ntaki, barley paximadia, wheat, and barley rusks, and eftazymo (chickpea bread). The English term rusk describes different types of paximadia. They are round (kouloura), half-circles, or shells (ntakos), and they all share a rough texture.
The official Cretan rusk is the wheat one, but there are also barley rusks, rye rusks, wheat, barley, oat rusks, and chickpea rusks.
In Crete, there are endless varieties of paximadia. Among the most popular are kouloura, a ring often served with olive oil, oregano, and tomato. Ladokouloura, made with olive oil, is a very tasty variety.
Another Cretan variety of paximadia is eptazymo which is not only a rusk but a type of soft bread as well. It’s popular during the celebrations of August 15th, and the main ingredient is a kind of fermentation of the fungus present in chickpeas.
Eptazymo is typical of the eastern area of Lasithi, especially in the small village of Kroustas, close to the more famous Kritsa. Locals sprinkle black sesame seeds on top and it’s common to season it with bay leaves, pepper, aniseed, cumin, and even cinnamon.
Smaller rusk versions of eptazymo are ideal as a base for the traditional Cretan salad. This salad has more vegetables than the famous Greek salad (or horiatiki salata), and local Cretan myzithra cheese replaces the feta.
Artos, Cretan holy bread
This is a celebratory bread that people usually take to church as an offer. There, it is blessed and then shared after mass on feast days and celebrations.
Making your own bread in Crete
Gastronomic tourism is one of the trends on the island and there is no shortage of reasons as to why. The Cretan diet has lately gained even more recognition due to its healthy characteristics and unique taste and freshness. One of the things you can do while touring Crete is book a cooking class.
You can venture into the mountains and visit a shepherd’s hut (mitato), to learn how to produce cheese and cook Cretan dishes. We had a lot of fun with this experience.
However, if you want to learn to make your own bread, I cannot recommend this activity enough. It was probably one of the best days we spent on the island, and my children enjoyed it a lot. Here you can check more reviews and book this tour.
If you want a shorter and cheaper experience, you can bake with a bread master in the traditional settlement of Aerolithos, close to Heraklion. Here you can book and take a look at the reviews.
(Remember, if you book through our links there is NO extra cost to you and we earn a tiny commission that allows me to keep writing incredible content about Crete for you to enjoy for free!)
We spent a whole day in a mountain village near the Psiloritis, Crete’s highest mountain (Rethymno). Here, other than learning about local herbs, and raki production, our kids literally put their hands on the dough. They made these delicious loaves which we ate hot from the wood oven. And still fresh the next day for breakfast! Here you can read about this unique experience.
Which are your favorite tastes from Greece?
Let me know in the comments below!
About the author of this blog:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. On the island, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in summer, translating, and freelance writing.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published several travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.
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