The science of the pita
Everyone thinks about what they’d like inside of a pita. Falafel, hummus, pickles, red sauce. But what’s the point of any of it if the pita falls apart? Avi Ayalon from Perfect Pita tells us what truly makes the perfect pita - and why it’s such an exact science.
Pita bread supposedly originated in the Eastern Mediterranean region around 5,000 years ago. But even though it’s such a deceptively simple concept, and it has such a long history, getting pita right is a science.
“You want it to be soft and chewy, but you also need it to be strong enough to hold the ingredients,” says Avi Ayalon, the founder of Sydney supplier, Perfect Pita.
With a background in business and food, Avi’s pita knowledge started In 1995, when he owned and operated Bondi Bite, a falafel shop in Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
“I used to buy my pita bread from another bakery and it was really bad. We had to throw away 70% of it because it used to break….but we had no choice because they were the only ones supplying.”
Like all bread, pita contains four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The ingredients are combined to make a dough, that’s then rolled out and baked quickly in a very hot oven.
To achieve the perfect pita, the dough needs to be kneaded thoroughly so that the gluten develops (despite it's bad rap in recent years, gluten gives bread its elasticity and structure).
Second, there needs to be enough time for the dough to rise, so that carbon dioxide gas can create the pockets. Finally, the oven needs to be hot enough so the pita puffs up quickly - but not so hot that it burns.
It’s a series of chemical reactions that all need to be just right. And even though Avi ran his falafel shop until 2000, he never found the right pita.
“I sold the Bondi falafel shop in 2000, but I had it in the back of my mind that if I ever went back into business, I wanted to make my own pita.”
For many years, Avi was out of the hospitality game. He studied finance and worked as a stockbroker, a financial consultant and a property analyst. And then, like so many, his life was turned around by COVID.
“Like everyone else, I was scared, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But out of nowhere, a friend of mine approached me. He’d made a bad investment in a baking business that wasn’t really working, and he wanted me to turn it around and start making falafel again.”
The business had baking machinery set up, and Avi saw an opportunity to create the perfect pita. Through a series of connections, he found someone who’d had 20 years experience making pita.
“I said to my friend ‘if this guy can make the pita, I’ll help you out, and we can get a falafel shop going.'”
But even with 20 years under his belt, the pita maker was unable to create a product that met the perfect pita criteria. “Each day, there was something wrong with the pita. One day he blamed the weather, one day the flour - but at the end of the day, the pita kept breaking.”
Avi bought the recipe mix from the pita maker, but didn’t even use it. The shop continued to sell falafels, but Avi was frustrated with the pita. In the end he bought the recipe mix from the pita maker and decided to try his luck.
“We didn’t even end up using the mix. Within a week, I was trying to make my own combination. Eventually I figured out the missing link - but I still need play around with amounts.”
Several rounds of trial and error later, Avi finally found the right mix. “One day I had it: the perfect pita.”
What was initially meant to be an addition to his falafel shop took on a life of its own. “Word of mouth was spreading about the pita… I had people queuing up.”
He knew that the pita was the star of the show, and that he wanted to go wholesale. The investor who he had partnered with didn’t share his enthusiasm, but Avi’s faith was strong and he bought a new oven and a new site for his perfect pita creations.
From the beginning, he could barely keep up with demand. “I only had a few products, including the mini pita and a wholemeal pita - but they were super popular. Then I created the pita bagel…because that’s when bagels were popular - and that took off like crazy too.”
Three short years later, the business is flourishing, in big part because Avi is so connected to his customers, and often personally delivers the pita himself.
“We’re just growing and growing. And it’s because I have a pita that tastes good. It holds the filling. It doesn’t break. Just good-looking pita.”
Hospitality lover, food researcher, amateur chef, budding barista, and writer of content at Ordermentum.