Focaccia Bread – A Short History

Focaccia is a fashionable style of bread made in Italy. It is spreading to other places in the world where Italian settlers and traders have formed communities. The bread is plain from inside and fairly flat topped with herbs and olives. There is a variety of Focaccia and new varieties have been made in the 21str century due to the flexibility of the basic recipe.

According to many historians, Focaccia originated from the Ancient Greece or with the Etruscans of North Central Italy before the Roman Empire. Flat bread has been made throughout the Middle East and extending to Persia for this long as well. This makes it almost impossible to identify a specific culture behind focaccia.

Focaccia is not traditional unleavened bread and the loaf slightly rises. In the Middle East, focaccia’s is mostly unknown. However it has a story of being prepared in Spain, Turkey, France, Italy and Greece.

The focaccia was historically not leavened, its natural recipe which rises in the right climate which gives a clue about its origins. Considering that the inland Mediterranean is fairly mountainous, it can be speculated that focaccia was first created by inland people. On the contrary, the Phoenician people were not known to eat bread similar to focaccia who originated from the coastal Syria and coastal Lebanon spreading throughout the Mediterranean by 1100 BC. A small quantity of yeast is needed in coastal areas to make the bread rise, otherwise the result will be a a traditional flat bread.

The Roman words ‘panis focacius’ is from where the name Focaccia derived. Panis means bread and is different form ‘pan’ of modern English. Focacius is also a Latin word meaning center or fireplace. In Roman times, focaccia was cooked in ashes of a fire rather than on a tray above fire. This makes the translation seem to be correct.

Romans used to mix a simple recipe of rough flour, water, olive oil, little amount of yeast and salt. It could have been seasoned with herbs but was plain in most cases. Then it was baked in ‘focacius’. Focaccia was used as dipping bread in Roman times, it was torn by hand dipped in salty soups. This doesn’t sound very appetizing in this modern time but was cheap and filling meal for people who were doing long labor. In fact focaccia style breads were used extensively by slaves in the Roman Empire and a stigma still exists today in some countries.

Focaccia style recipes are made in France and are considered a daily bread by a major part of the population. It is still one of the most popular breads sold in bakeries.

Since the medieval ages, focaccia was used quite extensively by the Catholic Church during religious festivities mostly during the Eucharist. The unleavened recipe of focaccia is most commonly used.

Italian immigrants in the 20th century brought different recipes with them to the United States including focaccia. However, focaccia is no longer strictly the preserve of Italian communities and can be now found in almost all bakeries and supermarkets. It makes delicious sandwich bread and is often served with cheese and other fillings. It is also available with a wide variety of seasonings.