Our Daily Bread Needs An Overhaul
There’s more to bread than fluffy white
The History of Bread
According to history, the earliest bread was made in or around 8000 BC in the Middle East, specifically Egypt. It’s believed their brewing expertise combined with the warm climate, produced the world’s first sourdough by adding wild yeast to the bread mixture.
Romans invented water milling around 450 BC and they took bread to an art form. The richer Romans considered whiter bread as higher quality and more suited to the educated and wealthy. In British medieval times, bread baking became quite the status symbol. The upper classes preferred fine, white loaves, while the lower classes were left with rye, bran, and coarser breads.
The steel roller mill was invented in 1834 in Switzerland. This was revolutionary. Instead of crushing the grain, the roller system broke it open instead, thereby making it easier to separate the endosperm, germ, and bran. In the days of knights and lords, thick slices of bread called Trenchers were used instead of crockery. Believe it or not, the French Revolution is thought to have started because of French mobs demanding bread. And I thought I liked bread! The Great Fire of London in 1666 reportedly was started by a baker. Guess they should’ve had a bucket of water nearby…
At any rate, the addition of chemicals came into play in the 20th century. Bread became whiter, softer, and lasted much longer. The flour was heavily processed but the government enforced the adding back of minerals and vitamins — the enrichment of the flour. Mothers fell victim to heavy marketing and soft white bread became more sought-after as it became more convenient than making their own. The problem is white bread contains only part of the grain. The majority of the beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, are removed during processing. But bread can be made from rye, flax, corn, barley, millet, rice, and amaranth. Despite what Wonder would have us believe, there is more to bread than pre-sliced white sandwich bread.
Why We Should Be Making Our Own Bread
Hands down, very little in the world of food can be topped by the smell of freshly baked bread. If you’ve made that bread yourself, there is a sense of deep satisfaction as well. You made this thing that will nourish your family, and it doesn’t matter if you used a bread-maker or made the dough the old way. Food should bring a sense of satisfaction, and fast convenience can’t supply that.
Mass-produced bread is full of ingredients we can’t pronounce, much less know why they’re in our bread. The loaves are high in sugar, salt, and preservatives which will allow the loaf to be on the shelf a week before spoiling. Bread made by hand can be customized so many ways, whether by including other grains, using honey in place of sugar to feed the yeast, or by pressing seeds or other grains into the top of the loaf as it rises, or even by merely shaping the loaf differently. There is so much room for individualization that a typical mass-produced loaf does not offer.
I don’t know what bread costs where you live, but a friend of mine in British Columbia reports that a “normal loaf of bread” can cost anywhere from $4.00 to $6.00 in Greater Vancouver. Here in Northern Ontario that “normal loaf” of white Wonder is over $3.50 Cdn. Homemade bread is so much cheaper than that!
A family member who thought they were doing us a favor while my family was all down with Covid recently bought us four loaves of Wonder bread. Unbeknownst to them, every one of them was stale. The bread was not a complete loss, those stale slices can be used for French toast or croutons, or even toasted tomato sandwiches. But I couldn’t help but wonder (pardon the pun) why the bread treated to last a week or more on the shelf was coming from the store already stale. Homemade bread is fresher and more nutritious than mass-produced, hands down. Sourdough bread is even healthier, but more on that in a bit.
What Is Yeast?
Laura Rusche, associate professor of biological sciences tells us that yeast is a fungus that grows as a single cell, rather than as a mushroom. Saccharomyces cerevisiae can make our dough rise, but how exactly does it do this?
Each yeast organism is made up of just one cell, yeast cells live together in multicellular colonies. They reproduce through a process called budding, in which a “mother cell” grows a protrusion known as a “bud” that gets bigger and bigger until it’s the same size as the mom. S. cerevisiae can produce special stress-resistant cells called spores that can stay dormant for long periods of time, germinating when conditions improve. Regular, non-spore yeast cells can also be preserved through freezing.
S. cerevisiae and other yeast species eat sugar and produce byproducts including carbon dioxide (responsible for the air pockets in leavened bread) and alcohol (think wine and beer). Yeast ferments — it takes in sugar and spits out alcohol and CO2. What’s interesting is that this evolved as a way for yeast to fight other micro-organisms. Yeast has a higher alcohol tolerance, so when it is secreting alcohol, it’s killing bacteria around it, so it’s the only one that’s left. It thrives at temperatures of about 85 degrees F, which is why seasoned bakers often keep their rising dough somewhere warm. Too cold, and the yeast will be slow to grow. Too hot, and it will die. This is why my early dough ‘logs’ wouldn’t rise after I’d frozen them. The yeast had been killed off in the freezer.
What Is Unleavened Bread?
Bread that does not include chemical or artificial leavening agents is considered to be “unleavened”. This includes bread made without yeast, baking soda, or baking powder. There are many types of unleavened bread known across the world. Some of these include naan, roti, arepa, tortilla, bataw, kitcha, bannock, poori, matzo, stenalderbrød, cornbread, and rietska, and there are many, many more the world over. By restricting ourselves to the familiar, we deny ourselves the joy of discovery. It would serve us, and our palates, well to experiment with unleavened breads. Many of them could be introduced to your family alongside an old familiar, such as stew or soup. You may find you and your loved ones enjoy them!
What Is The Healthiest Bread?
The healthiest bread includes sprouted grains. These may be flax, wheat, rye, or other grain that have been allowed to germinate. You might know that these grains are all members of the grass family, and when they first sprout they can look a lot like a tuft of grass. Buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa are not members of the grass family.
Sprouting changes the nutritional profile of the grains, making their nutrients more readily available and possibly easier to digest. Sprouted grain bread is an especially good choice for people with diabetes or high blood sugar. One study found that sprouted grain bread had the lowest available carbs, with 34 grams in a 4-ounce (110-gram) serving, compared to 44 grams in a 12-grain bread. Due to its lower carb and higher fiber content, sprouted grain bread had the lowest glycemic index, compared to 11-grain, 12-grain, sourdough or white bread.
Compared to other types of bread, sprouted grains are higher in certain nutrients, including protein, fiber, B vitamins and vitamin C. Sprouting increases amino acids in the grains. This makes sprouted-grain bread higher in protein compared to whole-grain bread and contains more fiber than other breads. Sprouting also increases the antioxidants vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene and sprouting wheat increased the absorption of iron by over 200%. You may find sprouted grain bread easier to digest, since sprouted grains are higher in enzymes and lower in lectins, compared to unsprouted grains. So you can see why sprouted grain bread would be the healthier choice, right? But even better is the relationship of sprouted grain bread to gluten.
Gluten is the sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt that is responsible for the chewy texture of bread. Gluten has been linked to inflammation, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other health problems in some people. Sprouting has been shown to decrease gluten content in wheat by up to 47%, which may make sprouted grains easier to tolerate. However, a precautionary note…sprouting does not entirely eliminate gluten. If you have celiac disease or a true gluten allergy, you should avoid sprouted grains that contain gluten. In this case, sprouted gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, and quinoa, are better choices for you.
Sprouted grains are higher in antioxidants, which help protect against chronic diseases. Eating sprouted grain bread is an easy way to increase your consumption of these powerful compounds. Swapping sprouted grain bread for regular bread even occasionally is an easy way to get more antioxidants from your diet. Isn’t it amazing how making one little change — in our bread — could have such a big impact on our health?
In this day and age of overworked and stressed healthcare systems, we need to be more proactive about our health, no matter where we live, our age or our income. The old saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away should be changed to include good bread. If we make small changes to what we put in our mouths, we could unlock more nutrients and allow our bodies to work more efficiently, thereby staying out of the doctor’s office and emergency room. Increased overall health is never a bad thing, and reduces our reliance on an already overburdened and sometimes flawed medical system. And if you’re like me and have no doctor, you want to be as healthy as you can be!
Next time, I’ll share some simple recipes for some of the bread I’ve discussed today, as well as my experiences with making them.
Shout out in the comments section and tell me what some of your favorite breads are!