Bread is one of the oldest man-made foods, with records and evidence pointing as far back as ten thousand years. What is bread anyway? The simplest way to describe bread would be a paste of flour and water (dough) that is cooked surrounded by heat (in an oven) or on heat (on a hot surface). The earliest form of bread was unleavened and can be likened to the tortillas we enjoy today. It wasn’t until three thousand years ago in Egypt that bread was leavened from yeast that came from fermenting beer. Today, bread comes in many shapes, sizes, forms, and tastes, making bread one of the most diverse products available.
- Beer is essentially liquid bread; they contain the exact same ingredients. Water, yeast, and grain, but just in different proportions.
- The Great Fire of London which gutted London in 1666, was said to have been started by a baker.
- The average American consumes over fifty pounds of bread annually.
- Bread was essential for the survival of families; this gave rise to the term “Breadwinner” where the income-earner was able to provide bread for the family.
- The highest consumers of bread in the world is Turkey with an average consumption of 1.2 pounds of bread per day per person.
- In WWII, it was prohibited to eat freshly baked bread in London because it encouraged people to consume more than what was allowed.
- In France, a bakery must produce all of its bread from scratch for them to legally call themselves bakeries. No shortcuts!
Bread Buying Guide
Buying bread in supermarkets can be n overwhelming task as the choices can be almost endless. Not only are the choices endless, but the marketing labels used by producers can be very attractive and misleading at the same time. Here are things to look out for when buying bread to see if it’s actually healthy or just vying for your attention.
- “Made with whole grains” – Take a look at the wording. This does not indicate the amount of whole grains used in making the bread. They could just have a small percentage of whole grain added to refined flour. If you want whole grain bread, look for “Whole-grain bread” on the label.
- “Multigrain” – Again, the same with “Made with whole grains” this does not specify whether the multigrain blend is whole-grain. For all we know, it could just be different types of refined grains.
- Resist buzz marketing words – Often producers will use words like “Home”, “Harvest”, “Country”, and other rustic sounding words. They’re not made in a home or in the country, but at a bread factory, churning out hundreds, if not thousands of loaves an hour.
- Check the nutrition information – While at first glance the nutritional information may look nice, be sure to compare it with the actual size of the slice and what you normally consume to see if you’re within your targets.
On top of these warning signs, a lot of commercial producers will add preservatives and other additives to make their bread stay relatively “fresher” for longer on the shelves.
Bread Production & Farming in Texas
It is not unusual to find boutique bakeries in all of the big cities in Texas that offer artisan bread. On top of that, every Farmers’ market in the state will also have one or two sellers that make artisan bread without all of the additives and bread improvers that you can find in commercially produced bread. While choices may have been limited years ago, today you will be spoilt for choices when you are in the mood for crusty bread that looks like they’ve been flown over from France. Not only do these pieces of bread look amazing and gorgeous, but they taste amazing as well.
Preservatives, Chemicals, and Additives:
One of the reasons for the rise of artisanal bread producers is the availability of information to people through the internet. Now people know what goes in commercially made bread and it has made them look for healthier (and of course, tastier) alternatives.
Here are some of the more common additives that are added to make commercially made bread cheaper, faster, and relatively tasty.
- Mono and Di-glycerides – These are added to keep the bread soft even if they’ve been exposed to air for extended periods.
- DATEM and SSL – These are dough strengtheners that basically interact with the bread proteins that allow the bread to hold toppings and fillings like nuts or raisings.
- Lecithin – This is added to keep the bread moist and is used as a binding agent. Lecithin used in breadmaking is usually derived from genetically modified soy.
- Azodicarbonamide – Used in plastics as an additive, this is also added to commercial bread to relax the dough and is called a “bread improver”.
- Bromide – This is another common dough conditioner. This allows the dough to be more elastic to survive the rigors of commercial bread making equipment.
- Calcium propionate – This is added as a preservative in commercial bread production.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – This is everywhere, are you really surprised that commercial bread contains this?
Most, if not all of those additives have been proven to cause conditions in lab animals, but more studies are needed to see if they cause any health issues in humans.
Of course, you can avoid all of these by supporting your local artisan bread makers. I mean, what’s better? Having grains, water, salt, and a leavening agent as the only ingredients in your bread? Or having processed flour with all of the additives above? You be the judge.
Commercial breads are packed in single-use plastic bags while artisan breads are usually packed in brown paper bags.
Bread can be enjoyed on its own, toasted with jams and jellies, and our favorite way of eating bread, sopping up the sauce from a nice stew or barbecue.
Depending on the bread, the storage time varies. Contrary to popular belief, bread actually doesn’t keep for longer in the fridge. Storing them in the fridge actually dries them out faster. The best way to store bread is in a bread box at room temperature.
For longer-term storage, bread can easily be frozen and reheated when ready to consume.
Making your own bread:
Real artisanal breadmaking is not something that can be done on the spot. If you’re just looking for one or two loaves, then it would be best to just get them from your local artisanal baker. Leave the breadmaking to the experts and just enjoy it.