“Bread is the staff of life” or at least so the saying goes. It has been a staple food for man since the very earliest times. And the baker is one of the oldest trades that still (just about) survives in the modern World.
Corn, barley rye and of course wheat have been used throughout history. Today wheat is the focus, and is grown in hundreds of millions of tonnes every single year to meet demand. But the bread of yesteryear is a long way from todays.
Research in 2010 regarding the potential risks of adding synthetic folate to bread has raised further concerns about the nature of the modern loaf. More on this below, but lets take a look at the changes in bread making.
From pounding wheat between two stones, man built wind and water mills for bread making. Industry marched on and sophisticated machinery was developed to churn out bread quickly and efficiently. Gone are the days of gently cooking in an oven allowing time for the full flavour to emerge. Today, it is about cooking bread as quickly as possible, which of course means extreme heat. Large amounts of yeast are added to further speed the process up.
As long ago as 1950, the House of Lords were debating the quality of flour for bread making, this is a fascinating read at the Hansard archives Here
. What on earth would they have said about the modern loaf!
So, it's really no surprise that the modern loaf is so hard on many people's digestive system. Lots of people are taking wheat out of their diet. But is it the wheat to blame, or the highly refined, industrially produced bread? (True Coeliac Disease / gluten intolerance is a seperate matter).
The Additives in Bread
Of particular concern when we look at the modern loaf, is the amount of additives and synthetic supplements that are added. It’s more the job of a chemist than a baker!
It was shortly after World War II that modern processes allowed for whiter than white bread. Popular with consumers, but not so popular with our bodies. White bread strips away wonderful vitamins and minerals. And so began the journey we are on, where what is taken away, is added back in synthetic form.
Legislation means UK bread has to have certain nutrients “put back”. These include vitamins thiamine and niacin, and minerals calcium (typically from chalk or even crushed animal bones) and iron. Synthetic Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is added to make it easier to mix the bread at high speed.
A number of E numbers are used for appearance, "texture" and shelf life. It is sufficient to state the type of additive and not it's full name or number.
It is of course thought that these additives are safe, but to us, it is the combined "cocktail" nature of additives throughout the modern diet that is greatest cause for concern. It is certainly accepted that for those with food allergies / digestive problems, these additives may aggravate the situation.
Yet more supplements are voluntarily added. They may make the loaf sound healthier, (omega oils etc) but does it make up for the industrial process from wheat to bag? And let's not forget that synthetic supplements are far from ideal in the quest for natural balance in the diet.
What about "Fresh" bread in the In Store Bakeries?
A report in March 2010 by the Real Bread Campaign
found that in store bakeries in supermarkets are abusing terms such as "freshly baked" and that the additives being used are not disclosed in the fresh bakery aisle. You can go to the report Here
and a news piece in the Daily Mail Here
And what about what’s not on the label?
Many processing aids are used to make bread on a large scale. And many of these processing aids do not have to be declared. Recently campaigners have called for the baking industry to “come clean”, especially because there are particular issues for vegetarians.
In the quest for speed, enzymes are used and these can be from animal products. Because they are destroyed in the “cooking” process, they do not have to be included in the ingredients. This is a serious ethical issue for some. The Federation of Bakers responded as follows
“All wrapped bread produced in the UK is clearly labeled and strictly adheres to EU legislation, ensuring consumers can always make an informed choice about what they are buying. The vast majority of UK wrapped bread carries a label stating it is 'suitable for vegetarians'. This claim could not be made if the food contained any ingredients including any processing aids, which were of animal origin. As a result the Vegetarian Society is satisfied that the labeling of bread in the UK meets its requirements and is suitable for vegetarians where stated on pack”
The Folate Issue
Folate is an important nutrient in the B vitamin family, the best dietary sources are lentils and leafy green vegetables for vegetarians, if you eat meat, liver is rich in folate. Considerable evidence has shown it is particularly important during pregnancy to protect against birth defects; but as with all key nutrients, it plays a role in many aspects of disease prevention.
It is largely the role in pregnancy that has led to folate fortification; this is mandatory in America, Canada and Chile notably, but other countries have followed suit. However, a new study from Chile has supported other research from America that adding synthetic folic acid to bread, may be associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.
The decision for UK bread is pending, and in light of the studies showing that adding pharmaceutical folate to produce may be beneficial for some, but not all, we can only hope that this issue is given the full attention it needs.
At Seventh Wave, we strongly believe that the use of isolated, synthetic nutrients is for most people, in most cases, not the way to go, whether that be in fortifying foods, or supplementing the diet. Certainly they may play a role in true cases of deficiency, but supplying your body with food state nutrients, balanced with all their essential key factors is preferable in the vast majority of cases. (See the Broad Spectrum Range
If you want to read more on the folate fortification issue, the nature of pharmaceutical folate, and the politics coming into play on this matter, then follow this link to the Alliance for Natural Health
So what of the Master Baker?
Well thankfully they are still working hard, although they only account for around 5% of all bread in this country. As with so many things, there is a big shift back towards a more natural approach to food, and the benefits of traditional skills. The popularity of Real Bread is on the increase.
At the Real Bread Campaign website
you can find out about bread making courses, suppliers of real bread in your area, recipes and more.
This shift back to the Artisan bread makers is good for us all. A return to high quality, nutritious bread would have many benefits for the health of the nation. And lets not forget that real bread making in much better for the environment.
You might even want to try your hand at making your own bread, bread making machines are easy to use these days. You get that perfect fresh taste, the wonderful smell in your kitchen, and best of all, you know exactly whats in there!
And when it comes to choosing flour - organic, wholewheat stoneground is the way to go. But do experiment, Spelt Flour is another option, and many consider this to be easier to digest.
Or for something really different, try sourdough bread for a fermented bread packed with health benefits