Better Bread: Part 1
Discover exactly why our suppliers’ bread is a cut above
Yet bread is also so much more than the compact provider of the vital carbohydrates we need to energise ourselves without consuming the protein from our own muscles – it is a global staple with a cultural significance like no other, commemorating the feeding of Israelites in their flight from slavery, representing the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and cooked in sacred ritual by Tibetan Buddhists. It is a secular representation of wealth and welcome, health and prosperity for people across all continents, and whether enjoying it as part of a religious feast, or employing it to get your beef dinner to the card table, bread should always be the best it can.
Yet from pumpernickel to paratha, brioche to bagels, American corn bread to a traditionally English cottage loaf, the one thing that’s seems to have varied as dramatically in the last two centuries of commercial baking as the types of bread available is their quality.
Sawdust, powdered horse liver, plaster of Paris and pipe clay, even the occasional accidental dose or arsenic, have all fond their way into the nation’s daily bread in order to whiten the crumb and bulk out the flour, and while this may sound both horrific and arcane, it may be worth considering how far modern technology taken us from a natural process that need only involve flour, water and yeast.
The Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) produces incredibly light, low volume bread, with labour efficiency and low cost, and still constitutes the bulk of bread we consume today. You won’t see it mentioned on any labels, but it’s unmistakeable at first bite.
From the clammy flanks of the packet sandwich that transfer straight to the roof of your mouth, to the soggy white hotdog bap or flaccid bun that bookends every franchised burger, CBP bread is ubiquitous, providing squishy sliced loaves that somehow lasts for days inside humid packaging as the preservatives they contain wrestle to hold back the mould.
Other common additions to today’s mass produced loaf include hydrogenated fats to help soften the crumb, chlorine dioxide gas to artificially whiten the flour, L-cysteine hydrochloride - an amino acid derived from animal hair and feathers that helps make dough stretch more, and calcium propionate, an antifungal agent added to improve shelf life.
They may still make additions to the over 100 different breads they produce, but these are more likely to be fresh herbs and olives in their focaccia ranges and onion in their speciality sourdough loaf, as we’ll discover in part two…