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Bread – the staff of life

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Bread is one of the oldest manmade foods and is a key part of many cultures and religions.  It is shot through our language too, ‘to bring home the dough’ to refer to money, ‘breaking bread with others’ to represent hospitality, and ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ to signify a new idea.

Bread is part of our everyday life, from breakfast, to sandwiches at lunch, an accompaniment to a meal, a sneaky piece of toast to fill a hole between meals or a midnight snack.  It is a staple in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and countries influenced by European settlers such as Australia and the US.

The aroma of baking bread is so evocative that supermarkets pipe it to the front of the store to lure shoppers to the bakery department, and it is said that you have more chance of selling your house if there is the smell of fresh bread.

Bread at its most basic is made of three ingredients:  flour, water and salt.  It comes in many shapes and styles, using many types of flour and raising agents – flat bread, chapatti, unleavened breads, sourdough, rye breads, scones and enriched breads such as Brioche, Chelsea buns, and fruit breads.  The number of artisan bakeries is increasing and supermarkets are now stocking a wider range of breads.

Bread is one of the simplest things to make and it’s a good stress buster to knead dough!  It does need time to prove, it can be left to do its thing overnight and you can bake fresh bread in the morning.  You don’t need a bread making machine, but if you have one, why not dust it off and try some recipes.

However, bread does get a bad rap… as the cause of bloating, indigestion, contributing to obesity and gluten intolerance (gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley).  The increases in intolerance to bread are to my mind, and to various bread experts including Andrew Whitley of the Real Bread Campaign, are caused by the additives added to bread to speed up the manufacturing process and extend the shelf life.  This process, known as the Chorleywood Bread Process, was invented in the 1960s, and now accounts for over 80% of bread on sale.  The process involves adding various enzymes, emulsifiers and other “improvers” to the dough. These do not need to be listed on the ingredients and can include bleach, preservatives and reducing agents, which can be made from feathers or animal hair!  Coeliac Disease is the most extreme intolerance to gluten; it is an autoimmune condition, where the body identifies gluten as a threat and attacks it and damages the lower intestine in the process.

Bread when naturally fermented it is more digestible, nutritious and tasty.  There are an increasing number of ‘ancient’ grains coming on to the market such as Spelt, Einkorn and Khorasan which bring different flavours and textures to the breads.  The grains have been traced back thousands of years, so are less processed or modified than some of the more commercial flours.

Why not try making your own bread?  The simplest recipe is probably soda bread, which can be made quickly and needs no raising time – it’s delicious with cheese or a warming soup.

To read more about ‘The Real Bread Campaign’ click here

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