Much has been reported lately about bread’s crumbling fortunes; that the nation’s affection for a sliced loaf has started to go stale – and bloating? Well, that’s just the yeast of your worries, apparently. And yet, if you take a look on the web, you’ll see that the reverse seems to be the case: there are scores of surveys, reports and research which prove that we do still love bread (no more puns, promise).
Why wouldn’t we love this food, which has sustained our ancestors in times of famine, poverty, drought and when the 24-hour Tesco shuts at 10pm on a Saturday night? We thought, therefore, it would be fitting to look at the rise of the loaf:
It’s thought that we’ve been baking bread for at least 30,000 years – probably starting as a mixture of water and grains which was fried on stones. The addition of yeast, which just exists in the air, was probably nothing more than a happy accident, leading to concept of leavening – which makes bread rise. The Egyptians are credited with the first commercial production of yeast, which must have been successful as allegedly, workers building the Pyramids were paid with bread.
Next came the development of refined flour, or ‘milling’, which was perfected by the Mesopotamians in 800BC using two flat, heavy stones to grind the grains. This fine, white flour was highly prized and remained so into recent years.
It was the Greeks who first used a free-standing oven specifically to bake bread, and by 5BC Athenians could buy bread from a physical baker’s shop. The importance of bread as a staple food was evidenced in 1202, when King John passed laws to regulate the price of bread, to ensure even the poorest people could afford to eat. How excessive, then, that in Medieval Europe, by which point bread had been enjoyed for ages, thick slices were used as plates. Called ‘trenchers’, the bread might be eaten or given to the poor.
Bread gained such importance, over the years, that it became the reason behind many crimes. In 13th Century Britain, bakers were fined for selling loaves that were short on weight and later on, in 1327, a group of bakers were punished for stealing dough brought in for cooking at the public bakehouse. It caused so much anger, that some of the perpetrators were jailed.
The Industrial Revolution and use of steam engines to mill flour refined the process – this was used most notably in Battersea at the Albion Mill. It was said this mill could produce more bread than all the other mills in London put together – until, that is, it strangely burned down in 1791. Bread-making was advanced even further with the invention of the reduction roller-milling system in the mid-1800s, leading to the demolition of many wind and watermills. This, and increased amounts of imported grain, meant Britain could produce good quality bread at fair prices.
Bringing us into the 20th Century is Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of the first bread slicing and wrapping machine in 1928. This was introduced to the UK in the 1930s, turning bread into a convenience food like never before. He apparently also coined the phrase: “the best thing since sliced bread”.
Otto’s invention didn’t only automate and speed up the slicing process, nor did it simply bring convenience to the kitchen – he also solved the issue of bread going stale. He extended its shelf-life by wrapping the loaves in waxed paper as soon as they were sliced. He then sold his machine, incorporating the wrapping feature, to the Chillicothe Baking Company. Sold as ‘Sliced Kleen Maid Bread’, it was an immediate success and all the bakeries wanted a similar machine. Thank goodness Otto discovered the paper; his earlier efforts included using hat pins to keep the slices together.
Then came the biggest development in bread manufacture, possibly of all time, the Chorleywood Bread Process. Using lower protein wheats and high-speed mixers, the CBP dramatically cut fermentation time and extended bread’s shelf-life. Today, we’re seeing the incredible rise of artisan and free-from breads; appealing to wider markets and filling voids left by those who had avoided the mass-produced ‘quick breads’ . It’s been an interesting journey, but bread is still very much a staple item in most people’s diets. Don’t believe us?
Our survey says…
Bread really has received a bad press of late, and unfairly so. For a food that has given its all for thousands upon thousands of years, it’s hard to believe we’ve simply turned our backs on it. However, a quick look on the web suggests this isn’t the case at all. Here are a few surveys and statistics to prove otherwise:
• The smell of freshly baked bread topped the poll of Britain’s top 20 scents, beating bacon and freshly cut grass. Toast has also been revealed as our favourite feel-good food.
• Half of our bread is consumed in the form of a sandwich. A Direct Line survey asked the nation how to make the ‘perfect bacon butty’: they said untoasted white bread, smoked bacon and brown sauce – a third of respondents liked to add an egg, 17 % add mushrooms and 14 per cent add cheese.
• Sales of gluten-free are up 15 per cent year-on-year, however, 40% of coeliacs are critical of the free-from options on the market; 81% say they miss the taste of fresh bread.
• 99% of households buy bread – specifically, 76% buy white bread.
• 49% of adults say they eat bread every single day, and 38% buy two loaves per week, according to Love Food Hate Waste. They also found that a fifth of British households admit to throwing away a loaf of bread before even opening it, equating to 24 million slices every year. Yet, bread will keep for three months if frozen.
• On British menus, brioche has become the bread of choice – commonly served with burgers and hot dogs – up 67%, a study has found.
• Figures obtained in 2014 found that Moscow is the most expensive place to buy bread, at £8.86 per kilo. London ranked in 72ndplace, costing just £1.83 per kilo.
• Bread provides more than 10% of calcium in our diets.
• After much consumer research, M&S has started to produce bread with yeast which naturally produces Vitamin D, giving consumers 15% of the RDA in two slices. Commonly derived from exposure to sunlight, the nation can find their Vitamin D levels low in the winter, hence it’s important to get it via other means.
• Research published in the Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism journal found that those who eat bread are less obese than those that don’t. What’s more, experts at the British Nutrition Foundation claim that bread doesn’t cause bloating, despite what we’ve all been told.
Ways to use bread ‘past’ the sell-buy date:
A survey carried out by Opinium found that 37% of consumers regularly throw out food which was rationed during WW2, including bread. This is largely because people forget to use them up ‘in time’ or that loaves are too big. Yet there are so many ways in which you can make this incredible food go further – such as making breadcrumbs to bulk out burgers, meatballs and pasta sauces. Failing that, pop the loaf in the freezer and use it slice by slice – they take minutes to defrost. There’s no need to throw bread out – here’s one of our favourite ways to enjoy a slice or two once it’s got a little stale: