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Better Bread: Part 1

Discover exactly why our suppliers’ bread is a cut above

Bread, in its myriad forms, is the world’s most widely consumed foodstuff. The solid, consumable proof of the transition made from hunting and gathering to a more sophisticated agrarian society.

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.

Rising to the occasion

Bread in its earliest forms was unleavened, precursors of the South American tortilla, Middle eastern pita and South Asian chapatti, made without raising agents from dough comprising little more than flour, water and salt. The earliest definite records of yeast being used in the commercial making and baking of bread come courtesy of the Egyptians in 300 BC, and since then the global variety of this basic human staple has become staggering. Germany alone boasts around 600 different bread types.

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.

Unwelcome extras

With the 19th century explosion in both industrialisation and urbanisation, the distance between food producers and consumers increased proportionately with new scales of production, leaving room less scrupulous producers to increase their profit margins on a loaf with the surreptitious addition of an alarming range of adulterants.

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.

Reliance on science

In 1961 the British Baking Industries Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, devised a bread-making method using lower-protein wheat, an assortment of additives and high-speed mixing. Over 80 per cent of all UK bread is now made using this method and most of the rest uses a process called ‘activated dough development’ (ADD), which involves a similar range of additives.

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.

Naturally superior

AMaws we know what we don't want to find in the bread we supply, which is why we source all ours from companies like Speciality Breads, Britain’s only artisan bakers to gained a Red Tractor assurance for delivering the highest standards of quality, hygiene and sustainability.

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…