Think about your favourite comfort food for a second. Most of us would get that cheesy pizza or burgers in their mind now, wouldn’t we? But what makes them what they are? Ring any bells? I’m talking about the bread! The most underrated yet the most essential part of it all.
The bread is the base of most if not all, types of food around the world. Hence it is nutritionally a staple food. As the oldest human-made product, there’s no surprise how it has worldwide consumption. It also holds culinary and cultural importance in many parts of the world.
Nutritionally, it is an excellent source of carbohydrates, magnesium, fibres, Vitamin B, and Iron. No wonder it is a popular food in Central Asia, Europe, Middle East, etc.
Bread and its Ancient History
Bread has been a part of this world for thousands of years. Evidence found 30,000 years ago suggests that a basic flatbread was made in Europe. The Neolithic age, starting around 10,000 years BC is the accepted time of the beginning of agriculture and the processing of grains.
The first processed flatbreads are said to originate from the ‘fertile crescent’ in ancient Egypt. Bread makers in Egypt are said to start producing yeast commercially around 300 BC.
We see a raised loaf of bread nowadays, right? But it was not this way from the start. Initially, there was no leavening. So, the bread was flat somewhat like a tortilla we have now.
The ancient Egyptians simply crushed the wheat grains and added beer in it. A warm stone was then used for cooking this mixture to make bread. However, as time passed other countries came up with risen versions of the bread.
Persians started milling the grains using wind-powered mills instead of crushing. Mexicans used stones to grind their corn and made bread out of that at around 100 BC.
However, it was Switzerland who introduced steel mills into this dynamic. They used steel rollers to burst open the grains.
Later on, this bread started becoming a status symbol in many parts of the world. It got so popular that the British categorized it for each class. The wealthy upper class used to consume only white bread while the poor lower class was to get only low-quality bread.
Similarly, Romans also held white bread superior to others in terms of quality. But in the 20th Century, enriched flour was used to produce bread. It was then produced commercially.
Basis of Ingredients
So, the question arises, how do you make bread? Well, in the past times, flour and water were simply combined to make bread. Then a hot flat surface was used for cooking that paste. That’s how the classic flatbread came into existence.
But now, there has been much advancement in traditional bread making. The original ingredients are still there, though, but you can always add more. Let’s break down based on these ingredients.
It is the main ingredient of bread. Flour incorporated with other ingredients is the primary ‘bread’. So, different types of bread make use of different kinds of flour accordingly. Each type of flour has different content of bran (a component of grain). This differentiates the flours.
Gluten is the most important part of it all, though. It affects the fermentation time of the bread. Hence it either quickens the bread-making process or slows it down. For example, whole wheat flour has less gluten and more bran. So low gluten increases fermentation time. This results in a longer baking time.
Water is the binding agent for all the components. Therefore, it is added to the flour to make the necessary ‘dough’. It provides moisture to the dough. It also helps to disperse and incorporate yeast in it. Due to its slight alkalinity, it tightens the gluten in the flour.
Frankly, the texture of the dough depends on water. Too much water and you end with very watery paste, while too little is not enough to bind everything. So this will leave you with hard clumps.
Water also affects fermentation time. Too much water increases the time.
Bread making requires a microorganism called yeast. As it activates, it helps in the leavening process. At 25 C*, it utilizes sugar to release CO2.
This phenomenon is what causes the bread to aerate and rise. The CO2 bubbles also leave little pockets of air in the break, making it light and soft.
Salt adds flavour and stabilizes gluten. It also helps to retain moisture.
This is the food for the yeast. It will help activate the yeast and rise the dough.
The Variety of Bread
Different varieties of bread have different origins. Let’s discuss a few:
- White sliced bread: Simple bread made of yeast using the Chorleywood bread process.
- Wheaten bread: Irish whole wheat bread leavened with yeast.
- Soda bread: Traditionally made with white wheat flour. Leavening comes from the lactic acid in the buttermilk reacting with the baking soda.
- Sour Dough: Lactobacilli and baking soda are fermented here. The ‘sour’ taste of the bread comes from the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.
- Baguette: It is French, yeast bread.
- Focaccia: Italian oven-baked flatbread.
- Brioche: Originally French, it is light, puffy, buttery bread. Its flour has high egg content.
- Ryebread: Rye flour is used to make this dense bread. It is found in both dark and light colours.
- Roti: Unleavened, whole wheat flatbread. This is from South Asia.
- Taftan: Leavened flour bread from Iran.
- Khobez: Leavened Middle-Eastern flatbread.
- Bing: Chinese origin flatbread. It’s like a tortilla but a little thicker.
- Anpan: It is a Japanese sweet roll. White or red bean paste is usually the fillings.
- Broa: cornmeal and rye flour are used to make this yeast-leavened bread. It is popularly made in Brazil and Portugal.
The Versitility of Bread
Bread is such a versatile product that you can use it in many different ways. Toasting it for a nice grilled sandwich or fry it as a French toast? Yes, please. You can also bake it as a condiment for your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
You may run out of bread, but you won’t run out of different ideas to use it. Here are a few:
- Salads: Caesar Salads make use of Croutons (sautéed, re-baked bread).
- Banana bread: Add overripe bananas to your flour batter and enjoy moist, flavorful dessert bread.
- Bread pudding: Add custard and caramel with your bread mixture and enjoy a great bread pudding
- Pizza: An ultimate favourite. Top your bread with your favourite ingredients, and there you have it.
Other ways of using bread or innovations can be in the form of Bagels/Donuts, Pretzels, Shawarmas, Burgers, and even the heavenly Garlic Breads. The varieties and innovations regarding bread are genuinely endless.