|As Real Bread Week kicks off Amy Oboussier gets her teeth into bread - and real bread.|
At Hodmedod we’re a little more particular. We love real bread.
Despite its popularity bread has had a bad rap in recent years. Driven by concerns about bread causing weight gain, bloating and digestive issues, several high profile diets encourage the avoidance of bread and other cereal grain products containing gluten and carbohydrates. But the conversation rarely addresses the kind of bread eaten and the form in which we consume carbohydrates and gluten.
Highly processed white bread with under-fermented gluten, and carbohydrates our bodies readily convert into simple sugars, is by far the worst offender. The production of white flour strips away the grain’s bran and germ, removing most of the fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is desperately lacking in fibre, essential for gut health and keeping you fuller for longer as it's slowly digested. The high glycaemic index of white bread causes a blood sugar spike soon after it's eaten, potentially leading to erratic moods and eating habits, and even contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
It's not just the lack of valuable nutrients in white flour that’s problematic. Around 80% of British loaves are produced using the Chorleywood process, the technically efficient high-speed and high-input industrial process developed by the British Baking Industries Research Association in 1961. Chorleywood eliminates the need for long fermentation though the use of numerous additives, many of them classed as “processing aids” so not listed in the ingredients. Bread made this way lasts longer on supermarket shelves, is lighter in texture and costs very little to produce - but wants for flavour and nutrition.
What’s the alternative to bread made by this industrial process? The Real Bread Campaign aims to find and share ways to make bread better for us, our communities and the planet. Real bread should be made from just 3 or 4 basic ingredients - flour, water and salt for sourdough loaves, with the addition of yeast for yeasted bread.
By comparison processed white loaves often contain as many as 20 ingredients, for example:
Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin], Water, Yeast, Salt, Preservative (Calcium Propionate), Soya Flour, Emulsifier (Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids), Spirit Vinegar, Rapeseed Oil, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid).
When choosing or making the best bread, a good place to start is with whole grains, defined by the Whole Grains Council as:
“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed. This definition means that 100% of the original kernel — all of the bran, germ, and endosperm — must be present to qualify as a whole grain.”
Whole grains keep you fuller for longer and provide the nutrients removed when milling white flour. All refined wheat flour is legally required to be fortified with key nutrients, while wholemeal flour naturally contains most of these nutrients and doesn’t require fortification.
100% wholegrain bread is not for everyone, especially if moving directly from processed white bread, so try buying a 50/50 loaf or using 50% wholegrain flour and 50% white flour when baking at home.
The next important factor in choosing the healthiest bread is the raising agent. Most of the bread we eat uses fast action yeast. This isn't bad for you and it makes home baking incredibly straightforward, but when using a single strain of yeast and fast fermenting you're not going to get the most nutrients out of the grain. The slow fermentation of sourdough bread predigests the grains, essentially 'unlocking' more of the nutrients. Sourdough makes bread more digestible and increases resistant starch, further helping control blood sugar.
The best way to really know what’s in your bread and that it's healthy for you, is to make bread, whether yeasted or sourdough, at home with wholegrain flour. You might even invest in a Mockmill home flour mill to produce your own flour from whole grains, as fresh as can be!
At Hodmedod we mill wholegrain flour every day from a variety of British-grown grains alongside our selection of excellent books on flour and baking. We’ve several recipes for bread on our website too. We also sell Mockmills and the wholegrain grist you’ll need for milling.
If possible, find a good local independent bakery and ask what percentage of wholegrain flour is used and if you are buying sourdough bread, check it has had a long, slow fermentation, usually overnight in the fridge. If you’re not within reach of a good bakery we can deliver sourdough bread from two excellent bakeries local to us, Wakelyns Bakery and Penny Bun Bakehouse.
Not everyone has the time to make bread at home or the budget to buy loaves of sourdough bread. Simple steps to buying better bread to nourish you and your family are: check the ingredients list of your bread, say no to long lists of preservatives and emulsifiers, buy bread high in wholegrains, buy bread with malted grains and, if possible, buy real sourdough (not “sour-faux”).
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