The problem with bread

I have written elsewhere in this website about bread, wheat and the mistaken concept many people have thinking that bread is healthful food. Recently I have come across a wonderfully informative, interesting and useful book written by Andrew Whitley, a passionate baker if ever there was one, of the famous Village Bakery in England. ”Bread Matters” (ISBN 978-0-00-729849-5) explains why we should make our own bread, and then gives detailed information and recipes on how to actually make it, in all its many glorious varieties.

Whitley confirms a suspicion I have held for a long time, namely that it’s the quality of our daily bread and the ingredients it is made of that is the source of the problem. What we think is good food is in fact a highly processed, highly industrialised convenience product, which in the long term does us a lot more harm than good.

Below is a list (taken from the book) of the typical ingredients your normal supermarket/bakery loaf of bread contains, without you even knowing about it. Some of these things don’t even have to be mentioned on the packaging by law. It’s the most common type of bread on the market. Whitley wrote about the UK market, but I am willing to bet it’s not much different here in the Netherlands. Why? because the technological process that makes this type of bread possible is cheap, saves much labour, makes light and fluffy bread and keeps it ‘fresh’ forever. If you’re buying a sandwich in the office cafeteria, getting it in a petrol station or a ‘Hema on the go’, eating it at a catered dinner, having it with your burger or buying it cheap from the supermarket or bakery, the likelihood is this is the bread we’re talking about. No wonder it makes so many people sick.

At this point you might all say ‘hang on a minute’, MY baker uses real flour and no preservatives and bakes the bread fresh every night’ etc. etc. Maybe. But did you really check? did you actually speak with your baker to see what he puts in your bread, each and every bit of it? how much sugar and yeast he uses? if he actually bakes your particular bread fresh, or maybe gets it as a bake-off and just finishes it off in the bakery? Please go ask, inquire and demand the absolute best, whole-wheat bread – if you’re going to eat it. Better still, make it yourself. And even then, even then the likelihood is that at least some of you will do better off wheat (tarwe), so bake with another type of grain. “Bread Matters” is full of ideas.


Ingredients in commercial bread

  •  flour (mostly highly refined, stripped of nutrients)
  • water
  • salt (usually high amounts, now manufacturers are under pressure to cut levels down)
  • yeast (excessive use)
  • fat (processed, hydrogenated, poor quality; not necessary to make bread, but give volume and softness so are liberally added)
  • flour treatment agents (E300) – to increase volume
  • bleach (bleek) – to make the flour whiter
  • reducing agent (E920) – to create more stretchy dough, especially in French baguettes and burger buns
  • soya flour – has a bleaching effect, increases volume and softness
  • emulsifiers (E471, E472e, E481, E422, E322) – to increase volume, softness and give a long shelf life
  • preservatives (E282, E260) – for prolonged shelf life
  • enzymes – for longer shelf life, better crust, dough strength and elasticity; preserving bread softness for longer, making the dough easier to process; to increase volume


Nice, eh?

More chemicals than bread you might say, and you’d be totally right.


If you wonder what’s wrong with chemicals (after all they are ‘scientifically approved’), consider that 50, even 20 years ago there were legally approved chemicals used in food that have since been banned. Chemical safety guarantees have a short scientific shelf life…


Very lastly, consider this. To make bread at home all you really need, says Whitley, are the first 3 ingredients: flour, water and salt. You don’t even need yeast if you made sourdough bread. That’s the way bread has been made for eons, until manufacturers started playing around with the wheat, the dough and the whole bread making and baking process, roughly 60 years ago – and more intensely since the 1960s. Now look at the statistics of gluten allergies, intolerances and a myriad of new illnesses and symptoms that have sprung into existence since the 1960s (a whole range of behavioural and learning disabilities, for instance) and ask yourself: since bread is the staff of life of so many in the West, could it possibly, just possibly be that there is some kind of link there?


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