Bread Consumption

1964 1972 1980 1988 1996 2004 Year

Bread Consumption Worldwide

Figure 8-2. Worldwide consumption of bread (per person per year). Adapted from Association Internationale de la Boulangeri Industrielle ( and Federation of Bakers (www.bakersfederation. org), 2001-2002 statistics.

Figure 8-2. Worldwide consumption of bread (per person per year). Adapted from Association Internationale de la Boulangeri Industrielle ( and Federation of Bakers (www.bakersfederation. org), 2001-2002 statistics.

several thousands of years earlier. The first breads were probably flat breads, with little or no leavening (i.e., fermentation), similar to those consumed even today in many parts of the world. It seems likely that humans began making leavened bread at very near the same time they began to make other fermented products. Leavening must certainly have been an accidental discovery made when a flour-water mixture became contaminated with wild airborne yeasts, leading to a spongy dough that was transformed by baking into a light and airy, aromatic, and flavorful product. Perhaps more so than any other fermented food, bread has played a major role in the history and culture of human civilization (Box 8-1).

Despite obvious increases in the size and scope of the bread-baking industry, the historical record has revealed that ancient bread-making is not all that different from modern bread manufacturing practices. Given the simplicity of the bread manufacturing process, perhaps this observation is not surprising.After all, bread-making requires only a few ingredients, a few simple mixing and incubation steps, and an oven for baking. In this chapter, the chemical, physical, and biological properties of these ingredients and the processes used for converting ingredients into doughs and breads will be described.

Box 8-1. Civilization and Bread

It is no coincidence that the history of bread making parallels the history of human civilization. Bread, the oft-quoted "staff of life" is still one of the principle staple foods throughout the world, and has sustained human beings for thousands of years.

Bread may have been one of the earliest of all "processed" foods and was certainly one of the first foods to be produced on large scale.Archaeological evidence (recounted in Roberts, 1995 and Wood, 1996) indicates that a rather sophisticated bread manufacturing "industry" had developed in Egypt as long ago as 3,000 B.C.E., in large part to provide nourishment for the substantial labor force necessary to build pyramids and other structures.

The very first breads were probably flat breads that had been made using barley, which does not work well for leavened breads. Therefore, the production of leavened breads likely coincided with the development of suitable ancestral wheat varieties, such as emmer and kamut. Given the open environments in which these factories operated, the dough fermentation was undoubtedly due to the combined effects of yeasts and bacteria, suggesting that these early breads were probably sourdough breads (discussed later). Rather than baking the breads on pans in ovens, the doughs were apparently developed and baked in clay pots arrayed around charcoal-fired pits. However, the use of enclosed ovens eventually became more common as this early industry evolved.

The importance of grain and bread during the course of human history is evident in the Bible, in literature and mythology, and throughout the historical record. Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, was also responsible for vegetation and agriculture; Neper was the Egyptian god of grain. During the ancient Greek spring festival of Thargelia, bread is offered to the mythological gods Artemis and Apollo, symbolizing the first fruits of the year and thanking them for providing fertile soil.

According to the Old Testament story, when Joseph, son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob, predicted that a famine was soon to occur in Egypt, the Pharaoh ordered that grain be stored, ensuring a sufficient supply of wheat when the famine eventually occurred. Later, when Hebrew slaves fled from Egypt more than 4,000 years ago, their hasty exodus left no time for their dough to rise. Instead, they had to eat unleavened bread, a form of which is eaten even today as a symbol of the Jewish holiday of Passover.The Eucharist, one of the sacraments of Catholicism, requires consecration and consumption of bread during Holy Communion. Communion in the Protestant tradition also includes bread, typically unleavened. A blessing over bread is commonly recited as part of many religious rites.

During the Roman era, bakers had an elevated status and were widely respected. Bread was so important to the citizenry that it was either provided free or was heavily subsidized. Roman soldiers were even equipped with portable bread-making equipment. Milling technologies were also developed that could separate wheat bran from endosperm (discussed in more detail later in this chapter), which made it possible to produce white flour bread.

However, genuinely effective technologies for producing refined white flour were not developed until the 1800s,when the roller mill was invented. For many centuries,this more expensive

Box 8—1. Civilization and Bread (Continued)

white flour was prized by society's upper class, while dark, whole grain breads were left to the peasantry. In the Middle Ages, baker's guilds, the forerunners of trade unions, were formed in Britain and Europe to set quality standards and fair prices and to protect their overall interests.At the same time, laws were enacted that also established prices and weights for bread.

These laws were apparently necessary because some bread manufacturers resorted to questionable, if not dangerous, practices, such as adding potentially toxic whitening agents to flour. These unscrupulous tactics led some bakers to garner a rather poor reputation. In Geoffrey Chaucer's the Miller's Tale, one of the great early pieces of literature (and one that all college students no doubt remember), the miller is hardly portrayed as a pillar of the community.

Because bread is such an important food, wheat has become one of the most important agricultural crops produced on the planet. For thousands of years, and even today, when wheat harvests are poor, due to weather or plant diseases, famines and starvation conditions often result. Political unrest, trade embargos, and other economic factors have also contributed to shortages of flour and bread. History books are replete with instances in which rebellions and uprisings, and even revolutions, occurred when a steady supply of affordable bread became unavailable.

Queen Marie-Antoinette's infamous remark about the lack of bread for the hungry children of France ("let them eat cake") proved to be her undoing, figuratively as well as literally. In the modern era, it was only as recently as the 1980s when citizens of the former Soviet Union had to wait in long lines just to buy a loaf of bread.This situation no doubt led to significant public discontent and a loss of confidence in the government, both of which may have even contributed to the fall of the USSR.

Reliance on cereal grains for bread making is so crucial that during times of famine and war, even mold-infested grains have been used to make bread. Such was the case in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s and through World War II, when farmers were unable to promptly harvest cereal grains, which then over-wintered and became infected with mycotoxin-produc-ing field fungi. Consumption of bread made from infected flour led to thousands of deaths, and many more were sickened. In more modern times, wheat has even been used as a "weapon," as grain embargoes against several U.S. adversaries are still in place even today. Ironically, European and other countries have threatened to boycott U.S. wheat, if genetically-engineered varieties are produced.


Roberts, D. 1995. After 4,500 years rediscovering Egypt's bread-baking technology. National Geographic 187:32-35.

Wood, E. 1996. World Sourdoughs from Antiquity.Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

Wheat Chemistry and Milling

The most common starting material for most breads is wheat flour. Breads are also commonly made from a wide variety of other cereal grains, including rye, barley, oats, corn, sorghum, and millet. However, as will be discussed in more detail below, gluten, a protein complex that gives bread its structure and elasticity and is necessary for the leavening process, is poorly formed or absent in most non-wheat flours.

Thus, although accommodations can sometimes be made to account for the absence of gluten in wheat-free doughs, most commercial breads contain at least some wheat.

Wheat is one of several cereal grasses in the family Poaceae (or Gramineae).The main variety used for bread is Triticum aestivum.The wheat plant contains leaves, stems and flowers. It is within the flowers (referred to as spikelets) that the wheat kernels are formed. The kernels are

Figure 8-3. Structure of a wheat kernel. Adapted from the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee.

Bread Making

Bread Making

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