My grandfather had a multitude of sayings, some of which, to six year old ears, sounded very ‘half-baked’ (excuse the pun). “If we haven’t got any bread, we’ll have to have toast” was one of them. ‘How on earth can you make toast if you haven’t got any bread?’ was the only thing that my brain would equate at that age. And I used to tell him off for being silly.
It was only as I got older that I understood the wisdom and meaning in this saying. A traditional loaf needs only four ingredients; flour, yeast, water and salt. For millenia this was all that bread contained and still does if you make your own. Traditional bread, if stored properly, goes stale well before it goes mouldy; unless you are deliberately trying to get it to go mouldy (we’ll come on to that later).
Waste Not, Want Not
With traditional bread there is a window where it is still edible, even if it isn’t soft enough for you to want to make sandwiches out of it. This window occurs before it becomes that hard that you could throw it as a ballistic misssile to kill at thirty paces. When it is in this stage you can still happily use it to make toast. SO, “If we haven’t got any bread, we’ll have to have toast” is a resolute reminder not to waste things. Just because your bread isn’t soft enough to make a sandwich doesn’t mean that you throw it away; make something else from it. Live dangerously; change your plans.
Then Things Went Horribly Wrong
Back in the early 1960s, the national loaf had a designer makeover. The flour and yeast were changed and a combination of intense energy and additives completely displaced time in the maturing of dough.
This is the way that our ‘commercial’ bread has been made for over half a century. It is white and light, stays soft for a stupid number of days and it is cheap. For increasing numbers of people, however, it is now almost inedible.
Recent research suggests that we urgently need to rethink the way that we make bread, as scientists reveal the havoc it is causing to public health. As British commercial breadmakers find ever more ingenious ways to adulterate our bread it isn’t surprising that it commands little respect. The big bakers are suspiciously silent about the nutrition of ‘standard’ loaves. In Britain, when it comes to bread, low cost = low quality, a product of a bland, pappy nature.
In 1961 the British Baking Industries Research Association devised something called the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), named for the town where they are located. This uses lower-protein wheat, an assortment of additives and high-speed mixing and is responsible for over 80% of the bread now consumed.
Thank the Chorleywood Bread Process if the bread that you are eating forms a ball that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Just don’t think about what it will shortly be doing to your digestive system.
Modern Bakings Nasty Little Secret
When is an Additive not an Additive? When it is a ‘Processing Aid’ Additives must be listed in the ingredients of a product, processing aids need not. There is a loophole which classifies enzymes as ‘processing aids’, you will never find them listed on a product label, so you have no idea that they are there. An enzyme is a protein that speeds up a metabolic reaction, and they can be extracted from plant, animal, fungal and bacterial sources. Whole hosts of enzymes are used in baking processes.
Enzymes are allowed to masquerade as processing aids under the fundamentally dishonest claim that they are used up in the production process. This claim suggests that they are not in, nor do they have any lasting effect on the finished product. But enzyme manufacturers boast about the ‘thermostability’ of their enzymes. In other words the enzymes ability to have a long and lasting effect on the bread. They are there to make the bread hold more gas, so it is lighter and it stays soft and squishy until the mould (I will get to it) overtakes the preservatives.
The safety of using these enzymes has now been called into serious question. With a discovery that transglutaminase (nickname Meat Glue), used to make dough stretchier, may turn part of the wheat protein toxic. Especially to people with a severe gluten intolerance (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/transglutaminase#concerns). Many bakery enzymes are derived from substances that are not part of a normal human diet.
What Else? (As if we need anything)
So what else is in our commercial bread that really shouldn’t be there? I am not going into depth on these, I have every confidence in your relationship with Google.
•Hard Fats (Hydrogenated fats commonly used, though possibly being replaced with fractionated fats) •Flour Treatment Agents (L-ascorbic acid (E300)) •Bleach (Chlorine dioxide gas) •Reducing Agents (L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920)) •Soya Flour •Emulsifiers •Preservatives. As with ingredients on anything, remember, if it sounds more like a chemical than a food, it is because it is a chemical and not a food.
Whatever happened to Flour, yeast, water and salt?
Where's the Mould?
At the beginning I mentioned that traditional bread, if stored properly, went stale before it went mouldy. Unless you wanted it to go mouldy. Why on earth would you want bread to go mouldy? It actually goes back prior to Alexander Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin in 1928.
The association between fungi and bacteria had long been known; the Chinese used mouldy soybean curd to treat skin infections more than a thousand years BCE. Central American Indians treated infected wounds with fungi and Ancient Egyptian physicians cured a scabby disease of the scalp with the crumbs of a mouldy wheaten loaf. In the Crimean War many soldiers lives were saved by mouldy bread being stuffed into their wounds (Psychopharmacology Bulletin, Volume 8. P53).
Before the advent of the National Health Service if you had an infected wound you would deliberately grow mould on bread to treat it. A Penicillium colony starts out gray or white, turns blue, and finally changes to blue-green. It typically develops a white outer ring (which you won’t see if mould completely overtakes your specimen). Don’t try this at home and never eat mouldy food. Other moulds closely mimic penicillin and these can be deadly.
The quickest way to get your bread to go mouldy, in this day and age, is to pop it in the fridge. Yes folks, don’t store your bread in the fridge, it will go mouldy. The best way to store bread is in a traditional bread bin, wrapped in paper. Do not put plastic anywhere near as it will make the bread sweat and cause the same problem.
Just remember – waste not, want not.
“If We Haven’t Got Any Bread, We’ll Have To Have Toast”