Slicing into bread’s mysteries
When you bite into a loaf of bread, you’re devouring a little, crumbly slice of history, with roots that stretch back for millennia.
But this staple food, which has dominated tabletops for nearly 30,000 years, is in a perilous decline.
According to the BBC, 32 percent of the purchased bread is being dumped in the UK. And in France – a country whose breads are internationally renowned – young people are eating 30 percent less than a decade ago.
Traditionally, bread has been a cornerstone of many cultures around the world. Wherever wheat was grown, bread was sure to follow.
Its roles were just as varied as its origins. Bread could be used as an appetizer, a palate cleanser, a post-meal palate cleaner – even as an entire meal itself.
As its popularity grew, so too did its symbolic value. Christianity adopted bread as a representation of Christ during religious ceremonies.
“Breaking bread” with someone became a common symbol of friendship. The French even used to bring baguettes home as a symbol of love to the family.
But recently, the world’s love affair with this doughy concoction came to fade.
Some speculated that the fast pace of modern life is changing people’s eating habits.
Others credited the backlash to health concerns. Bread is rich in complex carbohydrates, a fact that could alienate anyone who practices a low-carb or gluten-free lifestyle.
The shift against bread is also associated with its mass production. Extra yeast and additives are added to the dough, to prolong its shelf life. In the process, bread ends up being “blanched and nutrient stripped” as British nutritionist Vicki Edgson puts it.
But dedicated bakers around the world have rushed forward to rescue bread’s good reputation. They forego mass production in favor of crafting “artisanal bread”, a niche industry dedicated to baking flavorful loaves the old-fashioned way.
British artisan baker Mark Newman told the BBC that his loaves take up to 18 hours from start to finish.
“In terms of nutrition and eating satisfaction, a handmade loaf of real bread and mass-produced bread are completely different products,” he told the BBC.
Consumers’ taste buds have detected the difference. One variety of artisanal toast recently scored over 50,000 photo tags on Instagram, a US social media site.
Artisanal bakers hope to build on the popular enthusiasm to grow their industry. With a little luck – and some fresh, whole grains – bread might return to its traditional glory.