Since prehistoric times, bread has been a staple food in virtually every
society. As early hunter-gatherers settled into agricultural societies, they
learned how to transform various grains into bread. This simple food
required only stones to grind grain into flour or meal, water or another
liquid to mix it into dough, and a means of baking or cooking it.
Over the centuries, each society developed its own unique types of bread.
The huge variety of baked goods available to us at our supermarkets and
bakeries today – different-shaped loaves of white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel,
sourdough, and multigrain breads, croissants and matzos, bagels and muffins,
tortillas, pita, and chapatis, among many others – represent a dietary
melding of dozens of diverse cultures.
Giving Dough a Life
The simplest and oldest breads are flat, or unleavened; they are made by
mixing flour or meal with water and then baking, trying, or steaming it.
Examples include matzo, tortillas, chapatis, and some types of crackers. The
addition of yeast, baking soda, or other leavening agent to the
flour-and-water mixture allows the dough to expand, or rise, and gives the
bread a lighter, finer texture than unleavened types.
The type of flour used and the manner in which it and the other ingredients
interact give the various kinds of breads their unique textures and flavors.
In many industrialized countries the most popular breads are made from wheat
flour, which produces a product with a light texture. When wheat flour is
kneaded with liquid, the gluten proteins absorb water to form an elastic
dough that traps gas from the fermenting yeast; bubbles of carbon dioxide
are formed resulting in the light texture. Rye and some other flours contain
varying amounts of gluten, but none come close to that of wheat – which is
why breads made from other grains tend to be heavy and coarse. To make a
lighter-textured bread from rye, barley, or other grains, some wheat flour
is usually added to the dough.
Flavor and texture are also influenced by the type of liquid mixed into the
dough – plain water, milk, beer, and fruit juice are common choices. Sugar
or honey may be added to "feed" the yeast and make the bread rise at a
faster rate; it also result sin a moister product. A small amount of salt is
needed to strengthen the gluten and to temper the rate at which the yeas
multiplies. Butter or other fat is often added to flavor commercial breads;
it also makes pastry-like breads, such as croissants, rich and flaky.
Check the ingredients. Bread sold in North America is often mass-produced;
such products contain various preservatives emulsifiers, an bleaches or
coloring agents to extend their shelf life and improve their appearance.
These additives do not alter nutritional value, but most commercial bread
may be too high in salt for people on low-sodium diets. Also, people who
have celiac disease cannot tolerate the gluten in most bread. People with
food allergies may react to specific ingredients; for example, people
allergic to molds may react to sourdough or very yeasty breads. Some health
food stores and specialty shops offer breads that are gluten-free; people
with food allergies should always check labels for any offending
Traditionally, bread has been called the staff of life, implying that it
alone is all that is required for total nutrition. This is inaccurate. While
bread does provide starch, protein, and some vitamins and minerals, it is
far from being nutritionally complete. It lacks such essentials as vitamins
A, B12, C, and D. Many of the nutrients in the grain are destroyed by
milling and processing, but some (typically folate, iron, thiamine,
riboflavin, and niacin) are added later to restore the nutrients to their
original levels or, in some cases, even increase them; consequently,
enriched white flour often has more of the B complex vitamins than are found
in whole-wheat flour. In general, however, whole-grain flours are more
nutritious than their highly processed counterparts; they also provide more
Look for added nutrients. The addition of other ingredients also increases
the nutritional value of bread. Depending upon the type, these may include
soy, flax, eggs, molasses, raisins and other dried fruits, whole grains
seeds, and various types of cheese.
Contrary to popular belief, bread is not especially fattening; a typical
slice of white or whole-wheat bred contains just 65 to 80 calories. But
slathering bread with butter, margarine, or other fatty spreads does make it
higher in calories; a low-sugar jam or an all-fruit preserve in s amore