“Give Us Our Daily Bread”
The above title is a well-recognized phrase from a prayer recorded in the Bible. It’s not just any prayer. This one was recited by Jesus Himself and lists several petitions to our Heavenly Father. These few simple words tell us much more about life in the period of ancient Rome:
- Bread was a daily staple.
- It’s listed as the first petition, therefore, an issue of the utmost importance.
The text confirms that bread has been the food staple for thousands of years. We know from later history that lack of bread spelled trouble for the ruling class who could easily lose their power if their subjects lacked bread. Bread is often consumed at every meal in many cultures. Wheat is the world’s #1 cultivated plant by far.
Even in modern history, if the price of bread goes too high, food riots and revolutions can unfold. The Arab Spring in 2010 in part happened because bread prices spiked, and political unrest followed. The price of wheat on international markets, hence the price of bread, can spin the world into trouble, especially in the Arab world.
What is bread? Three simple ingredients: flour, water, salt. If we consumed these three ingredients separately, we wouldn’t survive for too long. Yet, these three simple ingredients baked into bread can sustain us indefinitely.
A little grain of wheat is a miracle of life. It contains the nutrients to sustain life: carbohydrates, protein, minerals, vitamins. They’re locked in the little kernel, which is not digestible for humans. It becomes digestible once it is ground into flour and then fermented, which is the art of bakery. Fermentation unlocks the nutrients. Natural bacteria will take care of the fermentation process. Where does the bacteria come from? From the air! Once you leave wet flour on the table, the bacteria from the air will start working its magic and the process of fermentation begins. It is called the natural starter.
All of a sudden, we have a very nutritious substance. Working with the natural starter is more difficult than commercially purchased yeast, but worth the effort. Fast-acting commercial yeast does not unlock all the nutrients, which results in digestion problems in many people.
Natural bacteria will cause a glutenous mass to form that sticks together, hence the word gluten, which is a wheat protein. As the bacteria works and creates gases, a loaf of bread becomes full of air bubbles. Interestingly, we like bread because of the air bubbles inside. They deepen the natural flavor of grain. The air bubbles also make bread voluminous, which gives us the feeling of being full even if in reality we haven’t consumed much. This feeling of fullness, physical satisfaction, has been so important throughout history when other food was scarce. Bread has been our staple for generations reaching back to ancient Egypt.
The Gluten Free Trend
Yet in our modern times, a gluten-free craze has engulfed the western food scene. Intolerance to gluten is being widely reported. Scientists at first couldn’t figure out the problem of how possibly so many people can be gluten-intolerant if we have been eating bread for thousands of years. Sure, there are a few people who suffer from the celiac disease who should not consume gluten, but that’s only one percent of the population.
This whole gluten-free trend started in the United States and a little misunderstanding helped the gluten-free industry to take off. The food industry is always looking for gaps in the market. Some marketer realized that the tiny population of people with celiac disease would also like to indulge in pastries and pasta, but had no gluten-free alternative. So a small gluten-free shelf appeared in grocery stores. An unsuspecting consumer sees a sign that reads “gluten free.” The consumer has no idea what gluten is, but thinks “Oh, gluten free, it’s probably better for me.” Suddenly, mainstream consumers for whom these products were never intended started creating a huge market out of ignorance. Food companies didn’t waste any time and enlarged their gluten-free portfolio. This gluten-free illiteracy can go to extremes, such as a bag of potato chips labeled “gluten free.” Potatoes have never contained any gluten in the first place. It is as if a spaghetti box were labeled “pineapple free.”
When researching websites of companies producing gluten-free products, one can hardly find any evidence or benefit of a gluten-free diet. Often, the strongest argument one finds on such websites is that many people are gluten-intolerant and don’t know it. Therefore, should all of us quit eating bread? An educated consumer can make his/her own conclusion for such logic.
There are people intolerant of peanuts, strawberries, and a wide variety of foods. It doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t enjoy strawberries.
Yet still, is it somehow possible that an increased number of people are really intolerant to gluten? Scientists did discover one reason. It appears in the ingredients listed on bread packages.
As already mentioned, bread should contain just three ingredients: flour, water, salt. Bread purchased in the supermarket has 25–35 ingredients listed on the package. For two reasons:
- Bread manufacturing has to be a fast process to be profitable.
- Commercial bread has to last for weeks or months on the shelf.
Both goals can be achieved by using artificial fermentation starters and adding a myriad of chemicals to the process.
Raising dough the traditional way takes more time. Our grandmothers who made bread at home dedicated time and effort. Such bread we call today sourdough, which is how bread was historically made. Until about 100 years ago, no other bread than sourdough existed. Some independent bakeries still may bake bread this way, but the price will be premium. A supermarket consumer got used to packaged bread lasting for months for a negligible price.
Let’s not get confused, however. Packaged bread labeled “sourdough” is most likely not the real deal unless you’re sourcing your bread from a small independent baker who doesn’t use commercial yeast. Such bakeries are hard to come by.
Large factories’ profits would be gone if they took 2–3 days to make a loaf of bread. So they found ways to speed up the process. Commercial yeast will do wonders in minutes, a process that naturally takes long hours or days. The product has to last for months, and a load of chemical preservatives will assure a long shelf life.
This chemical cocktail and super speedy yeast take a health toll – health issues that people attribute to gluten, when in reality they’re consuming an artificial product that our grandmothers wouldn’t even call bread.
Commercial bread is made of white flour because it is shelf stable, nonperishable. We have removed all nutrients from bread by removing the outer layer of the grain which is needed for digestion. This is another reason why so many consumers experience an uneasy feeling in their stomach – there is no nutrition in modern “bread.”
Food scientists soon realized this mistake, so they found a way to put the nutrients back. Not by leaving the grain in its natural state, but by artificially adding back some minerals and vitamins. This product is called “enriched flour” which consumers will find listed on nearly every baked goods package.
Most of us are bread and pastry lovers. So where can we source these goodies in our chemical-laden world? Try our ancestors’ way. The Internet can come to the rescue! There are various YouTube channels and other resources that will teach you how to make your own bread with no commercial starters. Often there are local courses that will teach you this long-lost art. Once you master bread making, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Bake such bread with freshly ground whole wheat flour.
Do you think you are gluten intolerant? Unless you have been diagnosed with the celiac disease, taste such bread, made the natural sourdough way, which makes grains digestible, and see what your stomach and taste buds will say.