Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. It has been a staple food
around the world since the Neolithic era.
Prepared by baking a dough of flour and water, it can be unleavened
or leavened with yeast, produced from whole-wheat flour, rye, corn,
barley, cassava, oats, or a combination of two or more grains. Today,
in specialized bakeries, you can buy 11-grain bread. You can also
buy breads infused with herbs, olives, dried fruits or onion.
Bread is versatile. It can be dunked or dipped into a liquid (such as
beef gravy, olive oil, or sardine pÃ¢tÃ©), topped with various
spreads, either sweet or savory, or served as the enclosure for the
ubiquitous sandwich made with any number of meats, cheeses,
vegetables or condiments.
Despite modern methods, the essentials of bread production have
remained the same. Bread is made by combining flour, water, salt and
Today's commercial sandwich bread is highly refined and contains a
lot of air, but it has a prolonged shelf life. I much prefer denser, whole
grain loaves, which have more flavor and texture and better nutritional
Bread is a relatively inexpensive source of calories and includes some
proteins. Millions of people survive on bread, cheese or olives, teas
or wine, and little else. You can use mashed acorns, ground beans,
crushed tree barks, nuts, or chestnut flour, but most bakers use finely
milled wheat, rye, corn, barley, millet, kamut, spelt or other grains.
Many prefer wheat flour because of its gluten content. For centuries,
highly-refined white bread was a sign of affluence and privilege. Poor
people ate coarse-grained brown breads. More recently, whole grain
dark breads have become more popular due to their high fiber content
and their richer taste and texture.
Bread is powerful. In antiquity, Egyptian governments controlled it,
from production to distribution, as a means of controlling the populace.
A shortage of bread was one of the causes of the French Revolution
Even today in many Middle Eastern countries, at least one type of
bread is government controlled. These controls apply to the quality,
quantity and price of the loaf, though they are not rigidly enforced.
Bread made with baker's yeast is not sour because of the absence of
the lactobacillus. It is a staple part of a healthy eating pattern as it is
low in fat and one of the best sources of fiber. Bread, both leavened
and unleavened, is mentioned frequently in the Bible.
For a Middle Easterner, a meal without bread is unthinkable. Yet
many nations use rice instead of bread, and indigenous peoples in the
Americas ate corn until the first conquistadors arrived in the 15th
century. To this day, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesians and other
Asians use rice as their basic starch. In fact, rice is the most efficient
and prolific crop in the world.
North America is such a melting pot of cultures and has a landmass
large enough and a climate sufficiently varied that almost any type of
grain can grown somewhere on the continent.
In large cities, bakeries cater to specific cultures and huge grocery
stores offer a wide range of breads, including French baguettes, pita,
Arabic flat bread, dark rye, German rye, pumpernickel, Russian black,
wholemeal, rye with caraway seeds, Danish or American sourdough,
cornbread, croissants, lavash, knaecke or Calabrese.
In Indian bakeries, you can buy pappadam, chapatti, and roti (plain or
butter-rubbed). Organic bakeries offer a multitude of breads made
from organically grown grain. Specialty bakeries churn out breads for
those who cannot digest gluten. Others offer herb-infused breads or
blend pitted black olives, chopped nuts or even dried fruits into their
In Armenian homes, women still mix flour; water and salt to make
dough and roll it out thin enough to see through. This is then baked
briefly on a hot flat surface. Stacks of this thin bread can be stored for
months, then revived by sprinkling with water and reheating.
East Indians make their roti, chapatti and naan every day and eat it
immediately after cooking, but German dark pumpernickel bread
keeps for months if properly stored. Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish
flatbreads called knaeckebred keep indefinitely.
Latin American tortillas are traditionally baked and eaten immediately,
although todayâ€™s manufactured tortillas keep for a long time.
Pizza is actually a leavened, flavored open-faced sandwich that is
baked and served hot.
French bakers enjoy such a worldwide reputation for their refined
breads that at least one Toronto restaurant flies in bread from the
Polaine bakery in Paris twice weekly. Parisians value good bread so
much that they'll cross the city to buy specialty breads from their
favorite baker who uses wood fired ovens.
German bakers think their breads are more imaginative and more
nutritious. The fact is that they are heavy, nutritious, and take longer to
digest, but keep longer.
Restaurants that offer an imaginative breadbasket attract guests who
value good food and are prepared to pay for it. A large breadbasket is
attractive, but may reduce sales, as guests may indulge so extensively
in bread and butter that they lose interest in dessert.
Restaurateurs must consider the wisdom of baking bread, buying it
semi-baked, or buying it daily from one or several bakeries.
Obviously, large remotely located resort hotels and cruise ships have
no alternative to installing in-house bakeries, but restaurant and city
hotel managers must carefully consider the best and most practical
alternatives without jeopardizing quality.
The owner of a busy sandwich shop or delicatessen must consider
quality, variety and availability, while a Chinese restaurant owner has
no reason to consider bread quality.