The History and Types of Bread
The history of bread, different types of bread, and how to look for healthy bread.
Bread is one of the oldest known recipes to man. It has been around for several millennia…
The recent low-carbohydrate craze has given bread a bad reputation, but not all breads are created equal. There are more varieties of bread than there are supplement companies.
The History of Bread
It is estimated that the first bread was made around 10000 years BC or over 12,000 years in the past.
This bread was more than likely flatbread, similar to a tortilla, made simply of ground grains (flour) and water that was mashed and baked. The first tools and implements used in the making of bread are dated to about 8000 years BC.
Egypt is attributed with popularizing the art of making bread. Egyptians are considered to be the agricultural pioneers of the old world, probably benefiting from interactions with Samaria.
The closed oven was invented circa 3000 BC and allowed for more varieties of bread to be produced. It is around this time that leavened bread is first described – bread with yeast added so that it would rise during production.
Refined grains were considered superior and therefore were prevalent in the higher courts, so the poorer populations used barley and sorghum in their breads.
Around 1000 BC the Mosaic laws were introduced. These laws, in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, contained instructions to the nation of Israel regarding proper food preparation.
When the Hebrew people fled Egypt during the legendary Exodus, they were forced to make unleavened (flat) bread in their haste. Leviticus declares a feast commemorating the exodus using flatbread.
Bread is a common symbol of bounty in the bible – Leviticus 21:22 declares, “He shall eat the bread of his God.” When the people of God were lost in the wilderness, they were fed manna, which was described as bread from heaven. The Christian Savior, Jesus Christ, is called the “Bread of Life”.
The bible also gives one of the earliest recipes for sprouted grain bread. It reads, in Ezekiel 4:9-17: “Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.”
While more than a year of nothing but this bread sounds like quite a marathon diet, analysis of products today using the same recipe show that it was a well-balanced, nutritious bread that yielded plenty of protein, fiber, carbohydrate, and healthy fat.
In 400 BC, around the time when Socrates was providing sage dietary advice, Plato imagined an ideal world. In this world, men would live to a ripe old age. Their main source of sustenance would be whole grain bread from local wheat.
168 BC saw the establishment of baker’s guilds in Rome. Bread even played a major role in politics when, in 40 BC, as part of a campaign, it was decreed that bread should be freely distributed to every male adult.
In 1202 AD, English laws were passed to regulate the production of bread. While many people are aware of the differences between whole grain (brown) bread and white breads, few realize that it caused quite a stir in 1307 when the white bread bakers and brown bread bakers split to form separate guilds!
It was not until two centuries later, in 1569, that the guilds were reunited and called the “Worshipful Company of Bakers.”
The Age of Refined Bread
As early as 1826, the whole grain bread used by the military was called superior for health to the white, refined bread used by the aristocracy. In fact, the term refined today comes from this fact.
Before the industrial revolution, it was more labor consuming (and therefore costly) to refine bread, so white bread was the main staple for aristocracy. This made them “refined”.
- In 1910, Americans were eating 210 pounds of wheat flour every year. The commercial bread-slicing machine was invented in 1912 by Otto Rohwedder, and unveiled in 1928.
- The 1930s saw the United States pursue a diet enrichment program to begin fortifying breads with vitamins and minerals after their discovery in the late 1920s.
- In 1941, calcium was added to help prevent rickets, observed in many female recruits to the military.
- In 1956, it became the law to enrich all refined breads.
- By 1971 consumption of white bread had dropped to around 110 pounds per year, but by 1997 (possibly due in part to the low fat, high carbohydrate craze and the food pyramid) consumption was up to 150 pounds – still 60 pounds shy of the fit, trim Americans at the turn of the century.
Types of Bread
There are many types of bread. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
White and Whole Grain
In the most basic form, grinding grains, adding water, and heating it produces whole grain flatbread. Whole grain bread is similar, only yeast is added so that the bread rises.
White bread starts out similar to whole grain bread. The grain is processed, however. The hard, outer portion of the grain is stripped, removing fiber and many vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that are naturally available. The remaining portion is ground to a fine powder, the enriched with a generic spray of vitamins and minerals. This is then used to bake the bread.
Spelt (called Dinkel in Germany) bread is a grain-bread, and is closely related to common wheat. Spelt does contain gluten. Gluten, a form of protein, is a common allergen and gluten intolerance or allergies are quite common. However some sufferers with a mild gluten tolerance do sometimes use Spelt as a substitute for wheat.
Supermarket “sourdough” breads are often simply wheat bread with no sweetener added. Once a sweetener is added – often high fructose corn syrup in commercial breads, but typically brown sugar, honey, or molasses in fresh baked breads – it becomes the typical bread you are used to buying.
True sourdough however is something completely different. Sourdough is a culture of lactobacilli bacteria and yeasts used to leaven bread. The culture is used as a “starter” whereby new flour and water are added. The bread has a sour or tangy flavor.
Cultures can often be passed on from loaf to loaf for years.
Varieties such as oat, barley, rye, kamut, triticale, millet, and even rice bread are simply variations using different grains other than traditional wheat. Sometimes seeds and spices are added, creating varieties such as basil, garlic, onion, or cinnamon bread.
Sprouted grain bread has increased in popularity in recent years. Traditional bread is made from ground flour from the hardened kernel of grain.
Sprouted grain bread involves soaking the grain and allowing it to sprout. The sprouted seedlings are then mashed together and baked.
Sprouting allows the enzymes in the grain to convert some of the carbohydrates and fats to vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Due to the changes that take place, sprouted grain bread typically is higher in protein, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals than regular bread. It is also less refined and processed than even stone ground wheat bread, so it has less of an impact on your blood sugar.
Refined and Enriched
Many commercial types of bread are highly refined. Enriched breads have the original nutrients stripped out and replaced with inferior, often lesser quantities of standard vitamins and minerals.
Some companies will try to produce wholesome-looking bread by adding grains to the outside, even when the main ingredient is enriched bread. High fructose corn syrup is often added as a sweetener.
How to Purchase Healthy Bread
The first thing to look at when purchasing breads is the ingredients list.
- Look for breads where the very first ingredient is “whole grain” or “stone ground” rather than “enriched” (even if whole grains follow the enriched flour ingredient).
- Look for natural sweeteners like molasses or honey over high fructose corn syrup. Preferably, the sweetener and salt should be last on the ingredients list.
- If you consume high quantities of bread or keep the bread refrigerated, it will last longer and you can purchase fresher varieties that do not contain additives or preservatives.
Basic Ingredients List
The most basic ingredients list will look like this: whole-wheat flour, water, salt. There should be a few grams of protein and fiber per slice – low protein and/or fiber is a sign of excessive processing that has stripped these nutrients, and implies that the other nutrients will be missing as well.
Rye bread typically contains moderate portions of protein and fiber per slice. A 100-calorie slice will contain a few grams of protein, a few grams of fiber, around 20 grams of carbohydrate, and decent amounts of calcium and iron. The addition of flaxseed increases protein and fiber (for the same 100 calorie slice) but also adds trace amounts of healthy, unsaturated fats.
There are actually some amazing bread recipes that can be very beneficial for the bodybuilder.
A variety of bread called “Men’s Bread” by French Meadow Bakery contains the following: Organic whole wheat flour, filtered water, organic flaxseed, organic pumpkin seeds, organic oat fiber, organic low fat soy flour, organic wheat flour, organic sesame seeds, organic raw sprouted fava beans, organic sunflower seeds, organic millet, organic pea protein isolate (non-GMO), organic wheat flour (wheat germ restored), soy germ isoflavone concentrate (non-GMO), organic sprouted quinoa, organic sprouted amaranth, organic sprouted spelt, organic sprouted kamut, wheat gluten, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted oats, organic sprouted wheat, unrefined sea salt.
This power-packed ingredients list provides a 100-calorie slice of bread with essential fatty acids, 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein to only 11 grams of carbohydrate. It is abundant in over 13 vitamins and minerals. Compare this to a typical slice of white bread, which contains no fiber, trace amounts of protein, and double the carbohydrate.
Bread has been around for ages. While trends such as low carbohydrate nutrition or low fat dieting come and go, bread is here to stay – people “earn their bread” or “bring the bread home” and are constantly looking for the “best thing since sliced bread”.
Before eliminating bread from your diet, consider the many types of bread that are available and decide if there is one that suits your needs.
Bread can increase your protein intake, add fiber to your diet, refill you muscles by supply quality carbohydrate in addition to healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
People are always looking for the next great protein or power bar. Why not try a slice of bread?
Written by Jeremy Likness