Today, we will discuss a cuisine that has been a part of our daily lives for almost 10,000 years! It may sound unbelievable, yet the origins of bread may be traced back to flours created from wild cereals, predecessors of domesticated monocoque wheat (first barley, millet and rye, then spelt and wheat). Bread is a universal food: there is no country in the world today that does not have some sort of bread in its culinary legacy.
Bread has been a symbol of culture, history, and anthropology, of hunger and wealth, of war and peace, from Mesopotamia to the tables of the entire world. Not only does this seemingly simple food have a history that has melded with that of civilizations, but it has also been a staple food and essential for people’s existence.
Primitive people who lived as far back as 5000 B.C. are known to have consumed wheat and barley, two of the earliest plants to be domesticated. After some time, individuals experimented with cooking the grain and water mixture on heated stones after learning that adding water to the grain made it more flavorful. This process led to the development of porridge and flatbreads.
It is well known that the ancient Egyptians grew wheat and barley. Their cities’ excavations revealed that they ate flat flatbread with almost every meal. It’s likely that the existence of leavened, or raised, bread was found by accident when a mixture of wheat and water was left in a warm environment and naturally occurring yeast produced a dough that had risen. Another possibility is that some dough that was left over was added to fresh dough and the outcome was identical.
Even better bread was produced when the dough was baked in an oven over an open fire. The first ovens were made of clay and heated by a wood fire. The ashes were removed from a hole on the oven’s side once the wood had burned all the way through. The oven’s aperture was sealed once the wheat dough was put inside. The bread was baked by the time the oven had cooled.
By rubbing grain between two stones, the Romans are credited with creating the first grinding techniques. Eventually, a mechanical grinding procedure that involved one stone rotating on top of a lower, perpendicular, and stationary stone took the place of the manual one. The initial wheel stones were turned by slaves or oxen. Later, the energy was produced by windmills or water mills.
Because grinding took a long time, leavened bread was for centuries a luxury enjoyed only by the wealthy. White bread was much more difficult to get by. In actuality, the type of bread a family consumed could reveal their social and financial standing. The dark whole-grain bread was eaten by the poorest households. Ironically, whole-grain breads are preferred by nutritionists today over breads produced with white flour.
Long into the Middle Ages, baking bread remained essentially a domestic task. Around that time, some families, especially those without access to ovens, started bringing their dough to small neighborhood bakeries so that it could be molded and baked. The number of bakeries increased while home baking drastically reduced as cities and villages grew all over the countryside. These nearby bakeries had enormous brick ovens that burned coal or wood for heat. A long-handled wooden shovel known as a “peel” was used to transfer the dough into and out of the ovens. Even though they have been upgraded to run on gas or oil, many small, independent bakeries still utilize peel ovens.
A Swiss miller created a steel roller mechanism in the late 18th century, which made flour grinding easier and allowed for the mass manufacturing of white flour. Later, baking was made much simpler by Charles Fleischmann, who created a dependable, simple-to-use packaged yeast. Large bread factories are now able to regulate the intricate physical, chemical, and biological changes that are necessary for breadmaking because to technological and scientific advancements made during the 20th century. The kneading and ripening processes can now be completed in a matter of seconds thanks to high-speed gear.
For a while, many individuals avoided include bread in their regular diet because they believed it to be fatty. But studies revealed that the majority of the calories from fat were found in toppings like butter. In actuality, bread is a fantastic source of complex, low-fat carbohydrates. Customers now prefer a range of bread types as a result of the resurgence in interest in bread. Sliced white bread is no longer the standard. Numerous wheat loaves and multigrain breads are now available on grocery store shelves.
Grain, water, and baker’s yeast are the three fundamental components used to make bread. In accordance with the kind of bread being baked, the harvested grain is ground. All grains are made up of three components: endosperm, the reproductive component, and the hard outer coat of bran (the soft inner core). To make whole wheat and rye loaves, all three components are ground at the same time. The bran and germ must be taken out of white flour before processing. Since the majority of the nutrients in grains are found in the bran and germ, white flour is frequently “enriched” with vitamins and minerals. Additionally, some white flour has been fortified with calcium and fiber.
Grain mills crush the grain before selling it in bulk to bakeries. The grains are kept by the bakeries in storage sacks until they are required. In the baking plant, flour is combined with water and yeast to create dough. The factory also adds other components like salt, oil, sugar, honey, raisins, and almonds.
Making Bread Is An Art
One of the earliest poets to write poetry on the subject of gastronomic art was the glutton and cook Archestrato di Gela (4th century B.C.). In anticipation of etiquette, the author of Hedypatheia describes the exploits of a well-traveled Sicilian man who enjoys writing about his culinary encounters.
The poems emphasize that making a loaf of bread that was as white as snow was one of baking’s greatest accomplishments and challenges. The Greek scholars perfected baking processes, used wine yeasts to rise the dough, and added spices and scents with remarkable ingenuity, leading to the production of more than 70 different types of bread. Examples include matza, a flat bread made from barley flour that is still sold in Athens today, semidelites, a noble bread produced from wheat flour, and bromite, from the Greek word for “oat” (bromos). They created the Olynthe hopper mill at the start of the fifth century BC, which made millers’ jobs easier.
In the past, was Rome? The symbolic value of bread was very relevant in this society, as it was in all the major Mediterranean civilizations. From the first century BC, bread was always present at meals in the homes and on the tables in ancient Rome. It was such a significant cuisine that popinae (restaurants) would constantly serve it alongside hot dishes of beans, vegetables, meat, and fish. There were therefore plenty of breads, each unique for each kind of companatico.
It appears that the Greek slaves taken prisoner in Macedonia were responsible for bringing the art of baking to Rome. When wheat was lacking in Italy, the need was occasionally so severe that wheat imports from Egypt and North Africa were made. The first bakeries were constructed by the Romans, and by the time of Augustus’ empire, there were 329 of them, all of which were run by Greeks. Millers and bakers are the two categories under Trajan. The former are grouped in organizations whose rights are protected by the emperor and are given the name pistores, which was derived from the French term for bakers (pestores) until the ninth century.
The Manufacturing Process
Mixing and kneading the dough
- The sifted flour is added to a commercial mixer in step 1. Water that has been temperature-controlled is piped into the mixer. The substance known as “gluten” is what gives bread its flexibility. There is added a predetermined amount of yeast. In reality, yeast is a small organism that consumes the carbohydrates in the grain and produces carbon dioxide. Gas bubbles are created by the yeast’s development and leaven the bread. Other ingredients are added to the mixer based on the type of bread being produced. Up to 2,000 pounds (908 kg) of dough may be processed per minute by modern mixers.
- The mixer, which rotates at a rate of 35 to 75 revolutions per minute, is simply an enclosed drum. Mechanical arms inside the drum quickly knead the dough inside to the correct consistency. Despite the fact that modern bread production is heavily mechanized, it is crucial for the mixing staff to be able to assess the dough’s elasticity and look. When the dough is rolling around the mixer, skilled workers may tell what consistency the dough is at by the sound it makes. About 12 minutes are needed for the mixing process.
3 The dough is fermented using three techniques. The high-speed machinery used in some factories is built to quickly and violently move the dough, which causes the yeast cells to quickly grow. Chemical additions, such as the amino acid 1-cysteine and vitamin C, can also be used to stimulate fermentation. Some loaves are given the chance to organically ferment. In this case, the dough is put into covered metal bowls and kept in a room with a controlled temperature until it rises.
Division and gas reproduction
4 The dough is put into a divider with moving blades that separate it into pre-determined weights once it has fermented. The dough fragments are then transported to a molding machine by a conveyer belt. The dough is formed into balls by the molding machine, which then discharges them onto a tiered conveyor belt inside a “prover,” a warm, humid cabinet. To give the dough time to “relax” and allow the gas reproduction to advance, the dough goes slowly through the prover.
Molding and baking
- 5 After the dough has been proved, it is transferred to a second molding machine where it is reshaped into loaves and placed into pans. The pans are transferred to a different prover that is set at a high temperature and high humidity level. In this step, the dough regains the flexibility that it had throughout fermentation and resting.
- 6 The pans move from the prover into the tunnel oven. So that the loaves are fully baked and partially cooled as they emerge through the tunnel, the temperature and speed are precisely calculated. The loaves are mechanically emptied from the pans and placed on shelves within the tunnel. It takes about 30 minutes to bake and cool a dish.
Slicing and packaging
- 7 As the bread is transferred from the oven to the slicer, it continues to cool. Here, quickly rising and falling vertical serrated blades slice the bread into uniformly proportioned pieces.
- 8 As you take up each loaf and deliver it to the wrapping machine, metal plates keep the slices from falling apart. Each loaf has a pre-printed plastic bag mechanically placed over it. In certain bakeries, employees twist wire to seal the bags. The bags are heated-sealed by other plants.
Strict regulatory regulations on food manufacturing apply to commercial bread manufacture. Additionally, bread manufacturers are required to uphold a high standard of flavor, texture, and appearance due to consumer preferences. As a result, quality inspections are carried out throughout the entire production process. To verify quality, producers use a range of taste testing, chemical analysis, and visual inspection.
Particularly important is the moisture content. For the best bacterial growth prevention, a ratio of 12 to 14% is recommended. Freshly made breads have a moisture level of up to 40%, though. The bakery facilities must therefore be maintained immaculately clean. Fungicide usage and exposure to UV light are two common procedures.
As we have seen in this excursion, bread continues to stand for man’s ability to progress as well as his ability to be redeemed from hunger. It serves as the foundation for all the ritualistic components connected to the seasonal and life cycle. Everywhere it is produced, prepared, and consumed, gestures, prayers, formulas, and rituals of adoration and gratitude are performed. The necessity to split it and serve it to others underscores the significant role that this item plays in the communal consumption of the meal. The role of the baker is being completely redesigned. His actions and endeavors bring the history of wheat—which is for the benefit of all humanity—to life.