Just A Simple Loaf Of Bread – Think Again
Jul 1, 2012 - 7:04:26 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Bread like so many foods we eat regularly is taken for granted. Few of us know anything about the complex process required to get wheat from the field to a finished baked loaf of bread. I recently had the opportunity to trace a loaf of bread from the wheat fields of Kansas, through the milling process, to an artisanal bakery. I learned the loaf of bread we routinely toss into our shopping carts is nothing short of extraordinary.
Did you know that 20% of the calories consumed by people worldwide come from wheat? The state of Kansas is a major producer of hard winter wheat which is turned into bread, hard rolls, flat breads, Asian noodles, all-purpose flour and cereal. Wheat is planted in the fall and it grows a few inches, similar to a newly planted lawn. It is covered and insulated by winter snows and takes a long nap, waking up in March or April, to be harvested in June and July. Sounds idyllic until you realize that the wheat and the farmer are at the mercy of the weather and Kansas is known for some turbulent climate conditions from freezing winters, to tornados, hail, and torrential rains.
Wheat is harvested by a combine which cuts and threshes the grain, making it ready for storage. A modern combine can harvest an acre of wheat in 4 to 5 minutes. The day after I visited a wheat farm and watched a field being harvested, three inches of pelting rain fell overnight. This would have been enough to destroy the standing wheat and create a loss for the farmer. For this reason, most farmers need to carry crop insurance to get through the growing cycle.
Next, wheat goes to a mill for processing where the bran, germ and endosperm of the wheat kernel are separated and ground. The endosperm, the largest part of the kernel becomes flour. To produce whole wheat flour the wheat kernel is still separated and then remixed at the end of milling to produce whole wheat flour. What struck me most about the wheat milling process was the incredible technology needed to run a four story mill and the extraordinary cleanliness. The mill literally sparkled. This is necessary to produce an uncontaminated, high quality product.
Wheat flours are used for baking because the protein they contain helps to form and hold the shape of the final loaf of bread or cake. Gluten, the primary protein in baked products, is formed when water and flour are mixed. Hard wheat is higher in protein and builds a stronger structure for pizza dough, bread, rolls and soft pretzels. Soft wheat has less gluten, producing a softer structure which is needed to make tender muffins, cakes, cookies and crackers. It is tough to produce gluten free breads and cakes because the grains used – rye, oats, corn, rice and spelt – do not contain the proteins needed to form the finished product.
At the American Baking Institute in Manhattan, Kansas I got to experiment with pretzel recipes to see how changing the flour in a recipe changed the final product. I have a whole new respect for soft pretzels that state “hand-rolled” on the package. This is no easy job and it takes skill to form and shape pretzels. When we used cake flour we could not get the shaped pretzel from the proofing rack (yeast rising step) to the baking pan because the unbaked pretzels were so soft and tender. This is why it is important to use the type of flour noted in a recipe. Bread flour will make an unpleasantly tough cake, and cake flour will produce bread that will be so tender it will be impossible to slice.
Last stop was at an artisanal bakery in Kansas City, Missouri – Farm To Market Bread. Again the cleanliness of the manufacturing plant was outstanding and the bakers loved what they did and were very proud of the finished product. Even though this was a hands-on artisanal bake shop, production could not be accomplished without modern equipment needed to mix 600 pound batches of dough and ovens that held baking racks stacked six feet high that automatically rotated for even browning and fast baking. The smells were tantalizing.
Next time you are making a sandwich think about the farmers, millers and bakers who worked to bring you that clean, wholesome, tasty loaf of bread. It truly is not just a loaf of bread.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
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For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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