If you’re not a baker you’re probably unaware of general bread ingredients – but maybe it’s time we all started paying attention to what is on our plates.
Hello dearest reader – I’m home again after quite a long trip, and have so much to share with you from both Turkey and Southern Italy. But, now that I’m finally coming through to the other side of some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced, I wanted to share some thoughts with you on bread ingredients, while it’s all still fresh in my mind – if not on the shelf.
The other day I shared a news story on my Facebook account. From The Guardian, it was about bread ingredients which are banned in Europe, but found in many US breads. The article asserted that, in the US, a loaf of bread “can contain ingredients with industrial applications – additives that also appear in things like yoga mats, pesticides, hair straighteners, explosives and petroleum products.'”
I think you’ll probably agree that this is alarming. Bread is one of those things that many of us take for granted. We grab it off the shelf as we whizz around the supermarket and rely on it as a quick, convenient, dependable food to fill lunch boxes and empty tummies.
(And before you start to mutter about empty calories, carbs and gluten, I’m not addressing those issues today so if that’s your jam you might as well go off and make yourself a cup of tea right now.)
I’ve baked a lot of bread in my life and I can tell you a basic loaf has very few ingredients – flour, water, yeast (if it’s not sourdough) and salt. That’s it.
A quick look at the ingredient list of a few well-known brands of bread on the supermarket shelf tells a slightly different story. While commercially produced Australian bread might not contain petroleum products or foam expander ( to be honest I don’t even know what those ingredients are), it still has more ingredients than you’d expect – and in some cases, one or two that are a little obscure (acacia gum?!).
Real bread goes stale within a day or two, but commercial bread is made to have a long shelf life. This is achieved with various preservatives and additives. These can affect texture and flavour, so the bread is then tweaked a little with even more additives. I checked the labels on some of the plain white loaves in my local supermarket and, while there was nothing scary that I could see, none of them had less than 12 ingredients – and that includes the rustic, crusty looking loaf that one might be excused for thinking was the most authentic.
Bread is a classic example of a simple food subverted by commercial imperatives. Manufacturers are looking to create commercial food products that have shelf life, will travel well, and appear to have most of the properties of the food it’s modelled on, at commercially viable prices. And if they can get it to approximate the taste of the real thing they think they’re on a winner.
Sometimes that can be done with minimal intervention, but frequently it’s achieved with more and more chemical additives, creating Frankenfoods – foods that look and possibly even taste like the real deal, but with a scary ingredient list that bears no resemblance to a homemade recipe for the same thing.
Like adding foam expander to bread.
I get it – not all of us have the urge to bake our own bread. And I also get that a large proportion of the population aren’t in a position to check food labels as they are dragging through the supermarket, exhausted after a day at work, with a couple of distracted kids in tow and worries about household budgets on their minds.
It’s a simple fact of life that most consumers don’t have the time, energy or knowledge to interrogate the food they buy, relying on brands they trust to provide a safe, nutritious product for their family.
That this trust is so often misplaced is also an unfortunate fact of life.
But a growing number of us are in a position to impact the commercial food industry. Increasingly people like you, dear reader, are thinking hard about our food. We’re interested in where it comes from and concerned about how it’s produced. It’s up to those of us care, to check the labels, ask the questions and vote with our purchases.
We all eat, folks – but if we don’t stay on our guard, who knows what will end up on our plates.