Monday, December 1, 2014

Bread Culture: How our Bread became what it is

Bread Culture: How our bread became what it is.

The typical American family has at least one loaf of bread in the house at any given time. Some more than others, but production consumption of our favorite and most bountiful carbohydrate is at an all-time high. To match that, production of wheat in the United States has been booming as well. In 2013 wheat production exceeded 2.27 billion bushels, growing well beyond 1% margin needed to adjust for population growth.

However, in the past decade or so, there has been a growing trend of abstaining from eating wheat products due to allergic reactions to Gluten which is found in all wheat. Gluten is the stuff that makes dough sticky, binds it together, holds in firm so that you can spread deliciously butter all over it and feed your carb craving. For some however, a Gluten allergy spells pain, itchiness, and a far range of discomforts from eating our friendly carb friend.

Manyhave pointed to the evolution of the wheat strains over time, blaming genetic modification and “disaster proofing” our wheat to the point of poisoning some of our population. Though scientific studies have not been able to at this time pinpoint the origin of Gluten allergies I think that it is still good to know our breads history to understand how that load of white bread has changed over the years.

A grain called Einkorn started it all in the Mediterranean and Near East areas as the first wild grass we see that was wild harvested for consumption. This dates back to around 16,000 to 15,000 BCE, and moving forward we see its dominance lost to Emmer wheat in the mid Bronze Age. Emmer wheat was a nutritious grain with high levels of proteins, fats, and vitamins and survived well in a multitude of temperatures, especially cold, which made it a ripe candidate for spreading its cultivation. At some point emmer moved into a geographic area where it naturally hybridized with goat grass or spelt. These two together help each other and created an extremely strong, healthy grain know scientifically as T. activism. This common bread wheat had high gluten content which made it perfect for the creation of leavened bread (sound familiar). Leavened bread is made from extremely refined and sifted flour that is milled from wheat kernels. Without these gluten molecules we would have bread more common in the east, such as flat breads and puffy breads.

As we see, we would not even have the bread we love today if it was not for genetic modification, albeit natural. If spelt and emmer had not accidently bumped into each other we would never have gotten the high gluten bread to make the delicious croissants, doughnuts or cakes that we love. However as wheat production ramps, and the need to make wheat more sturdy from natural forces we can overstep ourselves and create problems with the genetic material. This I believe is where people are concerned, that overdoing genetic modifications can be bad not only for crops and biodiversity but for us as people, the consumer. Also, some point not to the strain of wheat, but to the production of the bread products in general. Some Gluten free eaters report being able to eat bread made from home, bread bought in Europe as opposed to the United States. Or being able to eat just certain types of grain that still have gluten. For now we can only wait and hope food scientists figure out the problem as an ever increasing amount of people in the United States are reporting that they are now allergic to Gluten, about 1 in 100 around 1%. So this problem is not going to solve itself.

Skyler Finney.

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