Traditional bread making has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years, with a wave of TV shows and festivals promoting real bread and home baking. Is bread a key part of your diet?
This Friday sees the launch of the first ever Real Bread Festival in London. It’s the latest festival to embrace Britain’s renewed love of baking. The Cake & Bake festival took place a couple of weekends ago, while TV programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Britain’s Best Bakery continue to draw in viewers.
But while home baking is enjoying a boom, and a whole new generation of artisan bakers is promoting real bread, there’s an obvious ambivalence towards bread in our culture. Most consumption is still of the supermarket, quick-fermented variety, while lots of us now avoid bread altogether on health grounds. Have we lost confidence in the role of bread our diets?
Give us this day our daily bread?
While bread has gone through a multitude of fads and phases over the millennia we’ve been eating it, it’s invariably been seen as an essential part of a nutritious diet. Phrases such as ‘breadwinner’ and someone’s ‘bread and butter’ show how integral it’s been to our culture.
But since working as a researcher at Which? and talking to lots of people about bread making, I’ve been struck by the number of us who no longer subscribe to the belief that bread is a daily essential, and who now question its nutritional benefits.
My mother has celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten – and her necessary avoidance of bread was considered extreme when I was growing up.
Now, I’ve lost count of the number of friends who have decided to give up wheat, yeast or gluten for one reason or another. ‘I’ve got a breadmaker but it just sits in the kitchen cupboard now that I’ve given up bread,’ a friend told me the other day. It’s a common (admittedly largely middle-class) tale that often sees all bread tarnished with the ‘evil foodstuff’ brush.
The stuff of life
Yet, one aim of the Real Bread Festival is to get us to differentiate between real bread and, as Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign referred to in his guest Convo, ‘the other stuff’.
That is, the industrial ‘plastic loaves’ full of salt, excess yeast, artificial additives and (sometimes undeclared) enzymes, which have accounted for most of our bread consumption since the 1960s. It’s these factory and supermarket loaves, it seems, that are responsible for bread’s reputation among many as inherently indigestible.
In contrast to this, the expert bakers who’ll be appearing at the Real Bread Festival all emphasise the health benefits of a proper daily loaf, and our right to access them. Food writer Rachel de Thample says:
‘A nice loaf of bread from a bakery may cost a little more, but you’re actually buying something that’s good for you, as opposed to something that could wreck your digestive system.’
Will real bread rise again?
Do you still see bread as an important part of your diet? Would you like to see new regulations to make it easier to distinguish real bread from industrial loaves?
And if you’ve given up bread for health reasons, are you willing to try eating ‘real bread’ again to see if you find it more digestible?
If you’re a Which? member who makes your own real bread at home, join us for our online bread-making live Q&A with expert baker Patrick Moore tomorrow from 12pm to 2pm. You’ll be in with a chance of winning a Best Buy breadmaker if you sign up.