I would like to come back to a point that has already been mentioned here before: next year the amount of grain available worldwide will fall sharply due to climate change and its price will rise. It made me wonder whether our bread will improve. The Ministries of Development, Agriculture and Health have issued a decree that defines fresh bread as ‘bread prepared using a continuous production process, without any interruptions aimed at chilling or freezing, except where used to slow the leavening process, and without added preservatives or other treatments intended to have preservative effect’.
No problem with that.
But it would be nice to have a legal definition of good bread. It would be something along these lines: bread made using organic wholemeal or semi-wholemeal flour which has been stone-ground (a process that does not overheat the wheat germ and thus protects its enzymes); water (without chlorine, which kills bacteria and thus inhibits fermentation); and salt. And what about yeast? Yeast is not another ingredient. Good bread rises due to acid dough—flour and water left to ferment for a few days.
In our imaginary law you could also define bad bread: it has little weight, no nourishment, neither flavor nor aroma; it remains soft for a few hours and then collapses to a rubbery state, before turning to the consistency of old wood the next morning. It is made using grain ground by metal rollers, the flour is refined, has no wheatgerm, bran or life.
The flour is not organic, so better if it isn’t wholemeal (the 12 annual treatments received by the grain remain in the bran). To provide the lost flavor, color and aroma, ‘improvers’ are used, which do not have to be indicated on the label: malt extract, dried pastes, pregelatinized flours, sugar, amides, gluten, cysteine, sulfites, sodium bisulfite and metabisulfite, diphosphates, fats and so on.
And if you are lucky the yeast is beer yeast, often combined with a range of leavening accelerators. Then there is the stuff you buy at the supermarket. It is first leavened (you don’t know when), partly baked and then frozen; at the moment of sale it is put in the oven and baking is finished.
Eat it straight away or it will go as hard as diamond. By law it isn’t fresh bread. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s bread at all.
First printed in La Stampa on June 25 2007
Adapted by Ronnie Richards