So, what is bread really? Bread, is nothing other than a paste of water and flour, cooked over or surrounded by heat. Sounds simple in itself but the smell, taste and texture of bread is something we Brits will forever remain fond of. In 2020 26.5 million people used packaged sliced bread, which is the most consumed type of bread in the U.K so it’s safe to say, we are on a roll. 

The world’s oldest evidence of bread-making was found at the archaeological site of Shubayqa 1 in the Black Desert in Jordan, a 14,600-year-old site, predating the earliest known making of bread from cultivated wheat by thousands of years. Amazingly, archeologists have even managed to discover the remains of bread at the site, specifically charred crumbs of a flatbread which upon examination, found that the dough was made from wild wheat, wild barley and plant roots dating between 11,000-14,000 years ago. What is particularly interesting is the extensive amount of evidence left in the form of depictions, structures and items in Ancient Egypt, one of them being the quern. The quern was later to be discovered as the first known grinding tool used by the Egyptians to grind wheat, seeds and nuts. Using the quern, grain was then crushed and what was made is what we now commonly recognise in its closest form as chapatis (India) or tortillas (Mexico). So the next time you order your local Indian takeaway, you could technically say that you’re eating ancient bread!

So what was bread like in Britain? Well, we’ll have you know that in medieval Europe bread became a known staple food, and arguably still is, I mean Tesco’s £3 meal deal has literally saved many British workers from literal starvation. As far as medieval table settings go, a piece of stale bread roughly 15cm x 10cm, was served as an absorbent plate known as a trencher. When food was scarce, which back in the day was literally always, the so called trencher would typically be eaten with or at the completion of a meal. The name trencher didn’t quite stick, but I think that’s for the best. In times of relative abundance, trenchers would be given to the poor or fed to the dogs.

In Britain the price, weight and quality of bread was originally regulated by a 13th century law – the Assize of Bread and Ale. Bread regulation was interestingly the most significant and long-lasting commercial law in medieval England and can be traced back to proclamations from the reigns of Henry II and John that regulated the purchasing requirements of the royal household. During these times, it became evident that bread and the baking of it became quite the buzz among the people. A fun fact for you, did you know that the upper classes actually preferred fine, white loaves, while those of poorer or peasant status were left with coarser breads, bran and rye?

Oh how times have changed…

Bread-baking was then eventually industrialised at the start of the 20th century. The development of the Chorleywood bread process in 1961 was actually the start of a major change within the U.K. This process used the intense mechanical working of dough, and control of gases touching the dough, to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf at the expense of taste and nutrition. In short terms, this enabled bakers to create bread quicker than they’ve ever done before and have loaves that lasted longer, meaning less wastage. But did you actually know that we waste 900,000 tonnes of bread every year in the UK. This equates to around 24 million slices, or 1 million loaves, every day. Or, almost 9 billion slices a year!

In more recent times, and especially now in smaller retail bakeries, chemical additives are commonly used to both speed up the mixing time and reduce necessary fermentation time, so that a batch of bread may be mixed, made up, risen, and baked in fewer than three hours. Dough that doesn’t require any form of fermentation because of chemical additives is called “quick bread” by commercial bakers which is what we can buy at our local supermarkets today!

Whether your go-to bread is shop-bought, home made or quick, we can all agree they taste lovely!

What is your favourite bread?

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