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The history of Bread

By Edited Jun 13, 2015 2 5

Throughout history bread has been the staff of life. It played an important role in the rise and fall of civilizations. Ethnic groups around the world have their own unique breads. Mesapotanians discovered that instead of just chewing wheat berries, they could grind it into a paste make a dough andset it over a fire. This same dough if kept for a few days fermented and yeast was discovered. The first loaves were baked in hot ashes but soon cultures baked in clay ovens and continued using this method of baking well into the 1700-1800's.

The Egyptians isolated the different types of yeast cultures. They also cultivated wheat and created the first modern type bread. The Egyptians had over 30 types of bread. Loaves of bread and rolls were discovered by archeologists in Egyptian tombs dating back 5000 years.

The Greeks learned bread making from the Egyptians and spread the practice across Europe as the conquered the continent.

A baker's guild was formed in Rome around 168 BC. The guild or college Pistorium wouldn't allow bakers or their children moving to another trade. But why would they want to? In Rome bakers enjoyed special privileges. They were the only craftsmen who were freemen of the city, all the other trades were slaves.

Throughout history the color of bread a person ate depended on their social stature. Poor people at dark bread and the wealthy the lighter breads.

In the Middle Ages the lord of the manor had ovens which baked bread for a price.

In early England the ruling classes did their best to keep the price of bread down because famine lead to revolt.

During Colonial American history women made yeast at home usually from hops or the 'emptins', of the beer keg.

The French Revolution started because the peasants could not get bread for their families while the nobility at fine light pastries.

Prospectors and miners during the California Gold Rush were called 'sour Doughs because their bread was sour dough. A portion of the dough was placed in a stone crock to ferment until ready to bake another batch of bread, then a small amount of the sour dough was mixed with some water and used in place of yeast. These they cooked in their coal or wood powered cook-stove ovens.

The coal and wood stoves gave way to electric and gas ranges. Another way of making bread was the sponge method. The cake form of dry yeast was used most often. The liquid and the yeast with a small amount of flour were left to set overnight then in the morning more flour was added and the bread baked.

During the depression and World Wars when yeast was in short supply, women made salt-rising bread.

For many years during the twentieth century, buying bread from the grocery was common place but now home-baked bread is making a come back. White bread is no longer king as we discovered that vital nutrients were stripped away and replacing them with synthetic supplements in a process called 'fortifying' does not provide adequate nutrition. Brown bread is once again becoming a staple.



Nov 26, 2009 1:36pm
I wonder when you talk about 'brown bread' do you mean wholemeal?
Dec 31, 2009 10:35am
That explains why I like Pumpernickel bread! lol
Enjoyable to read this history for an everyday item like bread. Good idea for an article.
Jan 30, 2010 8:27pm
yeast, as an isolated item was only available from the 19th century on. The french professor Pasteur did a lot of research on the subject and identified the living organism, that yeast is. Pasteur lived from 1822 - 1895.

But no worries. Yeast is abundant and every where. Yeast is a living organism. It floats in the air. Different families of yeast float in different areas of the world, and multiple families float in the same environment. The early bakers and the early brewers (actually the same profession in the early days) used these wild yeasts, without understanding what it was. They just knew the results. By the way: beer is liquid bread, same ingredients just more water.

You can do the same test as they did. They exposed to the open air for about one day a sweet liquid. Wild yeast, feeding on sugars jump into the liquid and ferment the liquid: fermentation is converting sugars into alcohol and CO2, while the yeast multiplies itself fast in an exponential way. By the way, it is known that prisoners hide a cup of smashed fruit, drenched in some water, under their bed for 6 days with the intend to create an alcoholic beverage. It works!

You are right about the early technique of transfering yeast from one batch to the next one, be it bread (sour-dough) or beer. This technique is the domestication of wild yeast. Any time however, the brewer/baker could harvest again, start over again with the wild yeasts.

Only in the second half of the 19th century was yeast commercially available to be added to grape-juice (wine), apple-juice (cider), or wort (beer). Wort is what you get by mixing milled malted grain and water, and heating it up for an hour or more, without boiling. The starches of the grain become sugars. Thus wort is a sugar rich liquid made from grain. Malt is grain that has been put in a warm-moist environment to make it germinate. Once the germination is started it is immediately stopped. Germination breaks the 'long' starches in the grain-kernel into multiple 'short' starches. These are better for brewing.
Feb 5, 2010 9:01am
I love sourdough bread it's my favorite. I would love to make some homemade bread but the idea of using yeast gives me a bit of a scare. Nice article.
Dec 14, 2010 2:32pm
Good article. Bread is my down fall.
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