More than any other food, there’s something about bread that’s forever intertwined it and us throughout the story of humanity. From ancient loaves found in the pyramids to the colorful balloon bags on our grocery store shelves, we have been linked to bread throughout history, and it has sustained us through some pretty rough times.
If you trace today’s bread to its roots, you’ll find something that looks nothing like a loaf of bread, at least as most of us think of it.
For the most part, breads need finely ground/milled grain–in other words flour. The earliest evidence of the kind of flour we think of today dates back about 30,000 years. It wasn’t nearly as finely milled, and it wasn’t bleached white, but it was a primitive beginning.
Flat and simple breads like lavosh, Mexican tortillas, Indian chapattis, naans, Scottish oatcakes, North American johnnycakes, and Middle Eastern pitas are all modern-day examples of breads made from this type of flour.
Eventually, about 10,000 years ago, foraged wild grains became cultivated grains, and that marked the turning point in human history because it allowed larger masses of people to become stabilized in one area. And when cultivation of grains became more efficient, not everyone had to be foragers or farmers of grain. This allowed common people to specialize in other trades and endeavors.
Civilization became more civilized.
As more bread was made, it was only a matter of time before something else happened. Leavened bread was just around the corner. Leavened bread, of course, is generally leavened with yeast, and yeast is in the air.
It’s everywhere, and it eventually settles on everything–grains included. This is why, if you take finely milled flour, mix it with water, and let it set out long enough, you get a spontaneous growth of yeast in the dough.
Of course, some places have more yeast in the air than others, and one place you’d find a whole lot of yeast in the air is in a brewery. And not so coincidentally, the early Egyptians made beer and are credited with discovering leavened breads.
Yeast spores settle on the grain; grain becomes flour; yeast consumes the sugar in the flour, creating carbon dioxide gas, which is then trapped in the dough; and BINGO, you get leavened bread.
Of course, this makes you wonder why leavened bread didn’t arrive on the scene earlier?
The likely explanation is that early breads were both flat and dense not to mention made from dough that was prepared for the moment and consumed just as readily. There would have been few opportunities for yeast to sit around long enough, under the right conditions, to do its thing. On top of that, whatever carbon dioxide gas that might have been created would stand little chance to leaven such tough, leathery dough.
However, over time, grain was eventually milled much finer, and dough became less dense. This allowed the yeast’s gas to form bubbles trapped within the dough, which remained during baking.
Modern bread was born, but it took until the 1800s when Roller flour mills led to even more highly processed flour, which led to even lighter and whiter loaves.
By 1825, a German baker was able to create cakes of yeast, package them for mass sale, and make the baking of bread easier forever after. Even today, however, there are those who LOVE breads baked not with commercially processed yeast but instead with the wild yeast in the air.
They go by the name Artisan Breads, and Nino’s has an Artisan bread bakery in our Clinton Township store. The breads we make there are, in a word, FANTASTIC.
Want to know more about Nino’s Artisan Breads and the flours we use to make them? Check out these posts: