Isn’t Real Bread great?!

If, for any explicable reason, your answer to that wasn’t ‘hell, yeah!’ then you might want to grab yourself a bowl of porridge and sit this one out as that’ll be the gist pretty much from here on in.

From 10-16 May, Real Bread Maker Week celebrates the genuine article and its creators, and encourages people to support local bakeries or get making their own Real Bread.

Just think: with only three or four basic and utterly affordable ingredients anybody – and that includes more than 10,000 kids who’ve baked thanks to the Real Bread Campaign’s work – can make a loaf. Taking things to another level, the skilled hands of a true artisan baker (rather than the whirring whatevers of an industrial loaf fabricator) can elevate flour arranging to an art form. Delicious, nutritious and, if bought from a local, independent bakery, helps to keep your high street alive.

Not all loaves are created equal

Now, if you were reticent with your ‘hell, yeah’ back there, a perfectly explicable reason might have been if you’ve had gyp when eating a supermarket or factory loaf and by (perhaps misguided) association you’ve tarred Real Bread with the same brush. The thing is, not all loaves are created equal.

All the time, people write or chat to members of the Real Bread Campaign, saying things like: ‘I can’t eat supermarket loaves at home, but when I eat Real Bread on holiday in France or Italy, I have no problem.’ They then seek out a Real Bread bakery back in the UK and find they can enjoy a local loaf here, too.

Testing, testing 1, 2

Around 1% of people are unfortunate enough to have coeliac disease*. Though reliable figures for wheat allergy and intolerance are hard to come by, it seems that these conditions could also affect around one in a hundred people.

So why is the perception that such conditions affect more people? There is a chance that some self-made diagnoses are inaccurate. Two things we’d hate to see:

Someone with a genuine medical condition putting him/herself at risk anyone unnecessarily depriving themselves of Real Bread!

If you think you have a problem but haven’t been tested professionally, go now! You might find you can in fact enjoy genuine, long-fermented sourdough or even Real Bread in general. But please do get yourself diagnosed before you start experimenting…

Seeds of change

If there has been any genuine rise in people with real problems in the sarnie department, why might that be?

Over the years, many changes have occurred to links in the chain from seed to sandwich. Way back when, wheat was a rangy old thing, with stalks sometimes reaching the six foot mark. For a whole sheaf of reasons, boffins worked to curb the plant’s lofty ambitions, breeding strains that were short with fat heads. I’m sure there’s a gag to be had there, but I’ll move on.

What we as a Campaign would be interested to know is: while everyone was chasing after creating stubby, high-yielding wheats with oodles of strong gluten to make big, fluffy white loaves, what other unforeseen and unnoticed mutations might have taken place? Could the proteins have been altered in ways that have made them less digestible to more people?

The modern ‘conventional’ farming system deploys a huge agrochemical arsenal to boost growth, inhibit growth, kill things and so on. Residues of some of these can find their way into our food, so could they be causing some people grief?

Slowly does it

Something like 80% of the loaves sold in the UK are contrived by the Chorleywood ‘Bread’ Process. This utilises high speed mixing, a fair dollop of bakers’ yeast and perhaps ten or more artificial additives to slash production time to about ninety minutes from start to finish.

Leaving aside questions that hang over this chemical cocktail (though could that be a culprit?), compare this process to the hours that Real Bread bakers allow for their dough to ‘ripen’ in its own good time. Now just think of the problems you have eating an unripe tomato and ask: is it the commodity loaf process that allows virtually no fermentation time that some people might find hard to stomach?

Just what’s kneaded

We’ve challenged the Big Bakers, the loaf fabricators for whom the industry’s worth more than three billion quid a year, to fund research into this last issue. You’d think it would be in their interest to invest in finding out why so many people report they can no longer eat their products, but no, the manufacturers just grumble there’s no evidence that longer fermentation offers any benefits. The thing is, what they really mean is that not enough research has been carried out to generate conclusive evidence one way or the other. But enough of the questions for now, it’s Real Bread Maker Week, so let’s toast the true value loaf!


Chris Young coordinates the Real Bread Campaign for the food and farming charity Sustain. Membership is open to everyone and offers a range of discounts and other benefits. @RealBread *for those who don’t know, this isn’t an allergy but an autoimmune disorder. Basically, a sufferer’s immune system is, frankly, proper screwed up and starts attacking the body any time he or she eats even a tiny amount of gluten, a complex of proteins found in wheat and certain other cereals.

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