Our Daily Bread...?

Those soft, squishy loaves sitting so temptingly on supermarket shelves have very little to do with real bread....

How has this happened?

In the years following the end of the Second World War, UK planners were faced with the problem of how to feed millions of hungry mouths in a climate of postwar austerity.

Fortunately, as it seemed at the time, the British Baking Research Association (BBRA) had a bright idea.The mass production of bread in Britain had been hampered by several factors, most notably the country’s reliance on imported North American wheat and the overnight fermentation process.

Using the wonders of 1960s chemistry, the BBRA decided to do away with overnight fermentation altogether and allow lower-protein UK wheat to be used in place of its higher-protein US cousin. And thus, in 1961, the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) was born.

No time for fermentation

The CBP is also known as the no-time method – it reduces to 3.5 hours the time required to produce a loaf of bread from flour to sliced and packaged form.  The CBP currently accounts for around 80% of UK bread production.

Until the 1990s, a cocktail of chemicals was employed, including the powerful oxidiser potassium bromate, the ‘flour improving’ properties which helped to form stronger and higher-rising dough. 

When potassium bromate was banned in the EU for being potentially carcinogenic, however, the BBRA decided that another class of additives would do the job even better: enzymes.

Evasive enzymes

Exactly which enzymes is another matter, thanks to two factors. First is a worrying lack of transparency in the supply chain: CBP enzymes are manufactured by a small number of global companies, which sell them on to a second set of companies that produce complex enzyme cocktails. These cocktails can be tailored according to each company’s wishes for the finished product.

Secondly, assiduous lobbying by bread manufacturers has ensured that enzymes and other additives, known as ‘processing aids’, do not have to be listed on product labels.

Despite this, we do know that these enzymes include phospholipase A2, fungal alpha-amylase – a known allergen that can cause ‘baker’s asthma’ and which has been detected in bread crust – maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, transglutaminase and xylanase.

Because the European Union does not consider these ‘processing aids’ either as ingredients or additives, bread manufacturers are able to legally disguise their presence from the buying public.

Hidden genetically modified ingredients

Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) remains indispensable to baking and there is a clear cost motive for industry to obtain massive quantities of yeast as cheaply as possible. One way to do this is to create new strains of yeast that can grow on a huge variety of culture media.

As a single-celled organism, yeast is ideally suited to genetic manipulation, and the bread industry has adopted a process known as protoplast fusion to develop new strains. 

Since the CBP’s rapid, high-temperature mixing process kills yeast more rapidly than under normal circumstances, CBP breadmakers add excess yeast to compensate – meaning that GM yeast residues can easily find their way into the finished loaf. 

Enzymes and soya flour can also be of GM origin.

Manipulating public taste

And what’s the result of all this modern industrial wizardry?

In short: huge, soft, squishy and very cheap loaves. Bread baked using traditional methods contains very little air and is consequently far smaller and denser than CBP loaves.

It hasn’t taken long for the public to become conditioned to huge loaves, with long shelf lives, that can be checked for freshness using the ‘squeeze test’.

There are two costs involved here -

One is the very low cost to the public wallet of CBP-produced bread. The other, potentially far more expensive, is the cost to public health of basing its diet on an industrial product stuffed full of artificial and potentially dangerous ingredients. 

Also, interestingly, many types of brown and wholemeal ready sliced breads contain more sugar than white loaves, in the form of 'caramelised sugar', ' or dextrose', with some having more than half a teaspoon of total sugars per slice - which must surely partly undermine the benefit of eating wholemeal...?

With the WHO telling us that we need to halve the amount of sugar we are eating, that 'healthy wholemeal' take away lunchtime sandwich is not going to help!

Next time you are in the Supermarket reaching for that squishy, 'healthy brown' pre-sliced loaf, take a minute to look at the label and see how much sugar it contains - you may be surprised...

Has the rise of the CBP loaf over the last few decades paralleled  the huge rise in obesity, Coeliac Disease, food allergies and intolerances...?

The Real Bread Campaign explains what Real Bread is all about and can help you to find a local supplier.

Go and have a chat to independent bakeries in your community, and if they’re baking additive-free – support them! Farmers’ markets and the Internet are other valuable sources of high-quality, additive-free, ideally organic bread.

Article adapted from the Alliance For Natural Health - Europe