Bread, the result of baking dough made of wheat and water, has been one of the most important and complete foods for humanity. Back in the old days, milled wheat converted in bread was more like a cookie, flat, hard and crunchy, perfect to be used as a piece of cutlery, as Mid East cultures do.
It is certainly true that humans had eaten wheat since ancient times, but it is not until 4.500 years ago, approximately, that Egyptians started to make spongy bread similar to the one we all know today. Probably, the process where dough raises and, after baking, the result is a soft, fluffy bread, was discovered by chance when a Egyptian baker baked an old dough left forgotten for few days, being this one fermented by yeast spores and bacteria in the air, having as a result a fluffy bread. Greeks improved baker’s techniques creating stone ovens with domo shapes and adding other cereals, like barley, to dough. In turn, Romans were developing milling and kneading processes with which you could have a whiter, softer and high quality bread to consume.
Being bread so important for human diet, bakers were cared and respected. All knowledge and secrets were transmitted from father to son. It is said that by Jesus era, there were more than 300 bakeries. And with different European cultures being born, bread had a creative growth. Each nation, each region and each village “invented” their own special and unique bread, combining basic ingredients (wheat, salt, water) with new ones like sugar, grease, milk, eggs, fruits, etc. in different proportions, having as a result all those breads that we all crave for: Panettone, Brioche, Boa, Golfeados, among other thousand…
Modern times and industrialization brought big advances for baking. Roll mills were invented that were capable to separate wheat germ and bran automatically. Such things increased gradually the flour production capacity compared to the one made by old round millstones. New flour could be stored for longer periods of time without getting rancid and have a whiter bread because flour were now mostly constituted by the wheat seed endosperm. Gas and oil ovens were invented such as intense kneading machines.
Industrialization brought a massive white bread production to the detriment of flavor and aroma. During the 70’s in the U.S. and Europe a new movement was born that promoted the return of usage of natural ingredients trying to reduce and eliminate colorants, chemicals, additives and other artificial products that were very common back in those days.
This naturist movement had a huge impact on bread production. Gradually, some chemicals and additives in flours were forbidden. Quality of harvest wheat has increased because of the return of free chemicals cultivation. U.S. and Europe started to grow organic wheat, which had ancestral origin not genetically modified and no insecticides in its cultivation. Organic or biological bread is smaller, less white and a 50% more expensive than industrial bread, but for most people, this is the bread we preferred.