A More Scientific Look at Bread

The more I bake, the more I realize that each loaf has a personality unto it’s own and no two loaves are alike.  No matter what the process I use is; no matter how exact the grams I use, they always seem to come out just slightly different.  One may be more dense, another more sour.  Some bakers would argue that temperature has to do with it — that there is no controlling mother nature in that way.  I can recall a friend saying about a loaf I made, “this bread isn’t for a side of soup…this bread is a meal from the earth.”  There is my goal. Simplify bread for nutrition sake and for social consciousness. Bring nature to the forefront.  And not in a hippy-dippy sort of way, but in a “we have the power to take control of the foods we eat and we can do so with Love!”

I think of bread as I think of people — constantly changing, evolving, with their own set of unique characteristics that make them who they are.  It is this diversity which makes the world go round. Or might I say, the boule go round!

I came across an article of a group of grad students who seem to feel the same way I do about bread.  It made me so happy to hear their take on the whole “gluten-free” epidemic.  And yes, I realize the term epidemic may seem dramatic to some of you, but in reality, the word doesn’t have numbers attached to it and it is pretty darn appropriate.  An epidemic is symbolic of something that is occurring in the now, at present.  I’m super into the etiology of words, and epidemic happens to have a greek origin, meaning “upon or above people.”  And to me, the thousands of people who feel the side effects from eating processed gluten have the right to call it an epidemic.  I know that there is an attachment for many to believe that going “gluten free” is a fad diet, or a restriction that some use just to lose weight, or because “everybody’s doing it.”  But trust me when I say, a gluten allergy is not fun for a person who really has one.  It can be debilitating for many, but also a saving grace for those of us who feel the importance to raise awareness and find ways to break bread with eachother once again, gluten-free, slowly fermented, or otherwise.

Please click on the link to read all about how Washington State University is trying to come up with some scientific explanations for why bread has lost it’s way and how we can bring it back for the healthful sake of ourselves, our families, and society as a whole.

Jonathan McDowell of the Bread Lab says it best: “If you look at gluten as what holds bread together, and you look at bread as what holds our society together, what is ‘gluten-free bread,’ then? Is it not a symbol of our times?”

Yes, Mr. McDowell, Amen!

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/02/toms-kitchen-100-whole-wheat-bread-doesnt-suck-and-pretty-easy

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It’s Like Shakespeare for the Breadmaker

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“A baker’s true skill lies in the way he or she manages fermentation.  This is the soul of bread making.”

Oh, how I read these words with such delight! Yes! Someone else feels the same way as I do.  They really get me.  What a magnificent feeling that is for a newly passionate baker.  I don’t know where I would be right now if it weren’t for my starter.  I feed it everyday, it’s like a little refrigerated pet, and it soothes my spirit to know that it is booming with nutrients and will make a pretty awesome loaf of bread everyday, if I want it to!

Any human being who writes words like that will grab my attention…Let’s just say, I am an instant fan.  It feels like Shakespeare to me. Shakespeare for the Breadmaker. And now I cannot put his book down. Whom is this person, you ask?  Well, it is no one other than Mr. Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco. Mmmmmm. If you haven’t been to this bakery and live within a hundred miles of the Bay Area, you are missing out. Get your tail on that BART and get some bread already! Don’t worry — if you are gluten free, they have some options for you that are super delicious too. And for those of you who don’t live closeby, his new book is a must-read for all of you out there who are uber passionate about fresh bread. His recipes are simple and thorough and his constant drive to create wholesome bread with just the four main ingredients is so refreshing and inspiring. The entire first chapter is devoted to his time in France when he was first starting out. Talk about taste nostalgia. It is a cookbook, but not in the formulaic sense. It feels more like a narrative and it helps teach you to dig into your intuition when it comes to making a better loaf of bread.  Amazing, if you ask me! I took a class a few weeks back taught by a great guy named Michael O’Malley and he told us all about Chad Robertson and how his book, Tartine Bread, is the hot new book on bread. I cannot put the thing down!

http://www.tartinebakery.com/

And speaking of the class, I must tell you about it…It was pretty much like a Sourdough Starter 101 class.  I heard about it from the wonderful folks over at Grist & Toll. I had a hunch it was going to be great. And it sure was!  Michael was thorough and charming, he was informative, he really helped me understand the importance of keeping a healthy starter and what it would do for my bread in the long-run.  Michael himself is a sculptor, who happens to also be passionate about making bread, so he build a mobile bread oven so that he could drive it to various parts of California and elsewhere in hopes to build enthusiasm for fresh bread in our community.  He refers to his oven as MOMO, or the Michael O’Malley Mobile Oven.  Pretty sweet.  You can read all about him and maybe make a loaf for yourself at one of his community days right here:

http://momalley.org/

Here’s a few tips that I learned in class that day that were spoken by Michael, but I think may have been inspired by Tartine Bread. Some of these things might be common sense for the more advanced baker, but a lot of it was news to me:

1. If you want to be a real bread maker, invest in a scale.  Cups aren’t gonna work anymore, folks.  Grams are much more consistent.  You have to start thinking more like a chemist, if you want to be a pro.

2. Feed that starter everyday, if you can.  If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself.  It will survive.  But nurture it, because after all it is a living thing.

3. In the words of Andrew Whitley, “real bread takes time,” but it also makes time too.  I used to say I never had the time to make my own bread, that I was too “busy.” In reality, making more bread has allotted for more things to get accomplished because I have become more patient and conscious of timing…that’s a beautiful thing.  You can do it! Trust me, there is always enough time! Try it for yourself and report back if you think I am crazytown or there is some truth in it!

4. The hotter the oven, the crispier the bread.  Seems like common sense, but wow! The MOMO oven is heated up to nearly 600 degrees, the bread is finished in under 20 minutes or so, and the crust is crispy and the inside moist.  Yum!

5. Mixers are not necessary.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and use your hands.  Less clean up, less oxidation (nutrients don’t fall away) and at the end of the day, there’s more love in it too.

6. If the starter floats in water, it’s healthy.  If it smells like acetone, trust yourself, it is acetone.  Try to revamp it, don’t give up immediately, but if it continues to have a searing smell like your sister’s nail polish remover, throw that stuff away and start fresh.

And the most important lesson in all of this, the Aesop’s Fable of sorts, well, at least for me is that it is of the upmost importance that you are doing what you love in life, folks.  Regardless of time, and money, and stress, or whatever.  Little did I know that having a sudden, crappy gluten allergy was going to lead me on a tailspin of happiness and self-discovery! I hope the same for you all, that you do what you love, no matter what it is that makes you smile!

Tackling the Bromine Conundrum

So what is this Bromine stuff anyway? Well, we can start off by looking at the Halide column of the periodic table of elements. Bromine, or Br, is found alongside Fluorine (Fl), Chlorine (Cl), Iodine (I), and Astatine (At).  It is part of group 17 in the table, and as you descend down the column, the elements become become less reactive.  So that makes Fluorine the most reactive and Astatine, the least.

Now, I am no chemist, but after going to France and eating my fill of pastries and breads, despite my supposed gluten allergy here in the states, and then reading a great article about a French baker who questioned the amount of Bromine or Potassium Bromide in American bread… Well, let’s just say it got me wondering.

And then I became more and curious as to why the United States has not banned the use of said Bromine in many commercial breads, pastas, and cereals?  So I started to do a bit of research and was astounded to find out that many countries around the world, including the majority of the EU has banned Bromine from its shelves for many years, no, decades, actually.  Research says that it is highly carcinogenic and that how it reacts in your body is pretty gnarly.  Ultimately, it grabs onto T3 and T4 receptors, where Iodine normally resides and leaches the iodine from the system.  Thus, leaving an individual with a deficiency of iodine (the healthy stuff), and an excess of bromine (the unhealthy stuff). And the symptoms of Bromine toxicity look much like that of gluten intolerance: brain fog, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, dizziness, hives, headaches, and the list goes on.

After learning this, I started wondering if Bromine toxicity may be prominent in the US, and why do we not ban it, like so many other countries before us?  If it is a known carcinogen, why are we allowing it to remain in our foods?  Sure it allows bread to have a longer shelf life, but ultimately, for thousands of years before us bread was made the morning it was consumed, and in really, 12 hours is the normal shelf life of bread.  It all started changing during WWII when food supplies were sparse and scientists were looking for a way to keep more people fed, for longer.

After some more research, I found out that Bromine (or potassium bromide, as it is also called) , is not only used as a preservative in the foods we consume on a daily basis.  It is also in our Gatorades, in our Sodas that we drink, used as a pesticide to preserve fruits and vegetables, in our car upholstery, in the mattresses we sleep on at night, in our TV screens to hold particular plastics together, in our public pools (alongside chlorine) and jacuzzi’s to help “clean” them.

I am filled to the brim with bromine! And not in a good way!

So if there is this much bromine in our environment, then it must be making some sort of impact, right?   After all, thyroid cancers, breast cancer, and prostate cancer make up the most amount of cancer in this country.  These cancers are all related to the endocrine system, which is related to the healthy levels of iodine in our system, which is related back to the thyroid.  If the thyroid is unable to excrete the proper hormones throughout the body, the system begins rebelling.  It is as simple as that. All relates back to Yin and Yang, as we refer to it in Chinese Medicine.  It is a balancing act. If one system becomes imbalanced over time, it cannot sustain itself, and thus begins shutting down.  Like begets like.  The bad guys start taking over.

As you can see, this all can get a bit overwhelming.  And I do not claim to know the in’s and out’s of it all.  I realize that.  But I also know that my instinct is telling me to get to the bottom of this Bromine Conundrum.  So that the 20 millions people in the US who claim to have a ‘gluten intolerance,’ or the third of the country who has decided to lessen or eliminate the gluten from their diets, can understand if it is really the gluten that is causing the allergy, or something else that can be replaced with something more natural.  And another intention of mine is also to inform the people who complain of symptoms similar to hypothyroidism, so that they too can get some answers.

But in lieu of complaining, I have begun to seek explanations.  I feel that if we fight strongly with negativity in our hearts, that change will not come. That instead, the cycle will continue.  But if we get to the bottom of it, empower the public, even if it is grassroots style, that our voices can be heard.  It starts right in our own home. Breads need to start being made just as they were in the past.  With four ingredients.  Flour, Yeast, Salt, and Water.  That’s all. It starts with educating ourselves.  Let’s get back to the basics.

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For your reading/viewing pleasure. The articles and videos I spoke of above:

Bromine in Commercial Breads: http://voices.yahoo.com/why-commercial-baked-goods-kill-you-3168947.html?cat=5

Andrew Whitley: “Why Bread Needs Time” video:  

Article on BVO: Brominated Vegetable Oil in Sodas: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2011/brominated-battle-in-sodas

American Nutrition Association: Dr. Brownstein video: 

Glory Glory Breadalleluia!

Never thought I would be into bread again.  Ever.  For three years I didn’t touch the stuff, swore off of it, anytime I ate it, I would get super sick and sad and pissed all at once.  

Until now.  After going to France for my honeymoon, I realized that eating bread doesn’t mean war.  I know, I know, it was risky what I did.  But I knew I didn’t have Celiac and the rumors I kept hearing about ‘flour being different over there,’ left me salivating over croissants, baguettes, and everything doughy.  So I took the plunge.

And boy, am I glad I did.  It has left me on a conquest for getting to the bottom of the bread dilemma.  But it has furthered my question asking too. Is it really the gluten? Or is it possibly the yeast? 20 million Americans report a gluten allergy/sensitivity or intolerance.  Commercial yeast does, afterall, triple the amount of gluten in the bread.  For awhile I thought maybe that was the answer.  So I started sprouting my own yeast. Afterall, using wild yeast amplifies the lacto-bacillis (the good bacteria for the gut) in the bread, so that must be it.  Nope, that was a part of the puzzle, but I am still not satisfied. Perhaps it is the potassium bromide that is added to many commercial breads in this country and has been outlawed in lost of the world because it is a known carcinogen and depletes iodine from the system.

Now, that had me wondering.  And it still does.  So that is where I will begin.  Tackling the bromine conundrum.