Is bread healthy for you read on to discover the truth...

The Good Life Letter

Friday, 10th June 2011 

  • A revelation when you get out of the shower?
  • A world shattering invention...from Chorleywood!
  • Answering cheese toastie lovers ultimate dilemma - is bread healthy for you  

Did you know that last Monday was a special occasion?

I didn't until I was getting out of the shower that morning. Sorry if I have just given you a mental image that you didn't want, but the revelation had nothing to do with my lack of clothing. It was what I heard on the radio.

Sliced White Bread was 50 years old on the 7th June. No really it was.  I hadn't realised that this staple foodstuff had a birthday which was so specific.

Growing up, my mum's bread bin always had a medium sliced loaf in it and still does to this day (though I sometimes manage to get a selection of home baked rolls in there.)

My diet at the time included toast, beans on toast and toasted cheese sandwiches - all of which I could make by myself from the age of 6. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver!

I delighted in the fact that the bread was the right size for the toaster/sandwich maker, and I loved the soft doughy texture of the middle compared to the crunchy outside.

If truth be told, I still do.

So, let me tell you the story of its creation.

Chorleywood - the centre of the bread making world

In the early Sixties the challenge for the country's bread makers was to come up with a cheaply made and long lasting bread product. If it could also be made labour saving then it would be a bonus, and fit in with the ethos of the time.

The major cost to commercial bread factories was the amount of imported strong wheats that were needed to help create a stable loaf. Our own wheat varieties tended to produce softer grains which didn't rise, and had very little crumb structure.

Deep within rural Hertfordshire, the researchers at the British Baking Industries Research Association improved an earlier American recipe and created the Chorleywood Breadmaking Process. The date it was published was the 7th June, 1961.

This method was so successful that 80% of all white breads made in the UK use it even today.

For the factories, this method delivers a triple benefit. Firstly, local cheap wheat can be used, secondly, the time taken for production is half that of other methods and lastly, the bread stays fresh longer giving them less logistical headaches.

For the housewife they had soft white bread which kept longer and was a uniform shape - it must have seemed like magic!

Indeed, it coined its own phrase in folklore for when something is ahead of its competitors..."the best thing since sliced bread".

The problem was that to create this marvel the producers were adding hard fats, extra yeast and a variety of stabilising chemicals. None of which sounds good for you, and indeed the rise in wheat intolerance is often attributed to Chorleywood Method bread.

Bread in the modern era

The Sixties gave us many thrills which are now considered a hazard to our health; mind bending drugs, free love and loud music being a few; but we can also add white bread to that list it seems.

In recent years the news about stodgy, long life, plastic wrapped bread has all been about how it can adversely affect you - and how nutritionally poor it is.

In the process of making flour white, half of the good unsaturated fatty acids are lost in the milling process alone, and virtually all the vitamin E is lost with the removal of wheat germ and bran. As a result, the remaining flour in the white bread you buy, contains only poor quality proteins and fattening starch.

Oh, but it gets worse.

About 50% of all calcium, 70% of phosphorus, 80% iron, 98% magnesium, 75% manganese, 50% potassium, and 65% of copper is destroyed. If that is not bad enough, about 80% vitamin B1, 60% of vitamin B2, 75% of vitamin B3, 50% of vitamin B5, and about 50% of vitamin B6 is also lost.

Or so it has been assumed, and widely reported.

But I did a little digging and from my research it appears that the modern milling grist is very different from the ones of 50 years ago

For instance, the use of bleached white flour (which is responsible for the removal of most of the nutritional goodness) is now on the decline.

UK law insists that bread flour gets fortified with extra calcium, iron, vitamin B1 and vitamin B3, which is no bad thing for a foodstuff which is readily digested and provides a good source of energy.

No, the white loaf isn't going to win any nutritional powerhouse medals any time soon, but as a guilty pleasure every now and then you could do worse.

My own personal favourite is a good bread and butter pudding, my version is simple, rich and just plain wonderful.  Here's the recipe - enjoy (sparingly!)

Ray Collins' Bread and Butter Pudding

1) Butter several slices of bread and cut them diagonally across to give four triangles.

2) Lay the bread into an ovenproof dish, adding a handful of plump sultanas in between the layers of bread. For the adventurous you can even grate a little fresh nutmeg in as well, or my favourite is a shake of cinnamon powder.

3) Mix a half pint of semi-skimmed milk with 3 large free range eggs and 100g sugar and pour over the bread in the dish.

4) Now let the pudding stand for at least an hour, preferably in a cool room with a cloth over it, or in the fridge if the day is too hot.

5) Sprinkle the top with a little natural caster sugar and put into a hot oven (Gas mark 5/375°F/190°C) and bake for 30-40 minutes. The custard should be set and the top brown by this stage.

6) Eat straight from the oven with a little dab of crème fraiche.

So, let us celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the humble white sliced loaf, continue to be aware of what we are eating and vary our diet to make sure we get a rounded level of nutrients...rather than a rounded tummy!

Yours, as always











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