by Les Saidel - September, 2011
Since the beginning of Saidels Bakery we have been inundated with requests to make something called "light bread" (I am talking about light in texture, not light in color). These requests usually emanate from people who are on some form of diet and are watching their calorie intake.
The market standard for "light/diet" bread is that each slice should contain only 40 calories, as opposed to 80 calories per slice (regular bread). The assumption is that if you make a sandwich with two slices of "light bread", you will be eating the calorie equivalent of only one slice of regular bread - theoretically a significant reduction (especially if you are a heavy bread eater).
Each time we have received such a request we have declined, because it goes against the core principles of our bakery and our philosophy on bread and health. Let me explain.
Until about 150 years ago, bread was made as it has always been made since the dawn of time, the healthy way - with flour that has not had all the goodness removed from it (bran and wheat germ). This bread was correctly called the "staff of life" because it sustained life and provided the basis of a nourishing diet.
With the industrial revolution and the shift from home industry to large, commercial industry, the making of bread (and other foods) was removed from the home and deposited in the "reliable" hands of the large commercial bakeries and food companies. This coincided with the invention of numerous mechanical devices that could produce large volumes of bread quickly and consistently, like the electric dough mixer, for example.
Using an electric mixer one could produce very well developed dough (with an intensively developed gluten structure), that resulted in a much lighter bread.
Nowhere was this phenomenon more pronounced than in France. The traditional baguette - the French staple, until then a chewier, more satisfying creation, was transformed into light, fluffy, almost "ethereal" bread. The French masses became entranced by the lightness of this new form of bread and demanded more. None but the old-timers in France remember the original, authentic baguette of antiquity. The new generation has been reared from infancy on light, unsubstantial bread.
A similar phenomenon took place in Britain. Prior to the Second World War, bread was more substantial and baked using the old methods. After the war there was a period of food shortages in England and the solution to the problem was found by mass producing low-cost bread in huge factories by machine. The resulting bread was much lighter in texture, but like in France, far less substantial and satisfying. Even after this rough period in British history, the method of bread production lingered and the new generation of Britons was reared from infancy believing that this was how real bread was supposed to taste - bland and unsubstantial.
Prior to starting our family bakery I really only knew one preference for bread - the South African preference (being born in South Africa and having lived there until age 21). One the most eye opening experiences for us when we started the bakery was discovering the different regional preferences.
We have been able to class these preferences into 3 main categories.
The first are countries who somehow bypassed (or rejected) this new method of producing light breads (for example Germany, Russia, Scandinavia). To them a light bread that has no substance is not "real" bread. They prefer the more substantial, satisfying, heavier breads.
The second class of countries is those that enjoy a mixture of both very light and more dense breads (for example South Africa, USA). An American on the one hand enjoys a really chewy, dense bagel and at the same time loves light and fluffy "Wonder Bread" for his sandwiches.
Thirdly there are countries that have forgotten all about more dense breads and only enjoy lighter breads. These include Britain, Australia and on the very far extreme of the scale - Israel.
The Israeli taste in bread is "the lighter the better". With an Israeli, bread can never be too light. The Israeli ideal of bread is a loaf that can almost float, with a density lighter than air. This phenomenon is interesting considering that the Israeli population is predominantly immigrant based, with the Sephardic and East European/Russian contingents making up a large percentage, neither of which, at their origins, experienced light breads of the kind prevalent in Israel today.
Despite its undeniable attraction to numerous people from around the world, lighter bread suffers from a number of serious drawbacks, all of which emanate from the basic process of production.
Two hundred years ago you could not make bread as light as it is made today. In order to make bread that light, you need a. electric mixers and b. chemicals. Light bread is so light simply because it is inflated full of air - the more air the better.
The first way to pump bread full of air is to improve the gluten structure of the dough. As explained in more detail in a previous article (Prod Your Challah, Dec 2010), the gluten structure is like a spiders web of almost microscopic strands, within which the bubbles of CO2 produced by the fermenting yeast are trapped. The more developed the gluten structure, the more air can be trapped and the lighter the bread will be.
To improve the gluten structure to such a degree that it produces the light texture so worshipped by the current generation, you need to mix the dough intensively in a high powered electric dough mixer for a long time. You also need to add stuff that further enhances the gluten structure, such as adding extra gluten itself and other chemicals that increase the extensibility and elasticity of the dough.
The second way to inflate the bread full of air is to add chemicals that produce more air than the yeast itself can provide, such as baking powder equivalents calcium phosphate or calcium iodate etc. in addition to various enzymes that increase CO2 production in the yeast itself.
From the above, the drawbacks are quite apparent. Lighter breads are higher in gluten than regular breads. They also have a much higher percentage of chemicals that have no place being in any food that we eat. Lighter breads also naturally go stale more quickly than regular bread (think of a baguette). To counteract this, even MORE chemicals are added to retard staling.
Finally, lighter breads are less satisfying, understandably so, since they contain more air than bread. The usual result is that in order to be satisfied, one ends up eating more, thus defeating the original purpose. No one can sustain a successful diet if you constantly feel unsatisfied.
At the most extreme end of the scale of light breads is so called "Light Bread" or "Diet Bread". The only way to cut the calorie count of a standard slice by half is by inflating it with even more air, ergo - more chemicals.
The resulting paradoxes are actually so funny that they are almost sad.
People are willing to pay more money in order to get less bread and more air. They are in fact paying for air! So far, society has thankfully not deteriorated to such a degree that we have to pay for air, it is still a free commodity and not one that you should have to pay extra money for.
People who are on diet are supposedly so because they are trying to lose weight - to IMPROVE their health. Instead they are damaging their health by ingesting extra, unneeded gluten and other chemicals that have no place being in food.
Saidels Bakery was founded on the premise that our products contain no chemical additives. All our breads adhere to that premise. Even our pastries and cookies which use margarine, toe the line. We use the healthiest margarine available (Poliva's Machma'a) with less than 2% trans fats, zero cholesterol and natural emulsifier (lecithin) and natural preservative (sorbic acid). We also do not add any extra gluten to our products beyond that which is naturally occurring in the flour.
Contrast this with the ingredient list of one of the most popular "Light/Diet" breads in the USA (the Israeli counterparts are no different) -
Water, wheat flour, cottonseed fiber, wheat gluten, yeast, sugar, salt, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium peroxide, calcium iodate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium propionate, ammonium sulphate, ethoxylated diglycerides, azodicarbonamide, enzymes, guar gum, datem, soy lecithin, artificial flavors.
Seriously, we are not kidding……. you are probably better off eating a piece of cardboard. In fact the cardboard is much lower in calories and probably much healthier.
Next time you buy a so called "light bread", read the ingredient list. Note: many manufacturers try to hide the fact that they are inundated with chemicals by calling them "dough improvers" or something similar, deluding you into thinking this is a "green", "healthy" product.
Although we do use an electric dough mixer in our bakery, breads are mixed on a slower speed for a shorter time, thus emulating gentler hand mixing techniques and reducing the amount of gluten in the breads.
"The Incredible Lightness of Being", a famous film title perhaps, but a phrase that also aptly describes the new trend of modern society - the shift away from the more substantial to the more superficial.
The new generation prefers, at least in their bread, products that are inflated with a lot of (hot) air. Sadly this permeates other spheres of life as well.
The concept of "Yeridat Hadorot", the continuing deterioration of the generations, is never more prevalent than in peoples' preferences for bread. Symbolically speaking, Judaism leans toward less material/inflation and more spiritual/essence. The holiest breads in Jewish culture, matza and the Lechem Hapanim ("face bread") used in the Temple were unleavened, (non-inflated) breads, symbolizing the essence and not some pumped up inflated artificiality (contrasted with the bread favored by the ancient Egyptians for example).
It is a sad comment on our society (even more so on Israeli/Jewish society) that we lean more towards inflation in our breads (and everything else) than toward the core, the essence, the truth.
I know of very few people who are interested in losing weight solely for the sake of losing weight, regardless of what other harm they may cause themselves. Most normal people want to lose weight within the bigger picture of becoming healthier.
My advice to anyone who asks me about light bread and cutting calorie intake from bread, is to find a regular (not light), healthy bread (such as those made in Saidels Bakery) and slice them HALF as thin as a regular slice. You will thus benefit from half the calorie intake per slice, you will be more satisfied (as each piece is more substantial and filling) and you will be paying for the bread, not the air and saving a lot of money in the process.
We are slowly beginning to see the glimmering of a spark, a shift in peoples' conceptions as they become more and more aware of the delusions that they have been fed for decades by a greedy industry led by greedy individuals and a gradual return to basic principles. This is apparent in the increasing demand for organic products and the increasing awareness and wariness of what we eat.
Saidels Bakery continues to pioneer this trend here in Israel in our little niche - bread and baked goods. It is a constant struggle trying to educate people how to eat healthily and a constant temptation to degenerate into becoming a regular bakery that sells what "everybody wants", simply because it is financially more viable. With G-d's help we will remain steadfast in our goal until hopefully one day all bakeries in Israel will be like ours.
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