In recent years many people have adopted the idea that bread is bad for us, and oftentimes it is — but not necessarily for the reasons we think. The reality is that often it’s the flour that’s either too old or too manipulated to do any bakery product justice. It’s quite rare to see companies follow the path of La Brea Bakery, which recently opted to change the way they source the flour for their latest line of Reserve Breads — they now use only heirloom wheat from a family-owned Montana farm, which they mill themselves straight away — and which uses old-fashioned fermentation processes to prepare their dough.
But why is this necessary? Is there really something wrong with wheat, or with the way most companies make bread?
Well, America has long been under the industrial spell of bigger, better, and faster production, and because wheat is one of the most widely produced crops, bakers have had to adapt to the agricultural products that are available. This means most wheat is optimized for volume rather than nutrition.
There is also a good chance the flour that is being used in most breads is pretty old. Nutrients and vitamins in wheat tend to degrade rapidly after being milled into flour, and much of the flour we use is also bleached and processed in a way that further degrades the nutritional content.
To talk about baking, one also has to understand gluten. Bear with me for a second: Gluten is a natural compound formed when glutenin and gliadin (two natural proteins in wheat flour) are mixed with water. The resulting compound is what makes bread chewy and enables it to form air pockets that make it rise. The thing is that there are two ways to make gluten.
The old-fashioned way focuses on fermentation, first letting the flour absorb the maximum amount of water, which allows the yeast to activate and gluten to form from the natural proteins. Unfortunately, most of America makes bread the other way. To save time, many bakers cut out the fermentation process and add a product called vital wheat gluten to the mixer instead.
Vital wheat gluten is a powdered form of gluten that shoves the proteins together, rapidly speeding up the gluten process and adding not only a longer shelf life, but a higher yield to the batch. Pretty groovy, huh? Well, not for the health of consumers. A majority of our already unhealthy flour products get slapped with this extra load of “cosmetic gluten,” which is divorced from the natural nutritional content of traditionally prepared wheat.
If lately you’ve been ordering lettuce wraps to avoid wheat, you might want to consider that eating a good quality bun is not going to wreck your body. Factors in low-quality bread — from the environment in which the wheat is farmed to the way it is milled and prepared — may be the real cause for concern. Just as people have become more conscious of the benefits of, for instance, farm-to-table eggs, consumers may want to start taking note of where their flour comes from.
La Brea Bakery hopes to start a massive revolution in the wheat industry by baking with high-quality wheat cultivated by a family-owned farm in “Big Sky Country” — this will hopefully encourage more companies to embrace the Dan Barber way of farm-to-table, even on an industrial level. La Brea Bakery’s breads are truly unique, because the bakery still embraces the old-reliable way of making nutritious bread with long fermentation times and natural starters. Bravo. It’s about time we go back to the old-school culinary ways. Speaking of old-school, if you want to try some classic slow-cooker recipes, click here.
La Brea Bakery’s Reserve Breads are available through Amazon Fresh markets and at select grocery stores throughout the country.