Coincidentally enough, the name of my blog “Bread and Beer” rings true. Archaeologists found that the Egyptian diet was made up of mostly bread and beer.
They weren’t the first to bake bread. Archaeologists have also found remnants of starch grains on grinding stones dating back to 30,000 BC. These were found in Italy, Russia and Czech Republic. They most likely formed a grain paste and made flat bread.
Back to Egypt. Wheat was probably domesticated in that area around 9000 BC. The Egyptians used to make bread with Emmer (aka Farro) wheat and sometimes barley. They would have to pound the grain, dry it in the sun, sieve it, and mill it on a grindstone with a back and forth motion. Water was then added, and the mixture was left to ferment, gathering yeast unknowingly.
The Egyptians had discovered leavened bread, probably around 4000 BC. Also, bakers began to experiment and would save a pinch of the dough for the next days bread, becoming the sourdough starter. They would bake bread in clay pots, in clay ovens or by just slapping the dough down on a hot surface.
So how does this bread lead to beer? Egyptians would lightly bake leavened bread so the yeast would survive in the interior. When ready to brew beer, they would crumble the bread, sieve and wash the dough, and then let it ferment. It would be fair to say that the second staple of their diet came from the first. Beer was highly nutritious and low in alcohol back then.
The Egyptians taught the greek about leavened bread and in turn, the Romans obtained this knowledge however; in Roman times in the British Isles, bread was said to be superior. Barm from the beer would be used in their leavened bread.This made bread even lighter than sourdough. Barm was used by bakers up until the manufacturing of yeast.
In 1857, Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast was alive, and therefore it became possible to isolate pure yeast strains. In 1876 in Philadelphia, Charles Fleischmann started the processing of commercial yeast.
Bread was baked at home, but around the 19th century, bakeries started to be established. People were moving to the city and didn’t have the room or the time to bake their own bread. White bread was prized. White flour was expensive because of the process of milling. So, buying expensive white bread was a way of showing how rich you were. Darker bread was for the lower class.
In the beginning of the 20th century, industrialization of bread came about and buying bread declined (mostly in the US). Bread just didn’t look or taste good anymore.
Preservatives, emulsifiers and chemical additives were introduced to the flour and dough to soften the crumb and prolong shelf life for the mass-produced bread. By the 1970’s, bread consumption was down by half.
It seems like bakeries have been around forever, but only 30 years ago there were barely any. I have a bread book from 1993 and, interestingly, bread flour could only be purchased commercially or from bakeries. Now, bread flour can be purchased everywhere!