The History of Bread

history

Bread is the most consumed food item in the world, and has been for thousands of years. Just check out the size of the bread isle in any grocery store, and you will see. Bread is an important source of carbohydrates and essential nutrients. Its compact portability makes it a very practicable meal. Bread is made from different ingredients in different places, but the purpose is always the same: Serve as a base for all kinds of nutritious meals and snacks.

Humans have consumed bread for at least 30,000 years. There is archaeological evidence of flour from that time, which was likely processed into rather crumbly, unleavened bread. Cereal and bread became a staple around 10,000 years ago, when wheat and barley were among the first plants to be domesticated in the Nile region. Agricultural societies with crops and bread were able to sustain larger populations than nomad societies based on hunting. This led to the rise of civilized cities, and bread played a big role in that process. Eventually, leavened bread appeared in the form of sourdough. Bakers used pieces of dough from previous days that worked as a sourdough starter.

Free-standing ovens appeared for the first time in Ancient Greece. At the same time, different varieties of breads started to pop up, for example honey-and-oil bread, mushroom-shaped loaves with poppy seeds, or military rolls. By the 5th century BC, bread had become so popular in Athens that commercial bakeries started out as an alternative to ubiquitous home baking. Greek bakers migrated to Rome during the 2nd century BC. Bread became so important in the Roman empire that Cesar was convinced that "bread and circuses" was all that it takes to appease the masses and distract from his political powerplays. 

In medieval Europe, bread was commonly used as a plate. This was called a “trencher”, which is a piece of stale bread that served as an absorbent plate beneath the food. At the end of a meal, the trencher was either eaten, given to the poor or fed to domestic animals.

With industrialization, bread making also progressed. Sliced bread was invented around 1928 and became a great success. Within two years, the vast majority of the bread sold in stores was sliced. People started eating more bread, because a bread meal was easier to prepare than almost anything else. However, sliced bread dries out quickly, and industrial bakeries started to add chemicals to the bread to prevent that. While convenience increased, bread quality took a nose dive.

During World War II, American soldiers suffered from poor nutrition. In 1942, the US Army recommended the addition of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and iron to flour. This led to the birth of enriched flours and even more chemicals in the bread.

In the 1960s, profit-hungry industrialized bakeries in the USA searched for processes to accelerate bread production, at the expense of bread quality. That’s when American bread became famously soft, pale and tasteless. US bakeries started to use chemicals that speed up mixing time and reduce fermentation time. During the 70s, 80s and 90s nearly all US bread was mass-produced that way, with dismal bread quality.

Things have come full circle, however. In recent years, consumers have become more health conscious and are demanding hand-made bread again – now called "artisan" bread, even though most "artisan" bakeries in the USA are run by folks without any formal training in bread baking. Nonetheless, it's a move into the right direction.

At BreadVillage, we focus on old-style German rye sourdough bread, which is among the most wholesome bread types in the world. Our bread is based on all natural ingredients and time-tested, simple recipes. Our bread is baked in Germany by bakers with decades of experience and training. Click here to see our offering. We ship throughout the USA.


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  • Betty on

    Very interesting. I’m curious about your flour as modern flour is a killer. Diabetes is rampant. I understand 99% of flour today is something called dwarf wheat which is a hybrid. Can you explain your wheat and grinding process. The elimination of fiber in today’s bread is the problem. Thank you


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