Real bread: The reasons why you should make and eat this quality staple

Bakers from the Real Bread Ireland movement. L-R Jeremy Zanni, Orla Gowen, Joe Fitzmaurice and Mags Kenny.

Valerie O’Connor opines on the wisdom of using one’s loaf — and suggests forgoing ‘Satan bread’, the chemically-treated ‘pseudough’ product implicated in gut, allergy and other serious health problems.

Bread. Just writing the word invokes so many feelings now. Images of hot toast, crunchy and dripping with real butter, comfort, reassurance, familiarity. 

If you cast your mind back to your childhood, surely one consistent thread was bread, tea and toast, corned beef sandwiches, jam sandwiches and more.

Our food landscape has changed so much in recent years, there’s quinoa and coconut oil, almond milk and super green juices. 

We are a nation of foodies and as bread has taken the blame for obesity and every ailment known to modern woman or man, it’s become blacklisted to the point where even GPs are sometimes recommending that people stop eating it.

Satan bread, as we call it in our house, also known as white bread in a packet, isn’t really bread at all. 

This thing we call bread is a pumped up product made from bleached white, chemically-laden, genetically-modified, wheat flour which has so many additives from raising agent and ‘improvers’, that they don’t even need to be listed as ingredients.

Sourdough loaves can even be baked in a casserole pot or deep frying pan in the oven.

The wheat has been so modified that it is also known as ‘frankenwheat’ and gets sprayed with chemicals at least ten times in it’s life and once just before harvesting, then it’s bleached with bromide to make it that white colour. 

The bread product is baked from start to finish in forty minutes, that’s a shorter amount of time than it takes to even do a first proving on a proper loaf of bread.

People often say that when they go to France on holiday, they have no problem with the baguettes or French bread in general. 

The reason for that is that the French have very strict laws about bread production, they only use flour (unbleached), water, yeast and salt. 

The dough is left to prove for several hours twice, before it is shaped and baked. Baguettes go stale so fast because they have no preservatives of chemicals added to them, all the rising has been done in the baking, so it won’t rise anymore in your stomach.

Most commercially produced wheat that goes into our bread has also been drenched in Round-up, a chemical, (glycophosphate), now banned in many countries. 

Ingestion of glycophosphate, which encourages the wheat crop to go to seed faster, can devastate your gut flora and in turn wreak havoc on your immune system. 

Slow and consistent consumption (unwittingly by the consumer, of course) of these chemicals has been connected to an increase in depression and devastating conditions like infertility, Alzheimers and MS.

Delicious, crusty baguettes baked with just flour, water, yeast and salt.

When people wonder why they might pay the often large difference in price for an organic product versus conventional, here lies one of the biggest reasons. We need to eliminate poisonous chemicals from our food chain. 

It’s not just bread that contains this toxic wheat by the way, it’s cakes, biscuits, crumbed meat products and on it goes. So buy organic flour for home-baking of every kind. You can bake your own loaves at home for around 80cents for the ingredients. Ok, enough rant.

During our most recent recession, one of the biggest growth areas in artisan food was the rise of small bakeries across the country. Builders turned to baking to make a crust, and former civil servants needed the dough. 

Sourdough became the new black and the price of a loaf of this delicious, crusty stuff is between €3.50 and €4.50 depending on what you buy and from where.

There is a huge price disparity between a loaf of shop bread and a loaf of the real thing, and people with less money are just not going to spend that kind of bread on a loaf. 

Sourdough has been gaining in popularity, so much so that a famous bread brand brought out their own sliced sourdough pan. 

Naturally, this was confusing to the public who want to do the best thing for their health and pocket and so the Real Bread Ireland movement was born. 

Following on the heels of Andrew Whitley, the godfather of real bread in the UK, Real Bread seeks to encourage people to begin bread-baking at home, and to establish a group of real bread bakers across the country.

I first got into baking bread through writing my book Bread on the Table and I went to Joe Fitzmaurice who runs the RiotRye bakery with his wife Julie from their wood-fired-oven bakery in the Eco Village in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary.

“We set up Real Bread Ireland to attempt to set a standard that ingredients on bread have to be transparent. With commercial bakers now selling “pseudough” bread, it’s more important than ever that bakers be validated for what they are doing, there is simply no comparison between packet bread and bread that’s made by hand using organically grown grains and wheat”.

Joe and Julie began teaching bread-baking classes to encourage people to bake at home and the demand for courses rose to the point where they dropped bread production so they could put their energies into teaching. 

As the drop in supply affected the Urban Co-op in Limerick, who are supplied by RiotRye, they literally created bread riots in Limerick.

They still bake 300 loaves a week, almost 70% less than before. It’s great that the demand has been created and, even with the big difference in price, more and more people want to eat real bread that is nutritious and delicious.

“We need to get back to our daily loaf”, says Joe. 

“Home economics doesn’t teach real bread-baking in schools”. 

Sadly most fully equipped home economics rooms lie empty all year round. 

“The common loaf was common knowledge until 1851 when bicarbonate of soda was invented. There was a connection between bakeries and breweries who would supply their waste products to the bakeries to feed the dough. We baked fermented bread all the time, then we lost it, now we are getting it back”.

Limerick real bread fans can get a delicious loaf from the Sunflower Bakery at the Milk Market on Saturdays. 

Vi Russell and her husband run their home-based bakery and are now expanding as their son is joining the business. The real joy here is you can also pick up a cake or tart baked with organic flours.

‘Food on the Edge’, the recent food symposium in Galway was an obvious place for Real Bread to showcase some delicious crusty loaves. Mags Morrissey is part of Real Bread and set up her Hedgehog Bakery on a part-time basis after a childhood helping out her grandparents in their bakery business. 

After doing courses in bread baking with RiotRye and Patrick Ryan from Firehouse, she began baking and supplying to the Green Sheep in Thurles and a shop in Thomastown.

“I’d love to do this full -time”, says Kenny “For now I’m baking fresh, yeasted breads, foccaccias and tarts. People are more willing to pay more for real bread which they have never really tasted until recently”.

Jeremy Zanni, a Frenchman baking in his portakabin bakery beside his 400 year-old cottage in rural Galway, loves the life that being a real bread baker gives him. 

“Compared to what the bakers in France do, I am still a novice. I am combining the Irish and the French aspects of food heritage and so I created a potato sourdough loaf”. Jeremiche, as he is known, is a stay-at-home Dad to his son

“I bake all night and then get my son up and bring him to school, this work allows me to have the life I want”. 

While trying to expand his repertoire, he thought about leaving the traditional baguette behind “But my customers love it so much, they would burn the cottage down if I stopped baking them”, he laughs.

Orla Gowen set up Bácús Bakery in Brandon after moving there from Dublin with her husband in 2009. 

“I did the bread baking course in DIT and we had an open day in the house with yeasted breads, baguettes, multi-seeds and plaits which were instant hits, so I began supplying shops and restaurants in Dingle as well as markets in Listowel, Dingle and Tralee. 

"We are now expanding due to demand and in summer I can be working 100 hours a week which is hard, but I’m employing people now which is amazing too,” she smiles. 

It seems that the passion and demand for real bread in Ireland really is, on the rise.

If you want to bake perfect sourdough, get some organic, unbleached flour and check out www.riotrye.com/commonloaf

For real bread bakers in your area check out www.realbreadireland.org 

Or check out my book Bread on the Table published by O’Brien Press 2014


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