This year is the 55th birthday of the introduction of ‘Chorleywood Bread Process’ which completely changed how the majority of bread is made in this country, and left us with the tasteless pap that the majority of people buy in the UK today.
It is certainly not a birthday I will be celebrating, and here are the reasons why.
As you can see from my blog, I am a supporter of the ‘Real Bread Campaign.’ Bread, in its purest form, is simple to make. It should only have four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt. You then have to invest a little bit of time and love in your bread, and leave it to ferment and rise for a while, perhaps overnight, ready for baking in the morning. In the 1950’s bread was produced by tens of thousands of small private bakeries in every city, town and village in the UK.
Then in 1961, the Chorleywood Bread Process was introduced, which is a bread-making method using lower-protein wheat, an assortment of additives and high-speed mixing. Over 80 per cent of all UK bread is now made using this method and most of the rest uses a process called ‘activated dough development’ (ADD), which involves a similar range of additives. So, apart from a tiny percentage of bread, this is what we eat today.
The Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) produces bread of phenomenal volume and lightness, with great labour efficiency and at low apparent cost. It isn’t promoted by name. You won’t see it mentioned on any labels. But you can’t miss it. From the clammy sides of your chilled wedge sandwich to the flabby roll astride every franchised burger, the stuff is there, with a soft, squishy texture that lasts for many days until the preservatives can hold back the mould no longer. If bread forms a ball that sticks to the roof of your mouth as you chew, or you can scrunch a slice of it into a white pappy little ball, this is down to the Chorleywood Bread Process – but don’t dwell on what it will shortly be doing to your guts.
The aim of the Chorleywood bread process is to use cheaper, lower-protein wheats and to reduce processing time, the system being able to produce a load from flour to sliced-and-packaged form in about three and a half hours. This is achieved through the use of chemical improvers, solid vegetable fat, high quantities of yeast, and intense mechanical working by high-speed mixers to incorporate air into the dough. The last requirement means that the CBP cannot be reproduced in a domestic kitchen (thankfully!). Solid fat is necessary to prevent the risen loaf collapsing – in traditional methods, this structure is provided by the gluten produced by higher-protein flour.
Flour, water, yeast, fat, salt, chemical oxidants and “improvers” are mechanically mixed, and the dough is violently shaken for about three minutes. The large amount of energy used generates high temperatures to raise the dough with its large dose of yeast, and computer regulated cooling systems modulate the next stages. The air pressure in the mixer headspace is maintained at a partial vacuum to prevent the gas bubbles in the dough from getting too large and creating an unwanted “open” structure in the finished crumb.
The dough is cut into individual pieces and allowed to “recover” for 8 minutes. Each piece of dough is then shaped further, placed four to a tin and moved to the humidity and temperature controlled proofing chamber, where it sits for about an hour. It is now ready to be baked. Baking takes 20 minutes at 400°F (about 200°C) and then the loaves go to the cooler, where, about two hours later, they are sliced, packaged and ready for despatch.
Doesn’t that sound yummy and appetising?
Here is a photo that I took last week of the ingredients list from a typical supermarket loaf
Some of the ingredients I recognised, but some of them I had to look up to find what part they played making the “bread.”
* Wheat flour – ok.
* Water – ok.
* Yeast – makes the bread rise, although there are some suggestions that twice the amount of required yeast is used in this process.
* Salt – OK if it is at about 2%.
* Non-hydrogenated Vegetable Oil – this is used to hold the dough up when in the oven in the Chorleywood process.
* Emulsifier E471 – this is a synthetic fat, from vegetable or animal origin.
* Emulsifier E481: Emulsifier, stabiliser. Also known as Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate. Vegetarians beware – can be of animal origin. It has a slight acidic smell. It enhances dough standard and the volume capacity of leavened products. It ensures a thin bread crust formed and it retards staling
* Soya Flour – a source of protein, it does many things: allows the volume of the dough to increase, increase water content, increase browning, whiten the crumb, increase shelf-life.
* Flour Treatment Agent E300 aka Citric Acid or ascorbic acid. Very commonly used as a bread enhancer.
* E920 L-cysteine hydrochloride – Commercially produced from hair and feathers. Found in flour and bakery products (except wholemeal) where it is used as an improving agent.
When a good, honest loaf of bread like the one in the picture at the top of this post only contains four ingredients, it does make you wonder why they include all these additives, some of which have now disappeared. Quite a few of them, in fact. Potassium bromate (now banned in the UK as a possible cancer producer), azodicarbonamide (also banned), L-cysteine hydrochloride, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate and so on — the list was long.
To avoid too many frightening chemical names, bread labels were allowed to group the nasties under bland headings such as ‘flour treatment agent’ and ‘emulsifier’.
Some additives were belatedly banned (including the bleaching of flour with chlorine gas in 1999), but new ones filled the gap and, if anything, the list is longer today than 30 years ago.
The additives were derived from substances that would never normally form part of the human diet. But we were reassured they were safe — until, that is, scientists told us they weren’t. It can’t therefore be any surprise that over the last few years there has been a marked rise in people who are wheat or gluten intolerant, and that perhaps part of it is down to the added ingredients that are used in this process.
So, what can you do to redress the balance? First, do what I did and join the ‘Real Bread Campaign.’ Secondly, make your own at home. As I mentioned at the start, you only need flour, water, yeast and salt.
It is as easy as falling off a log, and I can guarantee that once you have tasted your own homebaked bread, you will never go back to eating what I consider to be the tasteless, mass produced pap that masquerades as bread in supermarket the length and breadth of this land.