The History of Bread

Bread Assortment

Whatever form it takes, pita or tortillas, pumpernickel or sourdough, bread has been eaten by every culture. What’s more, this one food has been a part of our lives for more than 30,000 years. But why? Bread is easy to produce from common natural ingredients, and it packs solid nutrition with powerful carbohydrates that are a great source of energy.

The first bread

At some point, prehistoric man went from merely mixing grains in water to cooking these ingredients on hot stones. Research released from a 2010 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences showed prehistoric mortar and pestle-like rocks contained traces of starch, probably from the roots of cattails and ferns.

As wheat and barley were cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, about 10,000 years ago, our ancestors shifted from a diet of animal meat (hunter-gatherer) to one that contained more plants (agricultural). Of course this impacted not only diets, but also how prehistoric man lived. The advent of agricultural societies meant that people started to settle in one place, rather than roaming. It also allowed larger groups of people to live together. Our modern lives would not exist if man had never shifted from the hunter-gatherer life.

How bread changed

Leavened bread, the precursor to our modern fluffy loaves, also probably first developed during prehistoric times. Yeast is all around, so if some found its way into a bowl of grain and water, the mixture would have naturally undergone leavening. Yeast cells have been discovered in bread made by ancient Egyptians dating back to 300 B.C.

Of course the next major change that allowed our forbearers to get closer to our modern bread came with the introduction of refined flour. Early flour would have been coarsely ground, meaning those loaves would have been denser and been somewhat akin to our whole grain loaves of today. However, around 800 B.C. the Mesopotamians created the first milling process to more finely grind grain into flour.

Modern bread

With industrialization, bread changed yet again. Otto Frederick Rohwedder created a machine that would not only slice, but also wrap bread, in 1928. And while generations of bread eaters have preferred white bread and viewed it as a form of status, that too changed in the last few years of the 20th century. The nutritional value of whole grain breads has come to be valued more as our attitudes about diet and lifestyle have shifted.

Another area where industrialized practices have changed bread is the Chorleywood Bread Process, which speeds up the fermentation process and allows for lesser quality flour to be used. This process, in addition to chemical additives that can be added to bread dough to decrease the rising and baking time, have dramatically changed not only the structure of modern bread, but also its nutritional value. At House of Bread, we don’t look for short cuts that save us money. Our mission is to craft the highest quality bread that evokes the history of bread, when it was a food rich in nutrients that sustained civilizations.