Bread

16th May 2003 at 01:00
In 1963, the papers had plenty to shout about. What with the Kennedy assassination, the Profumo Affair and the Great Train Robbery, there was never a dull moment.

Small wonder then that news coming out of the British Baking Industries Research Association at Chorleywood in Hertfordshire failed to make it on to the front pages. Yet the roll-out that year of the Chorleywood Bread Process - a breakthrough in the mass production of our daily staple - was arguably to have a more serious and lasting effect on the quality of life in Britain than any of the stories that hit the headlines.

Ever since the ancient Egyptians began using yeast to lighten their dough on the banks of the Nile, bread-making has been a subtle and skilful affair. Yeast is a living organism, a fungus that eats the sugars in cereals and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide, and it must be treated with care. The right kind of flour, given time and kneading, will produce a dough elastic enough to contain the gas bubbles in a rubbery sponge. But it must be the right kind of flour, handled in the right way and at the right temperature.

The Chorleywood Process also demands accuracy, but of a different kind.

Precisely measured ingredients - including a range of additives - are mechanically mixed at high speed to produce a consistent product. The plant is expensive, but for big firms which can make the investment, the process requires less time, less space and less skill. It also allows bakers to use cheaper flours and increase the water content of their loaves. Do you remember what fresh bread used to taste like? Probably not. By 1972, around 80 per cent of bread eaten in this country was made by the new process.

Unless you bake your own, or are lucky enough to live near a traditional baker, tasty bread is what you eat when you go abroad for your holidays. In Britain, even the loaves that supermarkets bake on the premises are moulded from Chorleywood dough. Can you remember what you were doing the day they killed British bread?

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