Bread, much more than food ... a little history


Bread is a popular staple food, the consumption of which has spread throughout the world except in rice-growing countries. It is used as a supplement to daily food and is essential in the Mediterranean diet. There is evidence of the manufacture of bread and the use of yeasts since 2300 BC. C. in which the Egyptians discovered by chance the fermentation process.

From this discovery, bread making became a trade that spread throughout the world. For the making of bread, yeasts were needed, and already in Roman times, these yeasts were taken from the surface of the fermented wine bowls, and it was discovered that they served perfectly to make the bread. Today it is already known that this fermentation process is carried out by a yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisisae. This yeast is responsible for the manufacture of fermented products today, although other yeasts have been used, and even bacteria (see types of bread)

To know the origins of bread we must go back to a remote past, the discovery was accidental, we are in the Neolithic Age, an ancestor of man already knows the seeds and cereals, and he knows that once crushed and mixed with water, they give rise to a porridge. This man forgets the porridge in a kind of pot, when he returns he finds a granulated cake, dried and crushed, the first bread has just taken shape.

Since that time, bread has been linked to the evolution of man, it has been present in conquests, revolutions, civilizations, discoveries, that is, being part of the universal culture of man. From that rudimentary first loaf, the result of man's chance, until today, where the bread offer is very extensive -we have more than 315 varieties of bread-, the consumption of this food has gone through different stages and civilizations.

Bread in Egypt

The excellent conditions that the Nile River offered for the cultivation of cereals, was due to its constant floods .. Data have been found for which it is known that bread and a type of cookies. The food of the poor Egyptians consisted mainly of bread and onions - hence the famous saying - "With you, bread and onion."

The evolution in baking occurred in an important way during this civilization, since it was the Egyptians who discovered fermentation and with it the true bread, the leavened bread. Unleavened bread - unleavened - is called unleavened bread. The Hammurabi code (2000 BC) already speaks of "edible beer" and "drinkable bread", referring to bread and barley beer, both made with a mixture of barley and yeast. However, the Egyptians devoted themselves to a greater extent to the cultivation of wheat since barley fermented poorly.

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It can be said that the Egyptian people consolidated the baking techniques and created the first ovens to bake bread, in this sense in the year 4000 BC a furnace was unearthed in the excavations next to Babylon.
According to a French historian, the Egyptians "invented" the gastronomic custom of placing a small wheat bread in the place of each diner.

The bread of the Greek world

Once Greece adopts the invention of bread, through relationships commercial with the Egyptians, he perfects it. It was the Greeks, in the XNUMXrd century B.C., who made an art of baking, created more than seventy different breads, Greek bakers invented various forms of the breads used for religious festivals, they tried different bakery doughs: wheat, barley , oats, bran, rye and even rice dough; adding to these, spices, honey, oils, nuts ... and they were surely the forerunners of pastry.

In a museum in Switzerland, the oldest cake is preserved, known as “Corcelles cake” from the year 2800 A. Da C. Bread began as a ritual food of divine origin for the Greeks but later became popular sustenance , symbol of food par excellence. Unleavened bread - unfermented - was considered a delicacy. East food It is named in several writings of Greek poets and philosophers: Homer, Plato, Aristophanes, Athenaeum, which represents that the culture of bread has been present in the most outstanding cultures.

For many historians the myth of Jason in search of the Golden Fleece is a metaphor for the Greek routes in search of wheat.

The bread of the Roman period

At first, in the Roman town the elaboration of bread. They preferred to eat porridge and porridge; the bread was considered by the people as something alien, not attainable; it only appeared in the meals of the wealthy lords.

In the year 30 BC, Rome has more than 300 bakeries run by qualified Greek professionals; in these processes, elaboration and cooking were carried out by different professionals; the price was perfectly regulated by the magistrates and in the year 100, in the time of Emperor Trajan, a first association of bakers was established: the Official College of Bakers of a privileged nature (tax exemption) and the profession was strictly regulated: it was inherited obligatorily from parents to children.

The Romans improved the mills, the kneading machines, and the ovens in such a way that nowadays the direct heating furnace is called a “Roman oven”. The bread in Rome takes on great importance, according to the Latin poet Juvenal, in his satire he emphasizes that the Romans only needed panem et circenses, bread and the circus.

Bakers distinguished breads based on their composition, crafts and function, they created the panis militaris, specially made for soldiers, and which had a long duration, since during their marches in favor of conquests, they had a diet based on bread and wine, this being perhaps the first union of these significant foods in the history. This led to the construction of exclusively military bakeries where grain and bread reserves were stored.

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White flour bread was more valued than brown bread, which was eaten by the poor and slaves: panis plebeius.

Rome spread the culture of bread throughout all its colonies, except in Hispania, where the existence of bread predated Roman colonization; Celtiberians already knew the techniques of kneading and baking wheat.

Bread in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages there was no notable progress in baking. In addition to wheat and rye cultivation, barley cultivation was continued.

In Europe, the cultivation of cereals declined, and with it came the periods of famine, the shortage of staple food, the shortage of bread. In the hungry times, bread is the most precious food. This is how it is shown in the literature of the time, for example in the Lazarillo de Tormes, the hungry Lazarillo, indicates: "And I begin to crumble the bread on some not very expensive tablecloths ... Then, like someone taking a dragee, I ate it and something I consoled ”.

In many places in Europe, monasteries became the main producers of bread. White bread, at this time, was still a sign of social prestige, only accessible to rich and wealthy classes. In the year 943, in France, “the evil of the burning” arises from the consumption of rye bread contaminated by ergot, a parasitic fungus that poisons the ear of this cereal.

Cities in the Middle Ages began to gain importance, and already in the twelfth century the first craftsmen's guilds of all kinds of professionals emerged. Thus, the bakery guild associates and constitutes themselves as bread professionals. As bread is the basic food of the population, at this time, as in Rome, the production and distribution of bread is regulated by the government.

In addition to being a staple food, bread was also used - in wealthy class settings - as a plate to place food, and once used it was thrown at the poor.

Bread in modern times

At the end of the XNUMXth century, agriculture progressed, research on flour and improvement in the mill technique was achieved; Wheat production increases and better flour is achieved. The price of bread falls with increasing supply and white bread (previously only for certain social classes) reaches the entire population. In the XNUMXth century the steam mill was invented; Thus, the bread-making systems evolved and a new phase was added to the making of bread: the aeration of the dough; a new type of yeast appears and mechanical techniques for kneading bread emerge; With these improvements, the bread industry is growing rapidly.

Bread in Spain

It is introduced by the Celtiberians, XNUMXrd century BC, so it was already known when the Romans arrived on the peninsula. In Mozarabic Spain the cultivation of cereals, which was not extensive, was sufficient and for this reason bread was the food basis of the daily diet; in each house, the citizen kneaded what was to be his future bread, put a mark on it to distinguish it, and took it to the public ovens to bake, the baker charged a fee for it. During this time, white bread and the so-called "red bread" were consumed, a coarser bread made of flour and bran.

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Spanish authors, from Gonzalo de Berceo to the authors of the golden century, such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, cited the bread of the Iberian peninsula in many of their stories or poems. And in post-Renaissance Spain, Zurbarán and Velázquez will represent it in their still lifes.

The first laws that regulated breadmaking in our country appear in the XNUMXth century. The brotherhood of Spanish bakers, which in the XNUMXth century became a Legal Corporation, remains until the XNUMXth century.
In Spain, especially in the Mediterranean area, there have been bakers' guilds for more than 750 years. In 1200 the written existence of the Barcelona bakers' guild is recorded.

Bread in religion

Christianity has also used bread as a symbol, God was reincarnated in wheat bread to stay in the world and Jesus is born in Bethlehem, which means bread. In many biblical passages, bread is named. Jesus of Nazareth follows the Jewish tradition of blessing bread and wine. Bread was the food of the last supper, and around it the sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated. God told Ezekiel to make different breads with barley, beans, lentils, and millet. Bread has also been endowed with blessed and miraculous effects in many places in Spain, to cure illnesses, to drive away evil spirits….

Bread in the proverb

  • With aged wine and tender bread, winter is spent.
  • Bite of bread, cheese raffle and boot a kiss.
  • Rye bread for your enemy is good.
  • Candeal bread, heavenly bread.
  • The dead to the shroud and the living to the loaf.
  • Who does not give crumbs, will not have friends.
  • Shamelessly sliced ​​bread is chewed
  • Bread and water, hungry life or healthy life
  • Bread of yesterday and wine of yesteryear keep man healthy.
  • Bread that over, meat enough and wine that is missing.
  • Whoever eats bread from someone else's hand eats at the time it is given.

The smell and taste of bread transport us all and nowhere, suppose the precipitation of sensations and suggest a well-being desired by all, therefore, so simple and so important at the same time, the figure of bread represents much more than food .

Article published by Carlos Fernández Carretero
Director INCERHPAN -Interprofessional of Baking Cereals-

I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"