The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Breadmaking history

ichadwick's picture

Breadmaking history

Stuff I thought I'd share here.

While searching for information on ancient grains, I found this PDF file online:

Quite interesting.Several ancient grains discussed, as well as the difference between spring and winter wheats.

Then I started looking into the association between bread and tooth decay or dental problems. That leads to some odd sites, like this one:

Which talks about phytic acid in grains and bran, which would relate to breads. It's a bit esoteric for breadmaking, but interesting nonetheless because it talks about using whole grains in baking. The author says:

Through observation I have witnessed the powerful anti-nutritional effects of a diet high in phytate-rich grains on my family members, with many health problems as a result, including tooth decay, nutrient deficiencies, lack of appetite and digestive problems.

Have to look further into those claims. Has anyone read about this before?

Here's a piece about ancient Egyptian breads:

It notes:

In addition to consisting of wheat, barley, dates or malted grain, some other ingredients were found which suggest that bread may have been a blessing as well as a curse for the ancient Egyptian people. Through x-ray analysis, experimentation involving floating crumbs in water, and microscopical examination, archaeologists have concluded that ancient Egyptian bread often contains inorganic particles of sand, rock, and dirt, making for a gritty loaf. This, combined with dental evidence paints an interesting picture of how the ancient Egyptians' diet affected their bodies.

It also has a recipe for making a bread based on ancient Egyptian style.

Then I found this site which has info about historical bread in Europe:

which also discusses Egyptian breads and their attendant dental problems. But further down in the post, I read this, which really made me perk up:

John explained that he’s discovered, and had confirmed through spectral analysis, that the sourdough baking method ‘de-natures’, ie neutralises, ergot. My ears immediately pricked up because I associate ergotism very much with the mediaeval period. That’s partly because we have records of outbreaks of St Anthony’s fire, as it was known, from that era but also because various things, from the Children’s Crusade (which may be apocryphal or constructed from a variety of separate incidents), to the particularly horrific mediaeval imagery of hell.


However here John’s key discovery about the impact of the high lactic acid levels on ergot is critical. The rye growing Germanic peoples made their bread almost exclusively from rye flour. It’s not possible to get rye to rise using the sort of yeasts produced as a by product of brewing. It requires a sourdough method, ergo (as opposed to ergot) pure rye loaves will not tend to result in ergotism – I won’t say cannot, but that is the inference.

So to produce ergotised bread one needs a mix of rye and other flours that are sufficiently ‘light’ that they can be raised with yeast and not a sourdough leaven. In the very early mediaeval period the Normans introduced rivet wheat and rivet produced a very white flour.

That opens a fascinating area of research... The spread of rye from Germanic to Norman and Anglo Saxon people may have been accompanied by a wave of health-related problems. And perhaps the witch craze. Have to pursue that further!

This comes from research I did for a post I wrote about Chaucer's bread, here:

reden's picture

Thank you for the above posts- they were fascinating.  I am reminded of an article I recall in Science some years ago where an archeologist uncovered an area in a cave in France where grain had been stored in very early times and growing there were species of Streptomycetes, an organism capable of elaborating what was identified and ultimately synthesized as the antibiotic streptomycin.  History has many such friendly intersections of biology, chemistry, and geography that seem to have maintained and supported evolutionary progress. 

dabrownman's picture

;essons coming.  I love them.

kat56's picture

I seem to remember reading that ancient peoples may have recognized and used ergot as a medicinal. I think it was a kind of mold or fungus growing on wheat...