Monday, February 4, 2013

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Have you ever wondered how commercially made 100% whole wheat bread gets to be just as soft and fluffy as white bread?  Since I've baked a lot of bread in my lifetime, I have had a lot of experience fiddling around with the texture of whole wheat, and I know it's virtually impossible to get a really soft loaf if you're only using whole wheat.

In my experience, a mix of no more than 40% whole wheat to 60% regular white flour is about the maximum if you're baking for people who are used to commercial bread.  Beyond that ratio, it becomes quite dense.  Personally, I would prefer that texture, but I know it's not for everyone.  Typically, a home baked recipe also includes other ingredients like honey, molasses, sugar, butter, oil  and even milk powder to improve the bread's texture.

Since I don't eat bread any more, it's more of an academic question for me, but I was curious nevertheless to find out how they do it.

Our local Health Unit has the following helpful advice for choosing bread:
Knowing what is actually “whole grain” can sometimes be harder than you think.  Often the grains we choose are not as whole as we are led to believe.  Here are some tips for getting the “whole truth”:
  • Read the Ingredients List on the label: Look for the word “whole” before the grain name.  Words like “pumpernickel”, “organic”, “bran”, “multi-grain”, and “twelve-grain”, may actually contain little or no whole grain.  In fact, “enriched wheat flour” is just a fancy name for white flour.
  • Choose breads that have at least two grams of fibre per slice, and cereals with at least three grams of fibre and less than eight grams of sugar per serving.
I thought this Italian style whole wheat bread scored well by the Health Unit's criteria.  Each 36g slice is made with 100% whole wheat, and provides the requisite 2g of fibre per slice.  Brilliant.

Then I looked at the ingredient list, and I saw something that was very interesting indeed:

The first nine ingredients, before we start getting into the unpronounceable additives:  whole wheat flour, water, sugar/glucose-fructose, yeast, wheat gluten, dehydrated potato flakes, salt, extra virgin olive oil, potato starch.

Get that?  Potato flakes and potato starch.

Something I didn't mention above is that adding mashed potato to bread dough does amazing things to the texture, in much the same way that mashed bananas or grated zucchini add moisture to a sweet loaf.  But whole grain it ain't.

If you've ever bought instant mashed potatoes, you will know they are very light.  Since ingredient lists are ordered by weight, I would be very curious to know where the potato flakes and the potatoe starch have been in the list if they had not been dehydrated, and if they had been added together as one item.

Mashed potatoes pack a high glycemic punch, higher even than white bread.  According to Livestrong:
A baked potato has a glycemic index of 76 relative to glucose and 108 relative to white bread, the institute states. This indicates that the blood glucose increases after eating a baked potato at 76 percent of the amount it would respond when eating the same amount of carbohydrates in pure glucose and 108 percent of the identical amount in white bread...

...Using glucose to representing 100 on the index, boiled white potatoes averaged 50 and baked russet potatoes and instant mashed potatoes averaged 85

I also think it's very interesting that the bread manufacturer can claim in all honesty that the wheat their bread is made of is 100% whole grain, even though another non-grain starch is added to take the place of the white flour that would otherwise be required to keep the loaf nice and springy.

Our Health Unit is correct:  Knowing what is actually “whole grain” can be harder than you think. 

My advice?  Stay well clear of this kind of industrialized processed food if you absolutely need to eat bread.  But there again, who absolutely needs to eat bread?

Edit:  I came across a recipe for a loaf that is described as "life changing".  It has no added yeast or gluten (it does contain oats, which may have traces of gluten).   It is dense and chewy, and high in protein:

If you must eat bread, this is the kind to look out for.  What a difference from mass manufactured store bought bread!

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