Last Friday afternoon I ate some bread that tasted of bleach. Yes, you heard me correctly. I cut into a “fresh”, “organic” wholemeal loaf from Sainsburys, cut the slice in half and buttered it. I handed Lexi one half and bit into the other. After three chews I spat out what I had in my mouth and immediately wrestled the bread off Lexi. What should have been a warm, squishy and comforting tea time snack was, instead, a mouthful of vile, toxic mush. I was horrified, and incredibly angry.
Only a few weeks earlier I experienced something similar with Clarence Court eggs in that they smelt and tasted of chlorine. Now, either I am unlucky or this a worrying sign that the chemical processing of food is on the rise. I fear the latter.
You may or may not be aware that the bleaching of flour is a common, legal practice in the bread-making industry, and has been since the 1960s. White flour already contains a small fraction of the nutrients of the original grain, since the nutrient containing parts are removed to create a smooth, sugary loaf that consumers find more appealing (and addictive). But as if that’s not enough, it is then hit with another chemical insult – a bath in chlorine oxide. Why? Well, firstly, this chemical bath physically bleaches the flour giving it that ‘whiter than white’ look that shoppers find attractive. Secondly, the chlorine oxide works as an aging agent, putting the gluten through a ‘fast track’ maturing process which, years ago, used to be allowed to happen slowly. Aging the gluten improves the baking performance of the bread and mass production calls for this to happen as quickly as possible.
Bread should contain four ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt. But bread made with bleached or ‘treated’ flour contains, in addition, calcium propionate, amylase, chlorine dioxide and L-cysteine hydrochloride, all toxic ingredients that contribute to aging, cancer, ‘toxic’ weight that’s harder to shift and digestive issues such as IBS and crohn’s disease. The cheapest breads (often in plastic bags) will contain a whole host of additional additives and preservatives. What was once a healthy, staple food has been turned into a toxic substance by enormous corporations who seemingly can’t help themselves. A reputable supermarket like Sainsburys can’t even manage to ensure their “organic” loaves are clean of rubbish (watch out for my forthcoming blog on what ‘organic’ actually bloody means), so big is the financial reward for mass production and duping the consumer.
So where does that leave us in terms of where to source our bread? Well, after spitting out my bleachy mouthful I decided on the spot that I would start making my own if necessary. I am time-poor, but we do eat a fair bit of bread in our house and I’m not prepared to feed my family rubbish. As it happens I have found a nice little bakery in Martock, a nearby village. The lady behind the till was amazingly helpful, whilst I interrogated her, not just over the ingredients in the loaf, but the ingredients in the flour. I was half expecting her to shove a vanilla cream down my throat and tell me to get over myself but, no, she showed me which flour they use (Wessex Mill), assured me that it is unbleached and untreated and even suggested I come in and have a chat with the owner about it all, since he is very proud of his bread. How lovely! I skipped out of there with four wholemeal loaves at £1.25 a pop (not too bad), confident that I would now be feeding my family true bread, made with untreated flour, water, yeast and salt.
Food is so expensive these days and it’s hard to budget for healthy, high quality ingredients. But I tend to advise three areas where we really shouldn’t sacrifice quality (there are others where we can). These are meat, dairy products and staple foods, like the good old British loaf. So please, go forth and find yourself a nice bakery – you can always buy in bulk and then freeze the loaves. Or even consider making bread yourself, the smell is amazing.