Thursday, November 21, 2013

The fast food sandwich

In the 19th century, bakers obtained their yeast from beer brewers. However, beer brewers slowly switched from top-fermenting to bottom-fermenting yeast and this created a shortage of yeast for making bread. Therefore a prize was offered in 1845 by the Association of Vienna Bakers, for the independent production of a good yeast. Adolf Ignaz Mautner won the prize for the production of his cereal press-yeast in 1850. Meanwhile there was a rapid development in milling technology. The mills of Budapest, erected or enlarged between 1865 and 1869, had 500 run of stones, and 168 walz sets (of three pairs each) of steel rollers, with a a capacity of about 1,000,000,000 pounds of wheat per annum. 

The yeast and the new mills changed the baking-industry throughout the Austrian empire, and at the Paris Exposition in 1867 the Vienna bakery was recognized as the best in the world. This was all so sensational that the US government printed the Report on Vienna Bread by Eben Norton Horsford in 1875. He stated that the purity, whiteness, yield and keeping qualities of the wheat flour of Austria was not equaled by that of any other country. But this was all to change. All followed in the footsteps of Austria. 

The new roller mills allowed the production of a white wheat flour meal, which wasn’t really possible with the stone mills. In modern mills wheat is passed through a series of rolls rotating at different speeds. These rolls are set so that they do not crush the wheat but shear it open, separating the white, inner portion from the outer skins. At the next step the fragments of wheat grain are separated by a complex arrangement of sieves. White endosperm particles are channeled to a series of smooth 'reduction' rolls for final milling into white flour. Coarser pieces of bran with endosperm still attached go to a second break roll, and stages 1 and 2 are repeated until the flour, bran and wheatgerm are completely separated. The result is a number of flour streams containing white flour, bran and wheatgerm. To produce wholemeal flour, all the streams must be blended back together.
This industrial development had two main effects. Wite wheat bread in all forms is a real fast food, it is quick to eat, has not to much own taste and can be complemented with various forms of smears or covers, and with industrial yeast it was also quick to produce. That it gives a bigger volume, is more porous, in baking combines the two benefits that it is quicker to chew and that it gives the consumer a bigger bread for the same amount of flour.

Another, possibly bigger effect was that with earlier technology the oils of the wheat germ was set free in the flour and caused it to rancid with a foul smell if stored for a longer term. The wheat kernel itself can be stored for a longer time, even if the often repeated story of 3,000 old wheat seeds from Pharaonic grave germinating is a myth. Wheat flour was thus a fresh product, milled daily and households bought small quantities from local mills to have fresh flour. The white wheat flour didn’t contain the germ and therefore, was possible to store for a long time.

This was the start of a rapid consolidation of mills, aided by the railroads, which enabled big mills to both source grain ans sell flour in a dramatically bigger area than before. This further industrialization of milling created new opportunities, but also its own set of problems.Whole wheat flour is more nutritious than refined white flour and contains the macronutrients more fiber,  protein, calcium, iron, selenium, folic acid, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. 

In this way, white wheat flour came with most of the signs of the industrial food industry: denaturated food stripped to a basic components, longer shelf life, ease in further preparation, large scale processing, storage and handling and lower nutritional value. 

(extract from the draft of a new book in the making)

And I still like my sandwich!

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