One of my truly favourite foods is bread!! Whether as sammies, toasted, door stops lavished with butter, hamburger buns or being used to soak up the soup, bread used to be a mainstay of most of my meals.

Yes those were the days! However being a mindful eater, I now limit my bread intake to low-carb treats and only a few slices each week. I came across this article during my early morning reading – over no toast and coffee – and thought it might interest others.

Sadly the modern day bread is not worth the grain it is made from but real bread can be expensive.

This is an abridged version but the full The Press newspaper version is here.

A short related video can be found on our Video Resource page here.


Bread, on the surface, seems impossibly simple. At its most fundamental it is simply flour (milled wheat grain) and water. The modern supermarket loaf is a different story with two large baking companies make almost all the bread in New Zealand supermarkets.

Ralph Thorogood, chairman of the Baking Industry Research Trust, argues that in principle commercial bakers don’t do anything different to what an artisan baker does. “Weighing up our ingredients, we mix them together in a large scale mixer the same as the craft bakery does. “We take that dough and divide it into individual pieces. The craft baker does it by hand on a divider.”

Sam Ellis, founder of Christchurch artisan bakery Grizzly, which makes bagels and breads, disagrees strongly about packaged bread being the same product as his specialty loaves. “It’s so bizarre, [mass-produced bread] has no flavour. You know when you toast a piece of that bread and you try to butter it and the whole thing caves in, it has no integrity in the product and that’s kind of the whole thing.” Additionally sourdough bread takes 12 hours to make, compared to the two or three hours required to make supermarket bread.

Excluding gluten-free, all the mass-produced wheat loaves on sale in supermarkets, dairies and so on are made, on Thorogood’s admission, from essentially the same flour – as in the white, refined stuff.

Luca Serventi, a lecturer in agriculture and life sciences at Lincoln University, says wholemeal flour includes all parts of the wheat kernel – the bran (the outer fibre-rich layer), the germ (a nutritious embryo) and the endosperm (a starchy tissue). White flour, also known as wheat flour or refined flour, is made just from the endosperm, and hence is almost entirely starch.

With the use of full wholemeal flour “we’re going to have more fibre but also more minerals, especially iron. To give an idea, white bread has virtually no iron while the whole grain bread can contribute up to 5 to 10 per cent of our recommended daily intake.” Serventi says.

But here’s the catch. Despite the appearance of wholemeal flour at the higher-end of the bread section in the supermarket, almost all of the bread in the aisle is made from white flour with other stuff added in later. Lower-end wheatmeal bread in the supermarket, for example, can be simply white bread with the wheat husk thrown back in afterwards. “That gives you the same fibre content, but you might be losing some of the vitamins and the minerals in the process of separating the bread.”

One of the key ingredient words used by many breads is “wheat flour”, which Serventi says is just another name for white flour. More expensive brands hint in their ingredient list that wholemeal is there by using terminology such as “wholemeal wheat flour”, “wheat flour (white, wholemeal)” or the more perplexing “wholegrain wholemeal wheat flour”. But Serventi says we don’t know how much wholemeal is added because the bread companies don’t have to say how much. He says it could be just a token amount.

One of the biggest differences between homemade bread and commercial bread is how the stuff is actually made, and specifically the use of what’s known as the Chorleywood process, which dramatically reduces the bread-making time thanks to the use of high-speed mixing along with additives like emulsifiers and enzymes.

While Thorogood reasons that the sped-up breadmaking process is necessary to meet the public’s demand for bread, artisan baker Sam Ellis reckons that all the additives simply reflect the abandonment of traditional ways.

“If you think about it this is a symptom of so much of modern society. We’ve accidentally created a problem and we try to retroactively fix it by treating these symptoms rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.”


Typical additives in a loaf of mass-produced bread may include:

  • Emulsifiers prevent the oil and water from separating in a loaf. They make the bread fluffier, moister and keep it from staling.
  • Flour improver 300 is vitamin C, which strengthens the gluten and helps make a better rise.
  • Enzymes are described by Thorogood as processing agents. They are naturally occurring in flour but more are added to help break down starches and sugars, speeding up natural processes.
  • Gluten, the controversial protein compound in wheat flour; more gluten may be added to improve the texture and structure of the bread.
  • Preservatives, the most common being acidity regulators 263 (calcium acetate, which inhibits mould growth) and 330 (citric acid).