I don’t like white bread. Never have and probably never will.

It is bland, tasteless, lacking in texture and utterly devoid of any nutritional value.

I love brown bread. Always have and probably always will.

It is packed full of a cornucopia of flavours, it has a texture that is a delight to bite through and the benefits it brings to your innards are manifold, if possibly not of the sort to be discussed at the dining table.

The worst though are the breads in the middle that try to have the texture of white bread, but some of the goodness of brown bread. They trick you into thinking you are buying a brown loaf, but when you get home you realise you accidentally picked up a tasteless, texture-less abomination. A vile concoction that should have been strangled at birth!

Brown bread should feel like brown bread – that is part of its appeal.

Last night, former timelord, Tom Baker narrated a documentary on BBC4 in that mischievous voice of his about the British love affair with bread.

In ye olde days, bread, like the ford motor car came in any colour you wanted, so long as you wanted brown. And not very nice brown at that. The medieval discovery that removing the husks and kernal left a soft white flour which could make white bread resulted in a transformation in the food – but only for the very rich, as the sifting process and the fact that you throw a third of the grain away made the bread very expensive.

When Marie Antoinette didn’t say “let them eat cake“, she also didn’t actually say “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. Anyhow, Brioche was a very expensive white bread and to offer that to the peasant classes would be akin to me turning up after the tap water was cut off and offering to share my Evian Water.

Not exactly a mean thing to have done?

White bread being quite a wasteful product to make was therfore illegal during World War 2, as the UK government couldn’t justify throwing all that by-product away. So, for the best part of a decade, the UK ate nothing but brown bread – and stale brown bread to boot (which it probably tasted like). I was not aware of this, but no baker was allowed to sell bread unless it was at least a day old – to stop people liking it too much and eating it all.

On the upside, despite the deprivations of rationing, the fact that people were forced to eat fortified and healthy food due to the lack of “unhealthy treats” meant that most people ended the war much healthier than when the war started. Those who were alive that is.

Of course, as soon as rationing was ended, white bread returned to the shops and people fell upon it like proverbial manna from heaven. Demand forced consolidation as individual bakers couldn’t meet the surge in customers and the birth of the giant bread suppliers was inevitable.

For all its modern image of a healthy brown bread supplier, Hovis was originally a cheap nasty white bread baker, and they were some of the first to leap upon the Chorelywood process that cut the bread making time down to a third of its original.

One of the side-effects of the ealry Chorelywood process was that bread lacked a crust. Those clever marketing people turned this crustless horror into a sales gimmick. And to this very day, there are still people who associate a soft, easy to squeeze bread with freshness – when in fact it just means there isn’t a decent crust on the loaf.

Give me crusts!

Fortunately for me, in the 1970s there was a bit of a backlash against the ever plainer white breads and some radical treehugging hippy types started baking old fashioned brown breads again. This slowly took off, and was helped by a shortage of the modern breads by a typical 1970s style union strike.

Later on, the increasing wealth of the 80s lead to more people wanting to show-off and eat the more expensive brown breads.

Ironically, brown bread, which was originally a paupers product had become the bread of choice of the aspiring classes and sold for a premium compared to the softer white breads.

I don’t eat brown bread as I aspire, but because I like it – and in fact it was only a few years ago that I learnt anything of the history of bread.

Last nights documentary was one of those excellent documentaries that BBC2 used to do so well before they fell out of fashion in preference to celeb driven “personal journeys of discovery” that the media loves so much today.

If you love bread, then pop over to the BBC iPlayer and settle down with a hunk of warm brown bread, a slab of butter and a glass of red wine.

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5 Comments

  1. edie

    Not to mention that white bread clags to the roof of your mouth like a communion wafer……

  2. Emma

    I think you’re being a little unfair to white bread – the supermarket stuff is pretty horrendous I’ll admit, but a nice home-baked crusty white loaf is something else. And a bacon sandwich on brown bread is just wrong!

  3. Andrew

    Thick-sliced white bread makes a lovely toasted sandwich though.

  4. Tony Smith

    In a strange (I realise now) I’ve just bought my daughter a bread maker for her birthday as a result of this article!

    I wondered why the thought entered my mind today!

    Cheers Ian!

  5. gizza

    Well! I was brought up on white bread when a brown Hovis was a treat. I can’t bear white bread now having been to many healthy eating/nutrition courses etc . But I tell you what…bread and butter pudding and bread pudding must be made with white bread, and heaps of sugar and even a cadge of lard. Like that? Cadge? Are we allowed to say lard anymore? Brown bread aint cheap though and white’s gone up loads too. Do parents ever buy bread makers for their sons? Oh no they’re called wives. I know a woman who got a hoover for her birthday. I would have thrown it back and shouted for the diamonds. Is bread pudding a Jewish dish anyone?

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