Ever wondered what makes better bread? And just what do the additives in bread do? From conception to crust, you can debunk the myths behind buying one of your weekly staples from the supermarket.
Bread: for centuries it has been a staple of any meal and forms a permanent feature at dinner tables worldwide. And, as technology and time progress, it’s never been easier to get your fresh loaf from the local supermarket. Though store-bought bread is mass-produced and manufactured, a lot of effort and quality ingredients go into every batch. Even before you get to the shop, a tonne of market research goes into finding out what people want including the flavour, texture and packaging.
This guide tells you everything you need to know about how you get the freshest batch. To learn more about the Co-operative’s bread, visit co-operativefood.co.uk/essentials-bread
What are the processes for making bread in a factory?
The primary ingredients of flour, water, yeast and other minor ingredients are mixed into a dough in a giant mixer. The bread is then divided into loaves and goes through an initial rising process, allowing the dough to rise at a steady, even rate. It is then baked so it sets and is cooked right through to the centre – and to the right colour. After being cooled for over two hours, it is sliced and packaged – ready to go to the store.
Why does the cost of different loaves vary? What is the difference?
The main costs are flour, conditioners, packaging and distribution.
Flour is harvest-dependent and needs to be the right quality to make the finest bread.
Conditioners make the bread soft and give it the right texture and flavour so it looks like the bread we know and love. The less of these you use, the less appealing the final result will be – usually grey with big holes, which goes stale very quickly.
Packaging – or the tag tie, print and ink on the pack itself. Believe it or not, the number of colours on the packaging and the amount of ink makes a difference: the less print there is, the more able you are to see the product.
Distribution or delivery of the loaves to store. The Co-operative Food limits this by working with suppliers that have bakeries across the UK so you get the freshest bread in the quickest time with the shortest distance travelled.
What do the additives in store-bought bread do?
Ascorbic acid – otherwise known as vitamin C – is always used in plant-made bread to help the mixer knead the dough. This results in an improvement in the size of the loaf and the appearance of the slices, as well as the softness of the bread after the baking process.
Then soya flour is used to help get the white bread look as white as it can be. Without this, the slices can look like they have a grey tinge. If it was taken out, it would give an unappetising colour, so it’s essential for improving its appeal.
Emulsifiers may sound scary, but this is the ingredient that makes the bread soft.
Last of all, there are ingredients added to help the bread stay fresh in your cupboards. This can be calcium propionate, fermented wheat flour or vinegar. They all do the same thing: make the moisture that’s left in the dough slightly acidic so that mould will not grow easily on the bread.
There are pros and cons to using each one – some make the bread taste vinegary, some can be unpredictable in how well they work – so the developers are very careful to make sure they are used in perfect amounts to please our customer taste palates.
By UK law, bread is also required to use fortified wheat flour that has added vitamins and minerals. These include iron for blood, niacin for improved health and calcium carbonate for bones.
How long does the bread last?
Depending on the recipe, at least three days from the day it is made, with some long life products lasting up to 12 days – enough for a good few morning toasts or bacon sandwiches.
How can I store my bread to get the most out of it?
Contrary to popular belief, storing bread in the fridge actually makes it go stale more quickly. Leave it in a cool – but not cold – cupboard or bread bin, sealed with the tag. Those who like the crusts cut off will be glad to hear that it will stop the bread slices from drying out. If you’re not sure how much you’ll use, split the loaf and freeze half then put half in your bread bin. You might also want to freeze them in two-slice packs, so they’re ready to make sandwiches in the morning.
Any top tips for loaves near the end of their shelf life?
If your bread is starting to dry out, then it’s perfect for toasting. You can also freeze and grate the slices to make a breadcrumb mix for homemade fishcakes or mix with herbs and cheese to use for toppings on Cumberland pies. Of course, a few slices in classic favourites like bread and butter pudding always go down a treat.