Bread and the Importance of Flour and Gluten

BREAD constitutes one of the most important articles of diet, and deserves more attention than it receives. Considering the conveniences that exist everywhere, and the widespread knowledge of bread making, it seems unnecessary and wrong to put poor bread on the table. One has well said, “Homemade bread requires care and attention; then you have the real staff of life.”

Weight for weight, bread must be regarded as one of the most nutritious of foods. The fact that more than’ three fifths of the loaf of bread consists of solid nutriment, and less than two fifths water, gives it a special place in the list of foods ; and no animal food, and but few vegetable foods, can be compared with it.

Wheat is the most important cereal used in American and European countries, where it occupies the same position in the dietary as does rice among the Oriental peoples. When a good grade of flour is mixed with water and kneaded, the gluten of the wheat becomes very elastic; and it is this elasticity that holds in the dough the gas formed by the leaven, until the dough is sufficiently light and porous.

Wheat contains the most tenacious gluten of any of the cereals, and hence is best adapted to the making of yeast-raised bread. Rye contains a strong gluten, and next to wheat, is best adapted to the making of raised bread; but because of its strong flavor, it is usually mixed with a greater quantity of wheat flour. Corn, oats, barley, rice, etc., lack the tenacity of gluten found in wheat and rye, and therefore cannot be used alone to good advantage, in yeast-raised bread. In bread making, they are used chiefly to give variety and flavor, the proportion of these flours used being generally about one fourth or one third.

The proportion of gluten in different grades of wheat varies; but the mere quantity of gluten is by no means the only standard of the commercial value of flour, the quality also counting for much. Soil and climate are essential factors in modifying the character of wheat, and necessarily of flour. The same variety of wheat, grown on the same soil, has also been known to show varying degrees of strength of its gluten in different seasons.

Be this as it may, as a rule, wheat grown where the summers are short and not too hot furnishes the best and strongest gluten for bread making. For instance, the wheat grown in Russia is of the best. Canada wheat, like that grown in the Northern States, is excellent, for the same reason. Wheat grown in the Middle States is of fair quality; but that grown in the Southern States and that grown in California, is usually soft, containing a weak gluten, and consequently not well adapted to the making of yeast-raised breads.

Soft wheat is light-colored and has plump kernels; while hard wheat is commonly of a dark color, with kernels not so rounded as the former. Soft wheat is best for the making of crackers, pastries, and the like, as the dough is more brittle than that made from hard wheat flour. Hard wheat, when ground entire and made into bread, gives a dark-colored loaf with excellent flavor. If a good grade of flour is necessary for the making of satisfactory white bread, it is all the more needful in the making of entire wheat bread, as the mixture of bran particles in the flour permits the gas to escape a little more readily than when white flour is used, wholly or in part.

In order to make good entire wheat bread, therefore, it is first of all essential to have a flour that contains a strong gluten ; also the flour must be ground fine, to prevent the gas from escaping before the dough is sufficiently light. The dough for entire wheat bread must be soft so soft that it can scarcely be kneaded on the board. This is most important, because the bran absorbs moisture in the loaf, even after baking, and causes it to dry out.