Bread Through the Centuries
c 8000 BC
The first wheat grain was crushed using a pestle and mortar and the first bread was produced. The bread, which today’s equivalents are the Indian chapattis and Mexican tortillas, was unleavened.
c 5000 BC
Formalised grain agriculture was developed by the Egyptians on the banks of the river Nile. Grain became a staple food throughout Europe.
c 3000 BC
The Egyptians developed the closed oven and bread became a very valuable commodity – the workers who built the pyramids were paid in bread. Perhaps this is the origin of “bread” or “dough” as slang terms for money!
c 1000 BC
Yeasted bread became popular in Rome and a circular quern was developed to mill flour. This is still the method by which stone ground flour is produced today.
c 150 BC
The first mechanical dough mixer was developed in Rome – powered by donkeys!! Roman bakers joined forces to form the first baker’s guild.
c 55 BC
Rome invaded Britain and brought with them the technology the had developed for flour milling and bread production.
c 600 AD
The Persians invented the windmill. However it was another 600 years before the such structures appeared in Europe.
c 1066 AD
Hair sieves were introduced to help sift the bran from flour leading to finer white bread.
The first recorded windmill in Britain was built at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
King John of England introduced the first laws in Britain to govern the price of bread and the permitted profit margins.
The Assize of Bread was introduced where a council sat to regulate the weight and price of loaves. If a baker broke the rules set out he could be pilloried and banned from baking for life.
The Great Fire of London, said to have been started in Pudding Lane by a baker, totally destroyed the capital.
A new Act replaced the Assize of 1266 giving magistrates the power to control the type weight and price of loaves.
The first recorded chain of bakery shops were set up by Christopher Potter of Westminster.
The first Corn Laws were passed to protect British wheat growers and a duty was levied on imported wheat.
Wholemeal bread was first said to be healthier than white bread.
With a crisis in domestic wheat production and large groups of the population near to starvation the Corn Laws were repealed and the duty on imported wheat was lifted.
The National Association of Master Bakers was formed.
The introduction of commercial bread slicers for use in large bakeries was made and by 1933 approximately 80% of the bread sold in the USA was pre-sliced and wrapped. The Americans loved it so much the expression “the best thing since sliced bread” was coined.
Calcium was added to flour during the war years to prevent the disease rickets which had been identified in women working in Britain’s Land Army.
The slicing and wrapping loaves was re-introduced following it’s prohibition during World War II.
The Chorleywood Bread Process, first developed in 1961, became common practice. This substantially reduced the long fermentation time for dough by introducing a high energy mixing process which lasted for only a few minutes.
The use of Potassium Bromate to refine flour properties was banned in 1990 and was replaced by the use of ascorbic acid. However, this changed the characteristics of dough produced and the change caused the industry many problems before a practical solution was found.
Today the consumer can chose from a huge range of breads. Indeed the choice is so diverse and the quality so good that even the cheapest loaf would make our ancestors of only a hundred years ago so jealous!