What looks like bread, smells like bread, but isn’t the real deal, according to a growing band of campaigners? The answer is your average supermarket loaf – be it sliced white, from the in-store bakery, or even a worthy-looking number full of seeds and grains. The Real Bread campaign is made up of bakers, chefs and passionate foodies who are campaigning for a return to artisan and home-baked breads made to traditional methods. The 7th annual Real Bread Week takes place from 9-15 May 2015, with events planned around the UK, and promises to be a celebration of the honest loaf.
So if it’s not a packet of bendy white sliced, what exactly does count as ‘Real Bread’? It’s not as complicated as you might think. “The Campaign defines Real Bread as made without the use of any artificial additives,” says Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign. But this simple definition doesn’t mean that the quality stuff is always easy to spot. “If an artificial additive is deemed to be a processing aid, it won’t appear on the label and supermarkets don’t have to display ingredients and additives lists for unwrapped loaves at all,” explains Chris.
Why does it matter? Well, before the mid-20th Century, almost all loaves would’ve qualified as ‘Real Bread’ and were made to traditional methods, with lots of kneading and proving (leaving the dough to rise). In 1961, everything changed. The British baking industry developed a new manufacturing technique called the Chorleywood Process, which sped everything up by adding extra yeast and ascorbic acid to the dough and pummelling it in industrial mixers. Bread became cheaper and quicker to produce, but arguably less digestible, less nutritious, and certainly less delicious.
Although these days an estimated 80% of bread in the UK is produced using the Chorleywood method, the good news is that it’s getting easier to find Real Bread at bakeries, restaurants, markets and hotels across the country. “You can’t beat the smell and taste of freshly baked bread,” says Mike O’Donnell, Head Chef at the Ilsington Country House Hotel in Devon. At the Ilsington they make all their loaves from scratch: tomato and olive flatbreads, brioche, a Stilton and chive loaf and a rosemary and walnut granary loaf to name a few. On the other side of the country, the White Hart Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire makes its own house-baked sourdough which it serves with farmhouse butter. The rewards are there for both the lucky diners and the hard-working chefs: “The comments on our bread are always great, with lots of requests by guests to take some home with them,” says Mike O’Donnell.
There are several benefits to Real Bread, whether you make it yourself, seek it out at markets and bakeries or enjoy it at restaurants. “We believe that small, independent Real Bread bakeries create more jobs per loaf and help keep high streets alive,” says Chris Young.
There are also issues of taste and digestion: “Growing evidence indicates that longer, slower fermentation – particularly using a genuine sourdough starter – could have a range of benefits, not least in flavour development, but also perhaps improving digestibility,” says Young. While eating bread is out of the question for people with Coeliac Disease, Real Bread advocates believe that the increase in other people reporting problems digesting factory loaves could be because of the “cocktail of additives” in such products.
The Real Bread campaign has attracted the support of leading bakers like Richard Bertinet and Tom Herbert (of The Fabulous Baker Brothers and Hobbs House Bakery in the Cotswolds). It was co-founded by the charity Sustain and baker and author Andrew Whitley. Although the campaign is active all year round (one of its biggest achievements thus far is teaching over 10,000 schoolchildren to bake bread), Real Bread Week is the centre of the organisation’s calendar. It is now in its seventh year and there are dozens of events and celebrations planned around the UK, from bread-making classes and tastings to bake sales.
If you’re interested in making the switch to Real Bread or supporting the campaign, there’s lots of easy ways to get involved during the May celebrations. You can find an event near you on the Real Bread website, or make a donation to support the charity’s work (it is planning to extend its work to people with mental health issues, because of the huge therapeutic and social benefits of bread making). Plus even if you can’t attend an event during Real Bread Week itself, you can use the campaign’s online map to find a bakery or other outlet near you stocking artisan loaves. Or… why not have a go at making your own bread? All you need is flour, yeast, salt, water and a good recipe. After all, if you learn how to make your own loaves, you’ll always know exactly what’s in them.
Katy Salter is our food and travel writer. She contributes to most of the UK’s major food titles, The Guardian and The Telegraph. In 2012, Stylist named Katy one of its ‘Top 20 Food Heroines,’ alongside Mary Berry, Lorraine Pascale and Delia Smith.