Bread has always been at the heart of human history – we’ve been baking it for the best part of 10,000 years. But over the past decade there has been an explosion of people reporting problems with eating it. How could wheat, a staple food that has sustained humanity for so long, have suddenly become a threat to our health? What’s happened to wheat that is causing the increase in digestive disorders? And can we get back to the bread we ate for millennia without becoming wheat intolerant?*
The story that lies behind our problem with bread is a sad one. In the space of one century we abandoned both the flavour and nutrition of our most basic food in favour of producing vast amounts of cheap industrial loaves.
The impact of the Industrial Revolution
Bread remained almost unchanged for thousands of years. Then, from the late 1850s to the 1960s, every aspect of it changed. We didn’t just change the way we made it – we altered it to the point that our bodies no longer recognised the ingredients. A combination of the Industrial Revolution and the hybridisation of wheat fundamentally changed the nature of the flour we use for baking.
The problems we now face can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, when Gregor Mendel developed what are now known as the laws of biological inheritance, or hybridisation. This revolutionary technique was quickly applied to wheat, but the grain was hybridised and developed not for its flavour, but for increased yields and levels of gluten. In doing so, we lost both taste and nutrition in our flour at an incredible speed. In just a few decades the gene pool was narrowed from thousands of varieties of to less than a hundred. It was the start of a monoculture.
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