Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bread, Хлеб, Pana, Brood

Here in the Netherlands it's very common to eat bread. It's so common that most people have it for breakfast and lunch. But why is bread so fascinating? It's eaten almost everywhere, the ingredients are roughly the same but still every country with a bread-culture prepares the meal differently. But what makes bread so universal? Why does the entire globe eat it? And where does the concept come from, in fact?

Let's start with the last one, the history.
The first traces of bread have been dated back to the Neolithic era, aka the New Stone Age. This is roughly 10,000 B.C., quite a while ago. Back then it was made from cereal grains and water and these are, remarkably enough, the main ingredients we still use today.
This ancient bread still has got it's descendents today, it is believed that the Mexican tortilla, the Indian naan, and the Mid-Eastern pita can be seen as "the fathers of all breads". Take the pita for example, for the people not knowing this kind of bread, it's a circular flat bun; approximately a fifth of an inch thick and about four inches in diameter.

These are a few excellent pita's. Before eating they're often toasted, sliced open and stuffed with an ingredient of choice, could be shwarma meat, could be veggies. But funny enough this type of bread got through to Italy a few centuries ago. There they decided to make it a bit larger and put a variation of toppings on it. Namely: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil. Et voila, the pizza was born. Later it became an international food and migrated to the U.S.A. and other countries.

But pizza is a somewhat mutated form of bread. So the bread-trend started a couple of thousand years ago at various places and managed to spread across the entire world. But why would such a simple-seeming thing spread like a virus?
Back in the Neolithic days people had lots of land that could be used for harvesting crops. And they did, in fact crop farming was first developed in the Neolithic. People had lots of crops but they hadn't discovered breakfast cereal yet. So there was no point in flattening some of your maize, putting it in a basket and holding the whole under a cow while you're milking it. No, there was just a lot of grain but no proper way to prepare it. So everyone was very happy to get a 'DIY-guide' on processing the grain into an edible product.

Furthermore the edible end-product, bread, contains a lot of energy. Energy that was needed for hard work on the land.
Funny enough this is still the reason why we eat bread in the Netherlands. It contains lots of energy in the form of carbohydrates. This kind of energy can be released easily by your body so when consuming bread in the morning you're ready to go when you arrive at work or school. (I must admit I rarely have bread for breakfast, personally I prefer a good bowl of breakfast cereal; also containing carbs).
There are a few more reasons to eat bread today then there were back in the Stone-Age days. The fibers are good for your digestion and (added) vitamins contribute to your general health.

This directly could be one of the reasons why it's eaten at such a vast amount of places. But there's got to be another reason than: "it's healthy."
And there is. For starters grain is available at a lot of places. And where there's grain, there's bread; so to speak. But personally I think that the fact that it's customizable plays a larger role. Translated in 21st century slang: "Bread is hackable". If you have a bit of dough you can do an infinite number of things with it. You can put nuts, fruits, spices, seeds or even vegetables in it to improve the taste. When done baking there is, again, an infinity of serving possibilities. In Mediterranean countries for example they serve bread right before dinner with olive oil and salt. The purpose is to pour some of the oil over a slice of bread and sprinkle a bit of the salt over it. In France, also a Mediterranean country, but a bit different though, they serve their famous Baguette with their even more famous cheese (or fromage, if you're a Francophone).
And here in the Netherlands, well, we bake a bread, slice it up and cover it with a variety of things. I often have strawberry jam on my slices at lunch but the Dutch in general massively consume hagelslag. Don't blame yourself if you've never heard of this before, it's a Dutch bread topping made from chocolate.

They're a bit like the U.S. Jimmies. Anyway, they're widely known and used within the borders of the Netherlands. When people go camping in another country they take a few cartons of hagelslag with them because it's unavailable in other countries. That's a fun fact about Dutchmen actually.

Since SuperForest is quite international it seems an interesting idea to ask the readers if they eat bread. So, do you eat bread? And, if yes, what kind of bread? When do you eat it and how do you eat it? Drop us a line.



jackson said...


I didn't know y'all put sprinkles on your toast. That's very interesting.

I like cinnamon raisin bread, toasted, with butter. It's magically delicious.

Great post, Julius.

troubletravelsfast said...

Whole wheat toasted with butter!

april said...

I like sourdough bread with a good slathering of PB.

This weekend, my bf's sister sought a recipe for Amish bread on the internet. It turned out great and like nothing I've ever tasted!

Christine Norrie said...

oooooohhhhh.... Here's my personal faves:

~ thick soft whole grain slice slathered in belgian hazelnut spread.

~ thin country slice whole wheat w/ banana, peanut butter, and honey.

~ banana walnut bread fresh from the oven w/ butter.

~ torn up white rolls dragged through olive oil soaked crushed garlic + herbs.

(Fantastic post, Julius-- on such a fab fundamental food item!)

iman said...

I LOVE pita bread with a mix of feta cheese and butter. Very delicious. Great post!

jackson said...

Hey, did you know that a sprinkle of water and a short ride in a warm oven can revive even the stalest, hardest bread?

It works best on bread that's not too far gone, but will work on any bread.

Also, stale bread is perrrrfect for Freedom Toast.

jackson said...

And seriously great post!

jackson said...

Okay, wait, also?

What holds the hagelslag to the toast?! Something must, or they'd spill everywhere.

What is the mystery adhesive?

jackson said...

Arggghhh! You wily Dutchman! You must reveal your tantalizing secret!

Come now, give us the answer. Or I'll be forced to put a pebble in your clogs.

jackson said...

I think I've got it: the heat of the freshly toasted bread is sufficient to melt the underside of each 'slag, causing it to adhere?

either that or butter.

Which is it, oh, Nordic one?

spoon said...

I L-O-V-E bread!

Any hearty, multi-grain bread will do. Especially the kind that has all those nutrient-rich seeds in it.

But my all time favorite would have to be in the form of a grilled cheese with tomato soup. Ahhhh, childhood comfort food.

Chocolate sprinkles on bread? Hmmm, I have not tried it, so I cannot knock it.

Then again, I put ketchup on my peas :D

julius said...

Haha Jackson, it's just butter.

jackson said...

So, we've learned two very interesting things:

The preferred hagelslag adhesive is in fact, ordinary butter.

And two, Spoon puts ketchup on his peas.


carla said...

What an amazing post Julius!

Okay so here's how it goes down, rolled up lavash bread filled with feta, walnuts, and mixed herbs of your delicious. Also for breakfast, pita bread with avacados and cream cheese.

And great suggestions from all the other SuperForesters, I'll have to write some of these down.

Christine Norrie said...

peas and ketchup?! what the--?! my taste buds have been blinded...

PS. my fave spreads (and bread!) can be found at Le Pain Quotidien

PPS. of these faves, my number one fave belgian hazelnut spread is the 'blonde'. the chocolate version is called the 'noir'. (a preferable treat to nutella which contains partially hydrogenated oil)

jackson said...

Now we can all eagerly await Spoon's "Peas and Ketchup" post.

spoon said...


I know, I know. My preference for peas and ketchup has been the object of ridicule my entire life. But I stand by my convictions! It is very tasty.

Oh, and add the hot sauce. Got to have the hot sauce.