The modern day gluten-free mania and marketing is creating a backlash. People who are sick of it fall back on “inconclusive” studies or dismiss gluten concerns altogether. Unfortunately, gluten-free fare is often filled with junk ingredients, which creates more distrust.
Many trending diets have cut grains altogether; others say that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While Paleo cuts out the whole food group, organizations like Weston A. Price recommend avoiding all refined products and using traditional methods of fermentation and soaking. Books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain aptly scrutinized the genetic engineering and other issues – via radiation – that mutates the product willy-nilly. It’s true, most of today’s grain products bear decreasing resemblance to our great-grandfather’s food.
Still others point to the pesticides involved as the real culprit for ill health. And then there are added dough conditioners and bromides which block the uptake of iodine to the thyroid. But most people find it difficult to remove one of America’s favorite staples.
Is there a way to enjoy bread – real bread today? One wheat-breeder says yes.
Stephen Jones, a wheat breeder at Washington State University, suspects that we’ve been scapegoating the grain when we should be blaming the oven. Before I explain why, let me make clear that Jones is no apologist for Big Wheat. Back in 2003, the industry-dominated Washington Grain Commission threatened to stop funding his program after he refused to work with genetically modified varieties owned by the agrichemical giant BASF. He eschews conventional breeding—which he believes is all about generating bland strains tailored to the needs of corporate producers—for his own method, which prioritizes flavor.
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Even so, Jones doesn’t buy the notion that the modern breeding he shuns is causing bad reactions to bread. “It’s not wheat itself,” he says, pointing to a 2013 study by the US Department of Agriculture that found “no evidence” of increasing levels of gluten in wheat over the decades. Rather, Jones believes that the true problem with bread is how we make it. In commercial bakeries, rising time has been winnowed from hours or even days down to mere minutes, thanks to fast-acting yeasts and additives. By contrast, the team in Jones’ laboratory, located in a rural stretch along Puget Sound, lets dough rise for as long as 12 hours—and they’ve found that the longer it rises, the less potent the gluten that remains in the finished bread. [emphasis added, HC]
While Jones, being a wheat-breeder, supports the actual wheat, which may or may not be irradiated/sprayed with pesticides – by not using the additives and letting the dough do its thing, the more the bread resembles original bread.
Jones told Philpott of the gratuitous amounts of gluten that are added to modern commercial bread on top of the amounts present in the finished, rush-baked product. Truly unnatural amounts. He says to look for “vital wheat gluten” among other gluten additives on the label. Allegedly, the nation’s vital gluten intake per capita has tripled in nearly 40 years. Jones firmly believes it is the baking process causing the problems, not the wheat – what do you think?
For what it’s worth Philpott became a believer in Jones’ method when he made a slow-fermented whole-wheat bread with one of Jones’ sourdough starters. Afterward, he did not feel bloated, but instead felt great.
The good news if you wish to continue eating bread? You can make your own traditional bread – let the dough do its business. Speaking of business, more bakeries are falling back on traditional methods as a way to streamline the process for bread with few ingredients, without adding the gluten-free junk additives. You can opt to buy from these bakeries for convenience. Hopefully, they remember to tell you to freeze what you aren’t using – a testament to their traditional, natural state – they get moldy fast!
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