Honesty Group

The Science of Bread


The Science of Bread

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines bread as: ‘a food made from flour, water, and usually yeast, mixed together and baked’, seeing as most supermarket bread rarely includes just these ingredients, it poses the question whether their bread can still be called ‘bread’. Much like the uproar that dairy farmers had with milk alternatives being called ‘milk’; how much can you deviate from the original form for it to still be considered the same thing, otherwise known as: the Ship of Theseus paradox. 

Image from 'Daily Bruin'

Despite bread’s fairly simple ingredients, there is a lot of science behind how these simple ingredients interact to create bread, and how changing them varies the bread’s characteristics. Most people buy bread out of habit and reach for the supermarket bread perhaps out of ease, or because it’s cheaper, but this is without taking into consideration the true cost of bread and how this simple dough is properly formed. By exploring the science behind bread, hopefully an appreciation of true bread, and the artform behind  creating it, will form.


If bread requires so much scientific input, then how have people been baking it  for thousands of years? In the early days of bread production, it  was actually closer to a tortilla than the doughy loaf we now know and recognise today. Evidently, the earliest bread was made in 8000 BC in Egypt, with the ‘qern’ being the first known grinding tool. It is thought that Egyptian brewing skills is how the first sourdough was made, through adding wild yeast to the bread mixture combined with being in a warm climate. Thus, bread as we know it began to take shape. So in answer to the initial question – it was by accident!

Bread very much stayed the same for numerous years, until the 20th century which saw the addition of chemicals. Bread became whiter, softer and lasted much longer, far from the original rustic and crusty loaf that has now become somewhat of an indulgence today. The flour was heavily processed, making it void of most of its minerals and vitamins, which prompted the government to enforce the ‘enrichment of flour’ – essentially chemically fortifying the bread with vitamins and minerals that were lost. When this industrially produced bread became so popular, it changed the shopping habits of almost everyone. Society was too accustomed to bread being able to stay fresh for a month due to the many chemical additives and preservatives, causing the price of more ‘rustic’ bread to increase as the demand was no longer there, leading to where we are at today with ‘proper’ bread being considered more of a luxury.

Bread under the Microscope

The process of making bread can be broken down into four steps: mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, leaving the dough to rise and baking the dough. Again, this seems very simple, but what we don’t see is what is happening on a molecular level.

Starting with flour, the most important component of the flour are proteins, which are collectively known as gluten, a fairly familiar term. In Latin, ‘gluten’ actually means glue, as it is two proteins stuck together, and it acts as a kind of glue in the process of bread making. As soon as water is added to the flour, these proteins are then able to interact with each other and form chemical bonds (which act like glue), eventually creating a network of gluten throughout the dough. 

Kneading the dough helps these proteins to uncoil and interact with each other again and again, making a stronger network between each bond of protein in the dough. The addition of salt also helps to strengthen the gluten network, together with kneading essentially making the dough more elastic and, of course, adding to the final flavour. 

Creating this network is vital for the bread to be able to rise, but also is yeast. Yeast contains enzymes that are able to break down the starch molecules in flour into sugars, called glucose, which acts as a food for the yeast. It metabolises to produce carbon dioxide and ethanol. The ethanol is expelled in the baking process – making bread definitely not alcohol! The carbon dioxide however diffuses through the dough and enlarges pre-existing tiny air bubbles, the remaining carbon dioxide is also expelled in the baking process. This is another reason why kneading the dough is important, as it ensures that a large number of these pre-existing bubbles are present.

Once the loaf is baked you can enjoy your perfectly scientifically prepared bread; proper bread. How can a machine beat the authenticity of hand making a loaf of bread?


Science of Sourdough

If yeast is so vital to the rise of the dough, then what about sourdough? Sourdough overcomes the need for yeast by starting with a ‘sourdough starter’. This is where flour and water are gradually mixed together over a number of days to allow it to ferment. This ‘starter’ then needs to be fed with additional water and flour; whole grain flours tend to work better as they contain more of the microbes and enzymes needed to drive fermentation. 

During the fermentation process, enzymes in the flour break down the proteins into sugar molecules, glucose, the microbes then digest these sugars producing ethanol and carbon dioxide, explaining why sourdough requires no addition of yeast! The remainder of the process is very similar to your typical loaf as discussed, knead the dough to create a more stretchy dough, and then bake! Another added benefit to sourdough is that it has a longer shelf-life than bread made with natural yeast due to the fermentation process it goes through.

Bread making: Science or Art?

After one analyses the science behind the making of bread, all of its complexities and the beautiful (and tasty) end result, poses  the question of whether it is considered merely science, or a perfected artform. Whether scientific or an artform, there is no way of cutting corners in this meticulous process with chemicals and preservatives whilst still expecting the same result. What does it compromise? Our health? The taste? The quality? When does the compromise become too much? How much can you change the original formula for it to still be considered ‘bread’? Many of these questions you can only answer for yourself, but whatever your choice, it starts with you. 

40 thoughts on “The Science of Bread”

  1. Hi, I do think this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉
    I’m going to revisit once again since I bookmarked it.
    Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.

  2. My brother suggested I may like this blog. He was
    once entirely right. This post actually made my day.
    You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent
    for this info! Thank you!

  3. I’m impressed, I must say. Genuinely rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail to the head. Your notion is outstanding; the catch is something which too few people are speaking intelligently about. We’re delighted which i found this in my look for something regarding this.

  4. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your
    blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later on. Many thanks

  5. I really love your site.. Pleasant colors
    & theme. Did you develop this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my
    own personal website and would like to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called.


  6. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this blog.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult
    to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual
    appearance. I must say you have done a awesome job with this.
    Also, the blog loads very quick for me on Chrome. Excellent Blog!

  7. We absolutely love your blog and find the majority of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for.
    Would you offer guest writers to write content for yourself?
    I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a
    few of the subjects you write related to here. Again, awesome weblog!

  8. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this blog.

    I am hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you later on as well.
    In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own blog now 😉

  9. Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to
    get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.
    If you know of any please share. Cheers!

  10. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked
    submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that
    over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say superb blog!

  11. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the
    pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a
    problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  12. hi!,I love your writing so so much! percentage we communicate extra about your
    article on AOL? I require an expert in this area to resolve
    my problem. May be that’s you! Having a look ahead to peer

  13. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d
    figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links
    or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My site discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I think we
    could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me
    an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog
    by the way!

  14. Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it
    😉 I’m going to return once again since i have book marked it.

    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help

  15. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I desire to suggest
    you few interesting things or suggestions. Perhaps you can write next articles referring
    to this article. I wish to read more things about it!

  16. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this article plus the rest of the site is extremely good.

  17. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up very fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link
    to your host? I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  18. My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a different web page and thought I may as well check
    things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to looking into your web page repeatedly.

  19. Wonderful goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to
    and you’re just too fantastic. I actually like what you’ve acquired here,
    really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it.
    You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it sensible.
    I can’t wait to read much more from you. This is actually a tremendous site.

  20. wonderful issues altogether, you simply gained a
    logo new reader. What could you suggest about your submit
    that you made a few days ago? Any sure?

  21. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering
    if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter
    updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this
    for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have
    some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into
    anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  22. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and all. Nevertheless think of if you added some great pictures or videos to give
    your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images
    and clips, this blog could definitely be one of the greatest in its
    niche. Good blog!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

What is Food?

When presented with the word ‘food’, immediate connotations that might come to mind include fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, fresh, grown and so on. All with

Subscribe to our newsletter to find out the latest news about us!