Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water,
usually by baking. Throughout recorded history it has been popular
around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having
been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.
Proportions of types of flour and other ingredients vary widely, as do
modes of preparation. As a result, types, shapes, sizes, and textures
of breads differ around the world.
Bread may be leavened by processes
such as reliance on naturally occurring sourdough microbes, chemicals,
industrially produced yeast, or high-pressure aeration. Some bread is
cooked before it can leaven, including for traditional or religious
reasons. Non-cereal ingredients such as fruits, nuts and fats may be
included. Commercial bread commonly contains additives to improve
flavor, texture, color, shelf life, nutrition, and ease of
Bread is served in various forms with any meal of the day. It is eaten
as a snack, and used as an ingredient in other culinary preparations,
such as sandwiches, and fried items coated in bread crumbs to prevent
sticking. It forms the bland main component of bread pudding, as well
as of stuffings designed to fill cavities or retain juices that
otherwise might drip out.
Bread has a social and emotional significance beyond its importance as
nourishment. It plays essential roles in religious rituals and secular
culture. Its prominence in daily life is reflected in language, where
it appears in proverbs, colloquial expressions ("He stole the bread
from my mouth"), in prayer ("Give us this day our daily bread") and in
the etymology of words, such as "companion" (from
Latin com "with" +
4.1 Physical-chemical composition
4.2 Culinary uses
4.3 Nutritional significance
5.4 Fats or shortenings
7 Cultural significance
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
The Old English word for bread was hlaf (hlaifs in Gothic: modern
English loaf), which appears to be the oldest Teutonic name. Old
High German hleib and modern German Laib derive from this
Proto-Germanic word, which was borrowed into Slavic (Polish chleb,
Russian khleb) and Finnic (Finnish leipä, Estonian leib) languages as
well. The Middle and
Modern English word bread appears in Germanic
languages, such as West Frisian brea, Dutch brood, German Brot,
Swedish bröd, and Norwegian and Danish brød; it may be related to
brew or perhaps to break, originally meaning "broken piece",
Main article: History of bread
Tacuinum Sanitatis from Northern Italy, beginning of the
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. Evidence from 30,000 years
Europe revealed starch residue on rocks used for pounding
plants. It is possible that during this time, starch extract from
the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns, was spread on a flat
rock, placed over a fire and cooked into a primitive form of
flatbread. Around 10,000 BC, with the dawn of the
Neolithic age and
the spread of agriculture, grains became the mainstay of making bread.
Yeast spores are ubiquitous, including on the surface of cereal
grains, so any dough left to rest leavens naturally.
There were multiple sources of leavening available for early bread.
Airborne yeasts could be harnessed by leaving uncooked dough exposed
to air for some time before cooking.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder reported that the
Iberians used the foam skimmed from beer called barm to
produce "a lighter kind of bread than other peoples" such as barm
cake. Parts of the ancient world that drank wine instead of beer used
a paste composed of grape juice and flour that was allowed to begin
fermenting, or wheat bran steeped in wine, as a source for yeast. The
most common source of leavening was to retain a piece of dough from
the previous day to use as a form of sourdough starter, as Pliny also
In 1961 the
Chorleywood bread process
Chorleywood bread process was developed, which used the
intense mechanical working of dough to dramatically reduce the
fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf. The process,
whose high-energy mixing allows for the use of lower protein grain, is
now widely used around the world in large factories. As a result,
bread can be produced very quickly and at low costs to the
manufacturer and the consumer. However, there has been some criticism
of the effect on nutritional value.
Main article: List of breads
Brown bread (left) and whole grain bread
Dark sprouted bread
Bread is the staple food of the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and
in European-derived cultures such as those in the Americas, Australia,
and Southern Africa, in contrast to East Asia where rice is the
Bread is usually made from a wheat-flour dough that is
cultured with yeast, allowed to rise, and finally baked in an oven.
The addition of yeast to the bread explains the air pockets commonly
found in bread. Owing to its high levels of gluten (which give the
dough sponginess and elasticity), common or bread wheat is the most
common grain used for the preparation of bread, which makes the
largest single contribution to the world's food supply of any
Bread is also made from the flour of other wheat species (including
spelt, emmer, einkorn and kamut). Non-wheat cereals including rye,
barley, maize (corn), oats, sorghum, millet and rice have been used to
make bread, but, with the exception of rye, usually in combination
with wheat flour as they have less gluten.
Gluten-free breads have been created for people affected by
gluten-related disorders such as coeliac disease and non-coeliac
gluten sensitivity, who may benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free bread is made with ground flours from a variety of
materials such as almonds, rice, sorghum, corn, or legumes such as
beans, but since these flours lack gluten they may not hold their
shape as they rise and their crumb may be dense with little aeration.
Additives such as xanthan gum, guar gum, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose
(HPMC), corn starch, or eggs are used to compensate for the lack of
In wheat, phenolic compounds are mainly found in hulls in the form of
insoluble bound ferulic acid, where it is relevant to wheat resistance
to fungal diseases.
Rye bread contains phenolic acids and ferulic acid dehydrodimers.
Three natural phenolic glucosides, secoisolariciresinol diglucoside,
p-coumaric acid glucoside and ferulic acid glucoside, can be found in
commercial breads containing flaxseed.
Glutenin and gliadin are functional proteins found in wheat bread that
contribute to the structure of bread.
Glutenin forms interconnected
gluten networks within bread through interchain disulfide bonds.
Gliadin binds weakly to the gluten network established by glutenin via
intrachain disulfide bonds. Structurally, bread can be defined as
an elastic-plastic foam (same as styrofoam). The glutenin protein
contributes to its elastic nature, as it is able to regain its initial
shape after deformation. The gliadin protein contributes to its
plastic nature, because it demonstrates non-reversible structural
change after a certain amount of applied force. Because air pockets
within this gluten network result from carbon dioxide production
during leavening, bread can be defined as a foam, or a gas-in-solid
Bread can be served at many temperatures; once baked, it can
subsequently be toasted. It is most commonly eaten with the hands,
either by itself or as a carrier for other foods.
Bread can be dipped
into liquids such as gravy, olive oil, or soup; it can be topped
with various sweet and savory spreads, or used to make sandwiches
containing meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.
Bread is used as an ingredient in other culinary preparations, such as
the use of breadcrumbs to provide crunchy crusts or thicken sauces,
sweet or savoury bread puddings, or as a binding agent in sausages and
other ground meat products.
Nutritionally, bread is known as an ample source for the grains
category of nutrition and a good source of carbohydrates through the
whole grains and nutrients such as magnesium, iron, selenium, B
vitamins, and dietary fiber.
The bread crust is formed from surface dough during the cooking
process. It is hardened and browned through the Maillard reaction
using the sugars and amino acids and the intense heat at the bread
surface. The crust of most breads is harder, and more complexly and
intensely flavored, than the rest. Old wives tales suggest that eating
the bread crust makes a person's hair curlier. Additionally, the crust
is rumored to be healthier than the rest. Some studies have shown that
this is true as the crust has more dietary fiber and antioxidants such
as pronyl-lysine, which is being researched for its potential
colorectal cancer inhibitory properties.
Steps in bread making, here for an unleavened Chilean tortilla
Doughs are usually baked, but in some cuisines breads are steamed
(e.g., mantou), fried (e.g., puri), or baked on an unoiled frying pan
(e.g., tortillas). It may be leavened or unleavened (e.g. matzo).
Salt, fat and leavening agents such as yeast and baking soda are
common ingredients, though bread may contain other ingredients, such
as milk, egg, sugar, spice, fruit such as raisins, vegetables such as
onion, nuts such as walnut or seeds such as poppy.
Baking bread in East Timor
Professional bread recipes are stated using the baker's percentage
notation. The amount of flour is denoted to be 100%, and the other
ingredients are expressed as a percentage of that amount by weight.
Measurement by weight is more accurate and consistent than measurement
by volume, particularly for dry ingredients. The proportion of water
to flour is the most important measurement in a bread recipe, as it
affects texture and crumb the most. Hard wheat flours absorb about 62%
water, while softer wheat flours absorb about 56%. Common table
breads made from these doughs result in a finely textured, light
bread. Most artisan bread formulas contain anywhere from 60 to 75%
water. In yeast breads, the higher water percentages result in more
CO2 bubbles and a coarser bread crumb. One pound (450 g) of flour
yields a standard loaf of bread or two French loaves.
Calcium propionate is commonly added by commercial bakeries to retard
the growth of molds.
Main article: Flour
Flour is grain ground to a powdery consistency.
Flour provides the
primary structure, starch and protein to the final baked bread. The
protein content of the flour is the best indicator of the quality of
the bread dough and the finished bread. While bread can be made from
all-purpose wheat flour, a specialty bread flour, containing more
protein (12–14%), is recommended for high-quality bread. If one uses
a flour with a lower protein content (9–11%) to produce bread, a
shorter mixing time is required to develop gluten strength properly.
An extended mixing time leads to oxidization of the dough, which gives
the finished product a whiter crumb, instead of the cream color
preferred by most artisan bakers.
Wheat flour, in addition to its starch, contains three water-soluble
protein groups (albumin, globulin, and proteoses) and two
water-insoluble protein groups (glutenin and gliadin). When flour is
mixed with water, the water-soluble proteins dissolve, leaving the
glutenin and gliadin to form the structure of the resulting bread.
When relatively dry dough is worked by kneading, or wet dough is
allowed to rise for a long time (see no-knead bread), the glutenin
forms strands of long, thin, chainlike molecules, while the shorter
gliadin forms bridges between the strands of glutenin. The resulting
networks of strands produced by these two proteins are known as
Gluten development improves if the dough is allowed to
Water, or some other liquid, is used to form the flour into a paste or
dough. The weight of liquid required varies between recipes, but a
ratio of 3 parts liquid to 5 parts flour is common for yeast
breads. Recipes that use steam as the primary leavening method may
have a liquid content in excess of 1 part liquid to 1 part flour.
Instead of water, recipes may use liquids such as milk or other dairy
products (including buttermilk or yoghurt), fruit juice, or eggs.
These contribute additional sweeteners, fats, or leavening components,
as well as water.
Fats or shortenings
Fats, such as butter, vegetable oils, lard, or that contained in eggs,
affect the development of gluten in breads by coating and lubricating
the individual strands of protein. They also help to hold the
structure together. If too much fat is included in a bread dough, the
lubrication effect causes the protein structures to divide. A fat
content of approximately 3% by weight is the concentration that
produces the greatest leavening action. In addition to their
effects on leavening, fats also serve to tenderize breads and preserve
Bread improvers and dough conditioners are often used in producing
commercial breads to reduce the time needed for rising and to improve
texture and volume. The substances used may be oxidising agents to
strengthen the dough or reducing agents to develop gluten and reduce
mixing time, emulsifiers to strengthen the dough or to provide other
properties such as making slicing easier, or enzymes to increase gas
Salt is often added to enhance flavor and restrict yeast activity. It
also affects the crumb and the overall texture by stabilizing and
strengthening the gluten. Some artisan bakers forego early
addition of salt to the dough, whether wholemeal or refined, and wait
until after a 20-minute rest to allow the dough to autolyse.
A dough trough once used for leavening bread from Aberdour Castle,
Leavening is the process of adding gas to a dough before or during
baking to produce a lighter, more easily chewed bread. Most bread
eaten in the West is leavened.
A simple technique for leavening bread is the use of gas-producing
chemicals. There are two common methods. The first is to use baking
powder or a self-raising flour that includes baking powder. The second
is to include an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk and add baking
soda; the reaction of the acid with the soda produces gas.
Chemically leavened breads are called quick breads and soda breads.
This method is commonly used to make muffins, pancakes, American-style
biscuits, and quick breads such as banana bread.
Main article: Baker's yeast
Compressed fresh yeast
Many breads are leavened by yeast. The yeast most commonly used for
leavening bread is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the same species used for
brewing alcoholic beverages. This yeast ferments some of the
carbohydrates in the flour, including any sugar, producing carbon
dioxide. Commercial bakers often leaven their dough with commercially
produced baker's yeast.
Baker's yeast has the advantage of producing
uniform, quick, and reliable results, because it is obtained from a
pure culture. Many artisan bakers produce their own yeast with a
growth culture. If kept in the right conditions, it provides leavening
for many years.
The baker's yeast and sourdough methods follow the same pattern. Water
is mixed with flour, salt and the leavening agent. Other additions
(spices, herbs, fats, seeds, fruit, etc.) are not needed to bake
bread, but are often used. The mixed dough is then allowed to rise one
or more times (a longer rising time results in more flavor, so bakers
often "punch down" the dough and let it rise again), then loaves are
formed, and (after an optional final rising time) the bread is baked
in an oven.
Many breads are made from a "straight dough", which means that all of
the ingredients are combined in one step, and the dough is baked after
the rising time; others are made from a "pre-ferment" in which the
leavening agent is combined with some of the flour and water a day or
so ahead of baking and allowed to ferment overnight. On the day of
baking, the rest of the ingredients are added, and the process
continues as with straight dough. This produces a more flavorful bread
with better texture. Many bakers see the starter method as a
compromise between the reliable results of baker's yeast and the
flavor and complexity of a longer fermentation. It also allows the
baker to use only a minimal amount of baker's yeast, which was scarce
and expensive when it first became available. Most yeasted
pre-ferments fall into one of three categories: "poolish" or
"pouliche", a loose-textured mixture composed of roughly equal amounts
of flour and water (by weight); "biga", a stiff mixture with a higher
proportion of flour; and "pâte fermentée", which is simply a portion
of dough reserved from a previous batch.
Before first rising
After first rising
After proofing, ready to bake
Main article: Sourdough
Sourdough is a type of bread produced by a long fermentation of dough
using naturally occurring yeasts and lactobacilli. It usually has a
mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid produced during anaerobic
fermentation by the lactobacilli.
Sourdough breads are made with a sourdough starter. The starter
cultivates yeast and lactobacilli in a mixture of flour and water,
making use of the microorganisms already present on flour; it does not
need any added yeast. A starter may be maintained indefinitely by
regular additions of flour and water. Some bakers have starters many
generations old, which are said to have a special taste or
texture. At one time, all yeast-leavened breads were sourdoughs.
Recently there has been a revival of sourdough bread in artisan
Traditionally, peasant families throughout
Europe baked on a fixed
schedule, perhaps once a week. The starter was saved from the previous
week's dough. The starter was mixed with the new ingredients, the
dough was left to rise, and then a piece of it was saved (to be the
starter for next week's bread).
The rapid expansion of steam produced during baking leavens the bread,
which is as simple as it is unpredictable. Steam-leavening is
unpredictable since the steam is not produced until the bread is
baked. Steam leavening happens regardless of the raising agents
(baking soda, yeast, baking powder, sour dough, beaten egg white)
included in the mix. The leavening agent either contains air bubbles
or generates carbon dioxide. The heat vaporises the water from the
inner surface of the bubbles within the dough. The steam expands and
makes the bread rise. This is the main factor in the rising of bread
once it has been put in the oven. CO2 generation, on its own, is
too small to account for the rise. Heat kills bacteria or yeast at an
early stage, so the CO2 generation is stopped.
Salt-rising bread employs a form of bacterial leavening that does not
require yeast. Although the leavening action is inconsistent, and
requires close attention to the incubating conditions, this bread is
making a comeback for its cheese-like flavor and fine texture.
Aerated bread was leavened by carbon dioxide being forced into dough
under pressure. From the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries bread made
this way was somewhat popular in the United Kingdom, made by the
Aerated Bread Company
Aerated Bread Company and sold in its high-street tearooms. The
company was founded in 1862, and ceased independent operations in
The Pressure-Vacuum mixer was later developed by the
Flour Milling and
Baking Research Association for the Chorleywood bread process. It
manipulates the gas bubble size and optionally the composition of
gases in the dough via the gas applied to the headspace. The
organic baker Andrew Whitely, writing in The Independent, called the
process "the covert corruption of our daily food".
A Ukrainian woman in national dress welcoming with bread and salt
Bread in culture
Bread has a significance beyond mere nutrition in many cultures
because of its history and contemporary importance.
Bread is also
significant in Christianity as one of the elements (alongside wine) of
the Eucharist, and in other religions including Paganism.
In many cultures, bread is a metaphor for basic necessities and living
conditions in general. For example, a "bread-winner" is a household's
main economic contributor and has little to do with actual
bread-provision. This is also seen in the phrase "putting bread on the
table". The Roman poet
Juvenal satirized superficial politicians and
the public as caring only for "panem et circenses" (bread and
circuses). In Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks promised "peace,
land, and bread." The term "breadbasket" denotes an
agriculturally productive region. In Slavic cultures bread and salt is
offered as a welcome to guests. In India, life's basic necessities
are often referred to as "roti, kapra aur makan" (bread, cloth, and
Words for bread, including "dough" and "bread" itself, are used in
English-speaking countries as synonyms for money. A remarkable or
revolutionary innovation may be called the best thing since "sliced
bread". The expression "to break bread with someone" means "to
share a meal with someone". The English word "lord" comes from the
Anglo-Saxon hlāfweard, meaning "bread keeper."
List of breads
List of bread dishes
List of toast dishes
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Bread at Wikibook Cookbooks
Bread and confectionery travel guide from Wikivoyage
Flour treatment agent
Chorleywood bread process
Sponge and dough
Bread in Europe
History of bread
Brand name breads
Wheat pools in Canada
Plant parts and their uses
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As an ingredient
Wheat germ oil
Associated human diseases
non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Tell Abu Hureyra
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History of agriculture
Tell Abu Hureyra
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Ivorian (Côte d'Ivoire)
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