General Question

Mtl_zack's avatar

Why is bread considered such a basic food?

Asked by Mtl_zack (6751points) June 28th, 2009

In many cultures, bread is seen as food that is at the basic form. But in order to make bread, you need to go through many steps in a precise order and it’s very time consuming (rising, baking, etc…).

Also, bread is made of 3 main ingredients: water, wheat and eggs. Sometimes milk is also added. So why go out of your way to make something that offers less? Like I can eat the eggs, drink the water and milk and eat wheat and it would give me more energy.

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21 Answers

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I’ve often wondered this myself since it’s quicker to cook and eat the wheat in ground meal form. Not being a baker though, I don’t know how much bread could be made from a cup of ground wheat I choose to eat as cereal food.

DominicX's avatar

Water, wheat, and eggs?

Bread is made of flour and water in its most basic form, but usually has yeast and/or baking soda. Sweet baked breads and cakes have eggs, but just plain old bread doesn’t.

lillycoyote's avatar

I’ve wondered this myself, since bread isn’t a complete protein. Hopefully someone has the answer.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

Well, whatever the case, bread still is easy to make. There’s this possible theory I have in my head.

Milk, water, wheat and eggs. They’re all so basic and can be taken directly from the source. Bread, now that you have to make.

Perhaps peoples from primitive cultures got (for want of a better word) bored of this basic stuff. I mean, how much can you do with this stuff? Watch it turn bad? And so they decided to experiment. In some ways, perhaps try to become more ‘cultured’. And so with all that mixing around and cooking, they eventually made bread. And really, bread isn’t that hard to make. My family’s done it before (admittedly we had a bread-making machine but that’s not the point).

I guess the gist of what I’m trying to say is: Can’t bread be considered one of the basic steps in moving from a simple subsistence life to something slightly more complex? And it’s this ‘complex’ nucleus around which basic societies as we know them form. And that’s perhaps why it’s so commonplace.

And just like @DominicX said, plain old bread is simpler to make and doesn’t contain the luxurious ingredients of eggs.

(I know my theory still needs a lot of work but I just came up with this in two minutes so please be merciful)

Saturated_Brain's avatar

AH YES. And I forgot to add!

Bread is an amazingly flexible food. You can eat it with almost anything, which might be part of its appeal (wheat with jam and butter, anybody? Eurgh..).

And also, it’s extremely lightweight and is perhaps more durable than other foods.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Because its easy to make as stated above bread is just water and flour(doesnt have to be wheat) and is delicious. Sure you can eat most food products raw, but we don’t. Why? They taste better cooked. Bread I believe is found is most cultures because its something that could be made by most anyone.

and besides, without bread, i couldnt be enjoying this delicious sammich right now :)

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

Simple to make and it’s dirt cheap is why it’s still considered basic. But a reason that also contributed when the domestication of crops and livestock first entered the realm of mankind is this: The essential ingredients for Bread, water, wheat, yeast, and salt, all were in very common abundance where the first non nomadic humans settled. Wheat is very very easy to domesticate, grows in large quantities in nature, is easy to harvest and maintain while producing relatively nutritional seeds. Yeast, is also abundant and naturally occurring, for an explanation of what Yeast really is, check http://science.howstuffworks.com/fungi/yeast-info.htm .
The Short Answer: Bread became a staple food because it was simple to make, it’s ingredients occurred commonly in nature, and it provided several much needed nutrients.

timothykinney's avatar

Grain was a revolution for society because it could be stored for long periods of times, therefore providing a buffer for the society against times of famine. Wheat is particularly easy to grow compared to some grains and it keeps very well. Also, wheat provides a large amount of grain per cultivated acre. I believe this is the main reason that wheat has been important to many civilizations.

As for bread, specifically, there are a couple of ways to prepare wheat. There is cream of wheat, bulgur/cracked wheat, and various kinds of breads (to name a few). I believe that the reason bread is so prevalent is the texture. It is more difficult to make than a bowl of cream of wheat, but it is also much more versatile. White flour, the most popular in western culture, produces a soft and sweet bread. Wheat flour has recently become more popular for nutrition reasons, but it still yields an astonishing varieties of bread. The texture of risen breads is one that has a lot of air incorporate into the gluten. This makes the bread seem more substantive, which is an important psychological benefit. Eating a large piece of risen bread can seem more filling than eating a similar amount of flat bread.

We have a store in Houston called Central Market with a full bakery inside. They offer at least two dozen different types of bread. This kind of versatility, combined with wheat’s ease of cultivation, storage, and transport, made wheat an ideal food for burgeoning civilization, in my opinion.

Perhaps even more interesting is the comparison of rice and corn civilizations to wheat cultures.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@timothykinney The Americas got the raw deal on that bargain. Food production and the number of domesticated animal species available were the single-most determining factors to the growth of certain civilizations over others.
You look at the Fertile Crescent, several different grains including wheat and barely, two of the more nutritious grains and useful grains, among others. They also had a wide variety of large animal species for domestication.
The Americas on the other hand, largely only had earliest and least nutritional form of corn in the North, and a small variety of potatoes, avocados, coffee and cocoa, with the dog and Llama being the only prevalently domesticated species on both continents.

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laureth's avatar

I don’t think I’ve ever put eggs in bread. That’s more for pasta.

People used to gather grain. They’d grind it and cook it to make it digestable, and it yields lots of calories. And when you mix grain and water and bake it on hot rocks or something instead of in a dish (as for things like oatmeal), you get flatbreads. It’s simple as all heck, and is a basic food around the world – think matzo, tortillas, naan, bannock, things like that. This is the “basic human” bread.

If that dough or gruel sits around for a while, it might get some wild yeast in it and start to rise. Or, as they think may have happened in Egypt, some yeast from the brewery might have found its way to the bakery. (Brewing is just as old as breadmaking, very likely.) The rising, adding eggs for special egg breads like challah, and all the fuss you’re talking about came on later, as people settled down and didn’t have to worry about throwing something together for basic sustenance. Fancy bread =/= basic food, except nowadays when people are used to even fancier things than fancy bread.

DarkScribe's avatar

Your question makes a number of inaccurate assumptions.

Bread is made from any grain, not just wheat, it does not have eggs and many forms of bread are unleavened, do not use yeast. Wheat is a type of grass seed, ubiquitous in nature, so it is only natural that mankind should have availed themselves of it.

cwilbur's avatar

Bread is actually not time consuming in terms of the effort you put into it—it’s not like you need to sit there and watch while it rises or rests. You can make a very good loaf of bread with no more than about 10 minutes worth of labor—it’s just that it has to be the right 10 minutes, spread over about 4 hours of time.

And it’s a basic food because it’s one of the ways of preparing grains to be eaten—you have to do something with wheat, for instance, because you don’t get much benefit from it if you just eat the seeds.

JLeslie's avatar

I think bread is a staple for American’s but not necessarly so in other countries. Seems like most of Asia uses rice more than bread…maybe I am wrong. In the US we use it for convenience, sandwiches for lunch are fast and don’t require eating utensils. Most people who I know from latin America think sandwiches are an unsatisfying lunch. Restaurants in the US “use/utilize” bread because it is cheap, to keep you happy while you wait for service or food.

kruger_d's avatar

We forget that most of the world has an abundance of time, and very limited resources. Also, while it may take more time to make,it is more conveinient than cooked whole grains in that it has a long shelflife and is easily portable in its finished state.

Mtl_zack's avatar

Ok, there’s some disagreement on the ingredients used in “basic bread”, but the point I’m trying to make is that why don’t we just use the ingredients unmixed rather than mixing them? There is a tradeoff (water, grain, yeast, eggs), but what makes the trade in bread’s favor? Texture is important but doesn’t provide such a significant positive result to promote the tradeoff.

Another thing, people are linking bread and alcohol, but alcohol takes two forms: brewed and distilled. In the Mediterranean world and in Asia Minor, there was only distillation, which requires no yeast at all. Only in northern europe where the Celts and Germanic tribes lived was there beer and other brewed drinks, which suggests that yeast was used.

JLeslie's avatar

Eggs are in Challah and egg bagels, maybe you are Jewish? :).

How about bread tastes really good and it fills you up?

laureth's avatar

Zack, you have to brew/ferment something (turn sugars into alcohol) before you can distill that alcohol. Yeast is necessary to turn sugar into alcohol, which can then be distilled.

“Brewed” is the term used for turning grains into an alcoholic substance. But if you take a brewed grain beverage and distill it, you get something like whiskey (distilled brewed barley beer). If you take grapes and make wine (with yeast) and then distill it, you get brandy. If you ferment sugar with yeast and distill that, you get rum. (Saki is nothing more than rice brewed into a beer instead of brewing using barley.)

Can’t have the second step without the first. ;)

Mtl_zack's avatar

@JLeslie Actually, I am Jewish.
@laureth Ahh, thanks for clearing that up for me.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mtl_zack That explains the confusion LOL! When your bubbe made challah she used a bunch of eggs!! You were right afterall with your recipe.

cwilbur's avatar

@Mtl_zack: the largest single ingredient in bread is flour. Try eating flour with a spoon, and see how successful you are, and how pleasant it is.

That’s why we don’t just use the ingredients unmixed.

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