Chow Bella

Flour Power: Phoenix Emerges as a New Capital of Artisan Bread-Making

Page 4 of 7

The story of bread goes all the way back to the Stone Age, when people first mixed water with ground cereal grains and cooked the gruel to make unleavened bread.

Archeological evidence indicates the Egyptians used yeast to leaven their bread as early as 4000 BC. They were some of the first people to master the art of fermentation, harnessing its power to produce both beer and raised loaves of bread, which became food staples in their society.

By 1000 BC, wheat had made its way to Europe, including to the Roman Empire, where the first bakers guild was established around 168 BC.

It wasn't until the late 1600s that wheat arrived in North America by way of the Spanish missionaries traveling north from Mexico. They brought with them a particular type of wheat called White Sonora, the first variety to arrive on the North American continent.

Arizona's native people grew this type of wheat. It's a drought-­resistant strain and low in gluten content, making it ideal for making tortillas. Until the second half of the 20th century, White Sonora wheat was a predominant crop in both the Sonora region and California.

In the 1960s, scientists bred new hybrid strains of wheat with shorter stalks and larger heads. Shorter stalks are less likely to fall, ensuring their harvestability by mechanical combine. Larger heads, which are too heavy to support without shorter and fatter stalks, translate to higher wheat production.

These scientific advancements became known as the Green Revolution, and this type of semi­-dwarf, high-­yielding wheat is still used to make most flour today. Heritage grains became harder and harder to find.

By the time of the Green Revolution, pre-­sliced white bread from an industrial bakery -- yes, Wonder Bread -- had become standard in American households. It was convenient and cheap but made in a completely different way from traditional bread.

Whereas artisan bakers might be able to produce a few hundred loaves a day using dough that had to be fermented for hours, if not overnight, an industrial bakery can produce thousands of loaves a day with dough that needs to ferment only an hour or two.

The shorter production time is possible thanks only to the dozens of additives you see on the label of a typical loaf of grocery store bread. Flip one over and you'll often find more than a dozen ingredients, including high-­fructose corn syrup for flavor, niacin to fortify the bread with nutrients, and sodium aluminum sulfate, a chemical leavening agent.

Traditionally, bread contains only four ingredients: water, flour, salt, and yeast.

Of course, artisan baking never quite disappeared. But now it's seeing a resurgence driven in part by the very trend that threatens the popularity of its product.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria