Bread remains to be one of the most integral parts of any meal. Even in a country like India, it is a close third to wheat pancakes (roti) and rice which form the staples. In gourmet meals, every dish is carefully prepared in consideration to taste, colour and presentation. Bread is never the primary source of calories. However, it must blend with every dish while attempting to not call any attention to itself. Whether it is the all American white sliced bread, the German Rye or the French Baguette, every loaf’s freshness has a quality of its own.
Historically bread was never eaten warm. In fact, health journals up until the modern era, recommended that bread be eaten only the day after it has been baked. This is because bread goes through several changes even after it comes out of the oven. Initially, when still hot, it continues to cook after which it undergoes rapid chemicals changes until it is cold. Breads that are designed to emphasise a crisp crust, like the French Baguette, are best eaten immediately after they cool. Whereas those made of rye flour improve in flavour when left uncut for several days after baking. The great French baker Lionel Poilane of Poilane Bakery in Paris recommends waiting three days for most of his breads. Thus, up to a point, there is an inverse relationship between freshness and taste.
Bread begins to stale when the water from the starch granules and other parts of the bread’s structure begin to dry out or rather evaporate. Staling cause the bread to lose its fresh smell but in turn develop unique flavours and peculiar aromas. There are different uses for bread at its various stages of staling, i.e., bread pudding, French toast, bread crumbs, etc. There is an overriding cultural interest in ‘fresh’ bread, particularly in countries like America where no degree of staling is tolerated. This is one of the biggest driving factors for large scale bread manufacturers to add ingredients to the dough that ensure the loaf retains its softness for days, sometimes even weeks. In addition to this, sugar began being added in the nineteenth century by commercial bakers as a dough conditioner to ensure the crumb remains soft. Such changing factors have contributed largely to the changing face and acceptance of bread as part of the traditional meal today.