History of Bread Bread is one of the most common staple around the world and it has since the age when humankind were still hunters and gatherers. It is typically made from cooked, grinned grain and water. The interesting thing about bread is that it is so easy to make that without deliberate trade of bread and with a lack of communication between major empires in history, every empire eventually managed to discover how to make leavened bread (bread fermented with yeast) , Egypt being the earliest. Another fascinating fact is that every country or empire has their own interpretation of this cooked dough and it varies according to environment and culture. In this post, we will bring you through the history of three powerful empires in the form of their individually unique bread.
Egypt (Baladi bread)
Egyptian bread resulted from the grinding of grains and mixing it with water to create a porridge like substance. Over time, yeast that is present in the air would come into contact with the mixture, causing the liquid to rise. Leaving this mixture out in the sun essentially bakes it, causing it to develop bread like crust. This is the earliest form of leavened bread known to mankind. Ancient Egyptians would later try to isolate yeast and would purposefully introduce it to the batter as a more effective way to make it rise.
Egyptian breads are often placed on top of a fire, or stuck to the oven walls instead of being baked inside it. Sometimes the bread can also be cooked on top of hot sand. The dough is also often rolled flat instead of the round fluffy bread shape that we often see. The process of milling the grains and cooking bread are often left for the women to do and is considered an essential life skill. This skill would later be taught to the Romans, where they would develop their own techniques of baking bread.
Rome (Miche bread)
Mount Vesuvius, a volcano located on Italy’s west coast, is well-known for its eruption in 79 CE. That historical eruption covered the entire Pompeii in volcanic ash. Below this layer of ash lies an almost fully intact Pompeii, where later in history, archeologists discovered loaves of bread.
In the very beginning, bread was baked by the housewives of Siligo. By 172 BC, these housewives were relieved the responsibility of baking breads and skilled bakers took over in bakery shops where breads were sold. In 168 BC, the Roman Baker’s Guild, called Collegium Pistorum, was formed. The Greeks first adopted the technology of bread baking from the Egyptians. Eventually, the practices were spread across the rest of Europe. As discovered from the ruins of Pompeii, mills were the main technology used for the baking of bread in Rome. Bread was a form of staple food for both the rich and poor, and even more so for the soldiers who were in war. Additionally, bread held greater importance than meat in Rome and hence, bakers of the Guild were highly respected for their skilled craft of baking.
Lastly, The very popular Mantou is a staple in China and the most common form of bread among the Chinese. It was invented way even before the start of the Chinese dynasties. During the warring states period before Emperor Qin Shi Huang conquered the different states and formed the first Chinese dynasty, the Qin dynasty.
Another well-known story of the Mantou originated from the story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE) where Chancellor Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han state went to battle to defeat the Southern barbarians. In an attempt to capture one of the barbarian warlords, Meng Huo, he was told he needed to pray to the Gods for help so as to counter the witchcraft that the barbarians were practicing. In order to gain the favour of the Gods, Zhuge Liang had to make a sacrifice of human heads. However being a witty and great leader, he used meat such as mutton and pork as fillings in buns instead to substitute as human heads and sacrificed it to the River God.
The process of making Mantou is a simple one, after allowing the dough to rise with the yeast, the dough have to be knead back and forth so as to release the gas released by the yeast. The dough is then split into smaller balls and put into the steamer. Within a short 15 to 20 minutes, the Mantou will be ready. The Mantou is made to have a simple taste of the wheat flour. The more you chew, the more you will taste the sweet taste of the fermented dough. This gives a slightly alcoholic flavour which everyone loves and is like no other bread around the world. The Book of Han states that “the greatest flavour is a simple one” and the Mantou is the perfect illustration of this idea.
All in all, it is astonishing to us that in the absence of the global village phenomenon, countries and empires were still able to create a similar form of staple food. Started from just yeast, grain and water, countries adopted their very own methods of bread baking and eventually, bread made its way into stomachs all over the world. Today, bread is made from a myriad of ingredients and it has definitely made its name in the history, all thanks to the Egyptians. KUDOS EGYPTIANS!
Here's a short how-to video to show you how each of these delicious breads are made. Give it a try if you are daring enough!
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