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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 29, 2012
Polska… tastes good!
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Tickling Foreign Palates
August 29, 2012   
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People in Poland may be eating less bread, but bread and rolls made in this country are winning over consumers abroad.

Bread is more than just one of many products that taste great. It has a special place in Polish people’s minds. It is a natural and integral part of Polish culture, tradition and religion. Bread is present in symbols, language, arts and literature, while its history dates back to ancient times. Over the centuries, bread has become not just a symbol of food but a symbol of life.

Polish bread is unique. Its power lies in its unusual flavors that are hard to find in bread made in other countries. It also has good crumb, the proper degree of crispness and a pleasant aroma. The commitment and creativity of bakers results in a huge diversity of available bread. It comes in the form of loaves, white bread rolls, crescent-shaped buns, baguettes, challahs; bread can be square, round or long, small or large, white or dark, made from wheat, rye, mixed grains, whole grain or from rare grains like spelt.

Thanks to the bakery sector’s many centuries of tradition, it has been possible to improve and pass on recipes from generation to generation. Thus, the best bakers follow recipes that can be more than 300 years old; the best ones are based on sourdough starter. Poland is also one of few countries where bread is still made from rye flour, which has a much higher nutrient content than wheat flour. The difference is perceptible in the flavor as well.

Despite such a marvelous bread-baking tradition, Polish people eat less and less bread. Last year the average Pole consumed 53.8 kg of bread, which was 40 percent less than 20 years earlier. Lower demand for bread is coupled with growing production costs, forcing bakers to raise their prices. Experts say that bread is losing out against products such as pasta, breakfast cereals and snacks. Unlike bread or rolls, these products are strongly advertised and this leads to growing consumption. Bread has also lost ground because of dietitians. People have come to believe that bread is fattening. In fact, this isn’t true if you eat it in moderate amounts. Moreover, bread and other grain products are a boon because they contain so-called ballast substances, also called dietary fiber, that can help protect us from diseases associated with modern lifestyles.

The Polish bakery sector, which is not in the best condition, could be saved by exports, which are growing steadily. Last year, international sales of baked goods (including cakes and biscuits) were worth in excess of 500 million euros, more than four times the figure for vodka. Frozen bread dominates because it can be stored for a long time. Apart from bread, foreign buyers also order bread rolls, baguettes and “Kaiser” rolls. These products find their way to markets such as Germany, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.

Polish bread’s competitive edge lies in lower production costs. However, what has contributed the most to export growth are Polish people going away to work in other countries. Polish bread has followed them. Today there are many Poles living and working abroad, and this migration helps spread Polish customs and tastes to other countries. According to a study conducted in Britain a few years ago, the most sought-after product from home for Polish émigrés was bread. However, foreigners have also started eating more Polish bread, appreciating its unique flavor.

Most Polish bakeries are not involved in exporting bread. Only large factories do so. Experts say that the increase in exports of bread and other baked goods would be even higher if the sector were not so dispersed. There are 10,000 bakeries in Poland, most of them small businesses. If they underwent consolidation, it would be much easier for them to win foreign contracts.
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