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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 30, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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World Bread Festival
April 30, 2014   
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Promoting bread and showing just how popular it is and how many forms it takes was the aim of the World Bread Festival held in Warsaw in late March.

“In Polish tradition bread is not just a symbol of sustenance but also of wealth and prosperity,” said Agriculture and Rural development Minister Marek Sawicki, under whose auspices the event was held. “Bread takes a lot of work and effort to make, but it goes to waste all too often. Almost a billion people suffer hunger around the world. We should return to the tradition of respecting bread and make sure it is plentiful in any home,” he added.

The festival, organized by the Polish Media Association (SPM) and the Warsaw Chamber of Tourism in association with the Władysław Grabski School Complex No. 11 in Warsaw, attracted Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Janusz Piechociński as well as a group of diplomats based in Warsaw, including from the Italian, Iraqi and Philippine embassies.

The festival was organized in two segments: a presentation of bread baking according to recipes cultivated in different parts of the world, and an exhibition of bread and products connected with bread making. This was an educational event, offering the opportunity not only to taste and buy different kinds of bread but also to learn what bread is made from and how it is baked. During the presentations visitors could learn about the history of bread making, not only in Poland but also China, Indonesia and Syria, for example. The making of St. Martin’s Day croissants, piada bread, pita, breads from Indonesia, Serbia, Italy and other parts of the world was demonstrated. One special product showcased was bread for astronauts.

Bread has been made for at least 10,000-11,000 years. Various historical records show that it has been one of the basic components of people’s daily diet down the centuries.

The oldest bread discovered by archeologists comes from Crete; its age is estimated at 6,100 years. Bread played an important role in ancient Babylon and Assyria, Egypt, Israel, Greece and the Roman Empire. It is also closely linked to Polish folk culture. Visitors were always welcomed with bread and people shared bread with their nearest and dearest. In pre-Christian times bread played a major role in local rituals in Europe. For Slavs, bread was an important element of weddings and of festivals. Later, medieval bread-making art developed at monasteries and guild bakeries in towns.

The appearance and properties of bread changed significantly through the centuries as the technology for obtaining flour and then making and baking dough improved. In ancient times, bread often took the form of flatbread made from flour and ground grain baked in ash, on heated stones, and later also on racks and baking sheets. Baking flatbread under a clay pot covered with hot ash was the beginning of dome baking ovens with an opening at the side; these survived unchanged from Roman times almost to our day. Loaves baked in these ovens (compared to those baked in ash) had many advantages: they were clean, did not lose all their moisture during baking and achieved a degree of sponginess.

People quickly learned to increase this sponginess by subjecting the dough to fermentation, thanks to which the crumb gained a more porous texture and the bread was tastier and more easily digestible. Some of the dough from the previous bake was used to start fermentation, or sometimes yeast from wine-making sediment. Unleavened flatbread and flatbread made using sourdough or yeast was eaten in ancient Egypt as well as Greece and Rome.

Sourdough was discovered—probably by accident—4,000 years ago in Egypt; adding it made the final bread spongier. Sourdough was always made the same way (and is to this day): you mix water with the right amount of flour and leave it in a warm place until it starts to ferment. This was then boiled with condiments (hops, bay leaves, caraway seeds etc.). The mixture was strained, old bread and some bran was added, and then little balls were made from the mixture. These were dried in the sun for a week. After this time the balls were crushed and the sourdough starter was dried one more time. It could then be stored safely for a whole year.

Today bread made using sourdough starter alone is a rare sight in stores. Yeast is usually added as well, or else loaves are baked with just yeast and a large amount of raising agents. The flavor of sourdough bread is incomparably better than that of bread baked with chemical additives. Sourdough is a completely natural raising agent. Wholegrain flour is known to be much healthier than white flour because it contains substances such as iron, zinc, manganese, calcium and magnesium.

In terms of the ingredients used for baking, bread can be divided into rye, wheat and mixed-grain bread. Wholegrain bread is very nutritious and contains many vitamins. Rye bread is more popular in northern countries. In some regions, bread is also made from barley flour, oatmeal or corn flour. But most bread sold in Europe and the United States is made from wheat flour with artificial raising agents that make the bread easier to digest but not as healthy. In some Mediterranean countries (including Greece, Israel and Turkey) the tradition of making unleavened bread or leavened only very slightly continues to this day.
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