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Introduction

From such simple ingredients as flour, water and yeast, an industry of amazing complexity has risen. What was once a simple loaf of bread can now be white, wholemeal, granary, farmhouse, organic or any combination of the above – and probably contains an abundance of additives as well. Home baking is the only sure way to guarantee your bread is free from artificial ingredients, but organic bread from a local bakery comes a close second.

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Chemicals and additives

Sliced and wrapped loaves are by far the biggest-selling kind of bread in the UK, representing 80 per cent of bread consumption. The main manufacturers are Allied Bakeries and British Bakeries, each controlling about a third of the market. Allied make Kingsmill, and British Bakeries make Hovis. The biggest bakery specialist is Greggs, which controls the Bakers Oven, Olivers, Bartletts and Crawfords outlets, as well as Greggs stores.

Since 1961, plant bakeries have used a fast-track production system known as the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP). It replaces traditional slow fermentation with a short burst in a high-speed mixer, using a much greater quantity of yeast. More water is absorbed into the dough, which rises up and reaches its desired volume more quickly. Many additives are used in this type of bread, including chemical ‘improvers’ which oxidise newly-milled flour. As the bleaches used to whiten and sterilise the flour manage to strip it of much of its nutritional value, vitamins and minerals have to be added back in.

The drawback of conventional wholemeal bread, in which the whole of the wheatgrain is retained, is that higher residue levels of fertilisers, pesticides and post-harvest storage treatment chemicals are present in wholemeal than in ordinary white or brown flour. This is a very good reason to choose the organic option when buying bread.

Questionable investments

Until recently Doughty Hanson owned RHM, the manufacturer of the Hovis, Mother’s Pride, Granary and Nimble brands. Doughty Hanson also invests in SAFT. This multinational company is a major manufacturer of batteries for military applications including intercontinental and ballistic missiles, torpedoes and aircraft, and is a supplier to the US army. Doughty Hanson also owned Dunlop Standard Aerospace, which services military aircraft engines. Although RHM has since been floated on the stock market, Doughty Hanson still retains a 30 per cent share.

Alternatives

One ethical alternative to the major brands is bread from a local bakery. However, many bakers are now using technology similar to CBP, which can render the bread rather tasteless, lightweight and insubstantial. The fashion for eliminating potentially aggravating foods such as wheat and dairy from the diet has brought increased publicity for food intolerance, and led to many supermarkets stocking glutenfree breads. There are some concerns, however, that people are being persuaded to cut foods from their diet unnecessarily, and without proper nutritional advice.

Low salt, wholemeal bread is perfectly healthy for most people, but those who do have a diagnosed intolerance can now find the products they require outside the specialist shelves. Even so, the greatest variety of breads is still to be found in health food stores.

Organic bread is now widely available in major UK supermarkets as well as the smaller specialist stores. For those with an interest in purchasing locally and ethically baked goods, Goswells produces organic bread on behalf of Doves Farm and Whole Earth Foods in London and the South East, while in the North West there’s Sakers and in the Gloucestershire region there’s Hobbs House.

Good bread only needs to contain flour, yeast, water and salt and can easily be made at home, either in a breadmaker or by hand. If making bread by hand, look out for recipes that only require one rising, as this will reduce the time it takes to prepare – and don’t forget that a standard dough can also be used for pizza bases and other meals.

Ethical Comparison – Bread Rankings Detailed Table


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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Doves Farm, Village Bakery, Authentic Bread, Warburtons, Whole Earth, Granary, Greggs, Hovis, Mother’s Pride, Nimble, Vogels, William Jackson, Allinson, Burgen, Kingsmill, Sunblest.

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