Raw honey spread on a slice of bread is one of the nicest things to eat, but how healthy is it? How can you be sure that what you are eating has been made in the best way possible, with pure, natural ingredients and without additives? Here’s a guide on how to find healthy ‘real’ bread and raw honey that deliver on both nutrients and taste.
What makes bread different?
Bread has been part of our lives since records began. Centuries ago, white bread was served to the elite while the peasants made do with crusty whole grain loaves. The invention of steam-powered mills (which replaced the slower, stone ground mills) led to mass-produced, refined white flour where more of the nutrients were discarded from the grains. At the same time, the American prairies were being farmed to produce single varieties of wheat in large quantity.
In 1961 the Chorleywood Bread Process was developed and is the method used to make most commercial bread today. A loaf can be produced in a very short time using high-speed mixers to combine the flour, improvers, vegetable fat, yeast and water to make the dough. The reduction in nutrient density means that the sugars can be absorbed into the bloodstream very fast. Bread is an ancient food but intolerances and health issues with bread are modern and can be attributed to the changes in the types of wheat used, the processing methods and ways of baking.
After being accepted for decades, this type of mass produced food is now under scrutiny, and healthier, less processed (and tastier) food being sought by customers.
The over refining of wheat and grains and the use of bleached flour and the addition of dough conditioners, emulsifiers, and mould inhibitors are blamed for many of the modern health issues today such as obesity, IBS, gluten intolerance or celiac disease. People are seeking more wholesome ingredients so ‘artisan-made’ and ‘real’ loaves of bread such as sourdough are more available. Are they better for us than the commercially baked bread you find on supermarket shelves?
Five things to look for when buying whole wheat or whole grain bread
Don’t be deceived by the words ‘wheat’ ‘brown’ or ‘healthy’ bread on packaging. It can mean that the bread was made from white flour or enriched bleached flour.
- The bread should say “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” (or both) and should be the first thing listed in ingredients.
- Whole grains are better because they're naturally low in fat and cholesterol free, contain 10% to 15% protein, and full of healthy fibre, resistant starch, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
- One slice should have at least 3 grams of fibre.
- One slice should have no more than 3 grams of sugar.
- There should be no hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners in the ingredient list.
The Real Bread Campaign
The Real Bread Campaign is part of the UK charity Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. They advocate the basic definition of ‘Real Bread’ as being made without the use of any so-called 'processing aids' or other artificial additives. The campaign seeks, finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. The campaign was co-founded by Sustain and Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters and Sourdough September helps raise awareness on fermentation and better quality bread choices. It encourages people to bake sourdough bread at home whilst connecting to bakeries and baking schools to celebrate genuine sourdough. They recommend the use of stoneground flours, preferably produced from organic grain that has been grown and milled locally. It’s best to check the ingredients to make sure no ‘improvers’ or other artificial additives have been included, even with organic flours.
When your bread is not real bread
The descriptions, 'craft' and 'artisan' mean loaves of bread have been made in traditional ways and in small batches but it doesn’t always mean they are the best choice. It’s true that many bakers who use these words and bake this way don't use artificial additives, but some do. The same goes for bakers whose loaves are certified organic, many choose not to use any artificial additives but, organic standards do allow some to be used so check first if you want your bread to be free of additives. According to ‘The Real Bread’ campaign, ‘traditional’, ‘natural’ and ‘finest’ ingredients are terms with no legal protection. None of them guarantees a loaf was made without the use of artificial additives. Even the term ‘fresh’ meaning, just baked, doesn't guarantee that the bread is without additives or even that the bread is freshly baked from scratch on site. Sometimes they are 'bake-off' products where the loaves have been part-baked ahead, chilled or frozen and then re-baked in-store.
How to find real bread
Armed with this knowledge, ask questions about the bread you are buying. Make it yourself, or get to know your local baker and discuss their baking methods and source of flour. The is the same as finding a good source of raw honey. Check the ingredients, ask if the supplier works directly with beekeepers, always make sure it is raw.
What to use to make sourdough or real bread at home
The best bread is made with just three ingredients:
Use naturally-occurring yeasts (i.e. a sourdough starter), fresh bakers’ yeast or dried active yeast free of additives. Making time to let dough rise slowly means you can use less yeast.
Tap water is fine for domestic baking. If it is heavily chlorinated it might slow down the growth of a sourdough starter or yeast fermentation. To eliminate the chlorine, boil the water and leave to it to cool to blood temperature.
If you use table salt, check the ingredients. Many brands contain an anti-caking agent, so using an additive wouldn’t make it ‘real bread’ by definition. Using rock or sea salt will add a variety of minerals in addition to sodium chloride. Too much salt is not good for health and the UK government recommends bread should contain no more than 1% salt.
Delicious ideas for real bread and raw honey
Just as important as health is the way these two simple ingredients taste together.
Whole grain bread with raw honey
Toasted, organic, 100% whole grain bread with butter and raw honey is a great way to start the day. The slow release energy of the fibre from the bread and nutrients of the raw honey will keep you going without snacking until lunchtime. If you’re hitting the gym, going for a morning run or just extra busy, add protein for even more energy by adding natural peanut or almond butter with slices of bananas, some chia or sesame seeds with a generous drizzle of raw honey. New research on saturated fats and health recommends butter over processed ‘low fat’ spreads as part of the diet. Whole grains are a good source of magnesium too. Who can resist good butter on real bread with raw honey?
Combining sweet and savoury
Raw honey with rye bread is a good source of fibre. Pumpernickel has only 65 calories per slice. Try the combination of fig and walnut sourdough bread with goats’ cheese and Balqees Wildflower Sidr Honey. The blend of textures and fusion of sweet and tangy makes for a fantastic snack, lunch or after dinner bite.
Add a little raw honey into the egg when making French toast for flavour – the heat may reduce some of the nutrients, so pour a drizzle when it’s on the plate and ready to eat.
What's your favourite way to eat bread or raw honey?