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Deflowering Organic Bread

March 21, 2014

Given how much I love bread, how much it moves me, you would think that I would have taken up baking. For me, it’s not the process, but the results. And I’m more than happy to pay whatever premium or go to whatever lengths I must to find the breads that fulfill my desires.

It’s not always easy, but I do enjoy the hunt.

In New York I found Heidelberg 100% whole wheat bread, which is made from just four ingredients. It’s perfect for my morning toast or as the base of a savory bread pudding. But in New Jersey the best I could find was at Whole Foods.

There is a Whole Foods Hearth Bread called the Organic Whole Wheat Boule. It’s not bad. It’s round, which makes portion sizes a bit tricky, but I can live with that. And it has over twice the number of ingredients of my beloved Heidelberg. That’s not a deal breaker either. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but that’s to be expected.

What wasn’t expected is what the bakery clerk told me when I asked to have it sliced.

I’ve been a fan of the Whole Foods bakery for a long time. Back in the California days they had a cookie called the Chocolate Chewy which was one of my favorite things. Pretty much it was a cocoa meringue, but it was undercooked so that cracking through the light and crisp outside shell revealed a soft and sticky chocolaty center. Man, those were good. Maybe they were a salmonella risk, but who cares. I’ve risked more for less.

But back to bread. The twenty-ounce loaf which sells for $4.49 is made from the following:

Organic unbleached unbromated whole wheat flour, filtered water, organic rye flour, organic wheat bran, organic wheat gluten, organic honey, ascorbic acid, organic brown rice syrup, sea salt and yeast.

Honestly I’m not really sure why there is added gluten or ascorbic acid. Maybe one of the bakers could explain. But I’m not crazy about the addition of brown rice syrup (organic or not). And while organic honey is kind of dumb, at least that indicates there is a fighting chance that it’s actually honey and not some fraudulent golden syrup from China.

I’m glad that the flour is unbromated, but I am less concerned about the organic status of wheat and rye. Sure, it means that these ingredients were raised without synthetic pesticides, but it says nothing about the “natural” pesticides and herbicides used in their production.

Maybe Whole Foods is a reasonable gatekeeper, only buying from suppliers that go above and beyond industrial organics. But then again, it stocks Breyer’s ice cream in its freezers. To the grocer’s credit, the only Breyer’s products on the shelf are actually ice cream and not Frozen Dairy Dessert. But still.

Regardless, I don’t buy this bread because it’s organic. I buy it because it isn’t completely filled with junk.

One of the nice things about the Whole Foods bakery is that they will slice these whole loaves for you. And the lovely woman behind the counter was more than willing to oblige. However, she felt compelled to issue me the following warning,

Once I slice this for you, it will no longer be organic.

She wasn’t joking. I think she truly believed her own bullshit. I can’t even imagine the nanograms of synthetic pesticide residues that could potentially be transferred from the blades of the slicer onto my pristine loaf of bread. Or maybe Whole Foods is concerned with the oils from GMO corn meal that adhere to the machine’s cutting surfaces and only get washed off at the end of the day.

The very notion makes it sound like there is absolutely no contamination in the organic food supply. That is patently false. Or that in the mere act of slicing this bread, one is counteracting all of the hard work that went into making it organic in the first place.

I think I may have chuckled. It couldn’t be helped. And I had her slice it anyway.

Part of me wants to say that this was the moment when organic “jumped the shark”. But I think that happened last year when I found packets of organic Stevia in Hannaford and my brain almost exploded.

Regrettably, “organic” is meaning less and less every day. It is a victim of its own success, and the next new thing hasn’t quite come along yet. There’s some talk about “clean labels” but that’s far from being defined. Biodynamic agriculture sounds a little kooky, but I think its practitioners’ heads are in the right place.

Certainly I don’t think I’d ever hear a biodynamic wheat farmer claim that their bread would no longer be biodynamic if you sliced it with a dirty knife.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Karin Briscoe permalink
    March 21, 2014 1:30 pm

    Hi Daniel!
    The extra gluten is to hold the structure of the bread so it doesn’t collapse when the yeast die in cooking. The acid is a preservative. The brown rice syrup is sugar to get the yeast going.
    Organic is nice, but Andrew and I go in big for sour dough rye breads these days. The advent of so many immigrants from Eastern Europe has broadened out the bread scene here in London. I’ll eat rye over wheat any day. Just a personal preference. Sour doughs always taste better, I think. Even when the local starter isn’t that sour tasting. The extra time to rise and develop truly gives the bread more flavour and better texture.

  2. March 21, 2014 3:53 pm

    Daniel,

    Would like to show you around our bakery and a behind the scenes tour of our kitchen. Right now all flour used in unbleached, but working on formulas with organic flour.

    You wrote about our bread once at Americana.

    Want to show you how we grind grass fed burgers on premises and bake the rolls that go with them.

    You can reach me by email.

    Regards,
    Constantine

  3. Susan L permalink
    March 27, 2014 10:39 am

    I recently discovered Heidelberg’s Oat Bran bread. Yum! When I can’t get to the Sch’dy Famer’s market or run out mid-week, I know I’m safe at the Co-op with Heidelberg.

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