By Maryam Henein, HoneyColony
The Bread Lab, a plant-breeding program at Washington State University Mount Vernon, might have discovered why so many folks have trouble digesting gluten.
The 500-square-foot lab studies the diversity of locally grown grains to determine those most suitable for craft baking. They operate steam-injected ovens and commercial-quality equipment to test such dough qualities as rise, strength, mixing tolerance and protein content. Their goal: to find the exact hydration, temperature, and times that bring out the optimal characteristics of featured grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley.
Director and wheat breeder Steve Jones believes today’s bread is dangerous because the commercial strains of many grains produce high-yield crops that are crappy quality and devoid of nutrients.
Five to 10 percent of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some sort. And one out of every 133 Americans (about 3 million people) have celiac disease.
Wheat bred for industrial mills is ground and separated into its three components: flour, germ, and bran. Usually, the flour gets turned into white bread, while the germ and bran—which contain the healthy fats and fiber, as well as much of the vitamins—go to other uses, including supplements and livestock feed.
According to The Bread Lab, low-quality, industrial white flours and fast-rising commercial yeasts, along with additives such as vital wheat gluten, have given bread a bad name. Meanwhile, many industrial bakeries allow bread to rise for a matter of minutes, which isn’t enough time to let the yeast and bacteria digest all the gluten in the flour, let alone the extra dose in the additives.
Julia Child once said, “How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
Bread Lab resident baker Jonathan McDowell says the corruption in bread offers bakers an “opportunity” to re-establish bread’s integrity, making it healthful and delicious once more.
Yet, before you reach for a breadstick, consider this: Professionals like cardiologist and author Dr. William Davis contend that wheat can negatively affect your immune system, mind, skin, and more. Period.
In his book Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis explains that, when we first began eating grains, we were eating what was called ‘einkorn.’ Throughout the millennia, however, einkorn was extensively altered. As a result, today we have what is called ‘dwarf wheat.’ When two types of grass are bred together, not only do the chromosomes add up, but the offspring of the two can create new gluten proteins that are not found in either parent. In other words, your body doesn’t know how to process them.
“Analyses of proteins expressed by a wheat hybrid compared to its two parent strains have demonstrated that, while approximately 95 percent of the proteins expressed in the offspring are the same, 5 percent are unique, found in neither parent. Wheat gluten proteins, in particular, undergo considerable structural change with hybridization,” says Davis.
As The Bread Lab continues to learn, teac, and experiment with bread, we’ll have to see if their new recipes are safe for those with wheat and gluten sensitivities. But you’ll still have to ask yourself if that piece of toast is worth eating if it may make you sick for weeks.
Listen to director and wheat breeder Steve Jones talk about their facility:
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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