Time out of mind "the staff of life," was made of brayed grain by our ancient forefathers before they left Western Asia. Bread contains nitrogenous and non-nitrogenous food principles ; gluten and starch, as well as salts. It is adapted both for tissue-building and for energy-producing use in the body.
Wheat bread is as strong in nitrogen as any, and is richer than other kinds in phosphates, which are supposed to be in part nerve-feeders. The whitest of flour does not make the most nourishing bread. The richest part of the grain is just beneath the chaff, making slightly yellowish flour. Improved ways of grinding wheat now retain nearly all of this strength of the flour, some of which was formerly wasted.
Rye meal makes, by itself, a nourishing but less spongy bread than wheat. It is very largely eaten by people in Northern Europe. The best way to use it in making bread is to mix it with an equal or less quantity of wheat flour.
Bread must be properly raised to be good. This is done by a. fermentation, which takes place in the starch (it first becoming changed to sugar) of the dough, under the action of yeast. Sugar, when it ferments, is converted into alcohol and carbonic-acid gas. The alcohol is very small in amount. The carbonic acid gas is kept in by the sticky, pasty gluten, of which good flour has about twelve per cent. Thus the dough is stretched or expanded into a spongy mass. Baking dries it somewhat, and makes it more or less crisp, or at least takes away the adhesiveness of the dough.
Faults of bread, which make it less wholesome, as well as less agreeable, are heaviness, sourness, bitterness, mouldiness, and an excess of saline material. Heavy, ill-raised, and under-baked bread is very unwholesome. Sour bread is so also. It is made by over-raising, or by using spoiled flour. Bitterness comes either from bad yeast or too much of the yeast being used ; mouldiness, from the flour or bread being kept too long.
Other ways of raising bread are: using salaeratus, bicarbonate of potassium, from which the carbonic acid is set free by warmth, or by adding sour milk, containing lactic acid; or putting in the dough sour milk and bicarbonate of sodium; or carbonate of ammonium (smelling salt) ; or phosphoric acid and bicarbonate of sodium (Horsford's process). Still another plan is to make the carbonic acid as it is made for "mineral water," and then by pressure to force it into the dough. This constitutes "unfermented aerated bread." When carefully made, it is very good, keeps well, and can safely take the place of ordinary bread.
Hot fresh' bread has a somewhat more adhesive or pasty quality than stale bread. The gastric juice, therefore, does not so readily penetrate and digest it. Persons with entirely sound digestion have no trouble in disposing of it; but dyspeptics should always prefer stale bread.
Adulterations of flour are most often alum, chalk, lime, and potato meal. A little alum is frequently put in by bakers to whiten the bread, as well as to make it weigh more when sold by the pound. Much alum makes it unwholesome, irritating the stomach and binding the bowels. Potato meal is harmless, but a fraud when mixed with wheat flour, as it costs much less, and is not so nourishing. The microscope will detect it.
Bran bread (as before remarked) is rougher than that of white flour, and so, by stimulating the muscular coat of the bowels, it helps to keep them open. Rye bread is about as nourishing as wheat. Oatmeal does not rise so well as wheat flour, but in cakes, porridge, gruel, and grits, it makes an admirable food.
Buckwheat is nourishing, but proves to be rather better suited, in buckwheat cakes, for an occasional luxury than for a stand-by diet. Barley is not a strong meal, though "John Barleycorn" makes a very strong drink when fermented and distilled. Barley water is often a good addition to milk when it disagrees with young infants.
Rice contains but a moderate amount of nitrogen, but plenty of starch, and (like other grains) some salts ; and it is very easily digested. Chinamen and Hindus, many millions of them, live chiefly on it. It is soothing to the bowels, and particularly suitable in cases of diarrhoea.
Corn (maize), so much used in this country and in Southern Europe, is fairly nitrogenous, and is comparatively rich in fat. It affords good and serviceable food, whether eaten from the ear (sugar corn, boiling ears) or made into bread, mush or gruel. It is not, however, quite so easily digested as wheat, oatmeal, or rice.