How Food is Made

What Bread is Made Of & How It’s Processed (Sliced Bread)

What Bread is Made Of & How It’s Processed (Sliced Bread)

When it comes to modern-day staple foods, it is impossible to look past sliced bread, and it’s therefore understandable to wonder what bread is made of. Most homes have some form of bread as a standing item, whether that be a loaf of white sliced bread from the supermarket, a hearty European pumpernickel or a home-baked wholegrain sourdough. Bread makes an appearance at any and every meal, and as a between-meal snack. As far as essential staple foods go, many of us would put bread near the top of the list.

In this article we look at what bread is made of, with a focus on factory-made sliced bread – it’s ingredients, processing methods, and the history and invention of sliced bread.

We vaguely know that bread is made from grain, but apart from that, how much do you know about sliced bread?

In this article I’ll share with you:

  • What is Bread? (introduction)
  • How Bread is Processed (infographic)
  • What Bread is Made of (ingredients)
  • History and Invention of Sliced Bread

What is Bread?

Bread is a staple food in many cultures, made from flour (usually wheat), water, yeast and salt. It is often eaten as toast, sandwiches or as an accompaniment to meals. Bread is low in fat and varies in nutritional value depending on the type of flour used. Yeast is normally added as a raising agent; however, this is not essential for some styles such as flatbread. High gluten wheat flour (strong flour, baker’s flour, bread flour) is normally used to give the bread a better texture and to help it rise.

What is difference between bread flour and all purpose flour?

Wheat flour can be produced from soft wheat (low gluten) or hard wheat (high gluten). Soft flour is made from soft wheat and has a low gluten content suited to cakes and pastries, whereas bread flour (aka strong flour, baker’s flour) comes from hard wheat and has a high gluten content ideal for bread making. All purpose flour (aka plain flour) is a blend of soft and hard wheat flours and is suitable for all types of cooking. So, to summarise what is difference between bread flour and all purpose flour, the difference is that bread flour contains more gluten than all purpose flour.

Is bread healthy?

Many people do not eat white bread as they feel it is indigestible and fattening, choosing instead to eat wholegrain breads. The health benefit of wholegrain bread is debatable, however. Some experts argue that although wholegrain bread is more nutrient-rich, many of these nutrients are less easily absorbed by the human body than the nutrients found in white bread.

How Bread is Processed

Even though bread is an essential item in most of our homes, few people understand how factory-made sliced bread is produced and processed. While writing my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced (more about the book here) I researched a ton of food science and food industry books, magazines and journals to get the real answer to what bread is made of, which I give to you now.

The following infographic (and the text in this post) is an extract from my book How Food is Made.

infographic what bread is made of and how
Infographic – What Bread is Made of: ingredients, processing and invention of sliced bread (by Ayla Marika)

What is difference between bread flour and all purpose flour?

Bread flour contains more gluten than all purpose flour.

Bread is like beer

Making bread involves a fermentation process using much the same ingredients as beer and, like brewing, it generates carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The amount of alcohol in bread dough is negligible, however, and most of it evaporates during baking. Traditionally, bread is made by kneading and proving the dough. Today, however, most bread is made using high-speed mixing and bread improvers.

What bread improvers do?

Bread improvers are natural or artificial additives that reduce mixing and rising time and produce a softer loaf with a longer shelf life. They include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium bisulfite, L-cysteine, and enzymes such as lipoxygenase from soy and amylase from malted grain. Other bread improvers may include lecithin, eggs, sugar, milk, oil or butter, and preservatives.

What Bread is Made of

Below is a snapshot of the most common ingredients that regular sliced bread is made of, keeping in mind that these ingredients will vary greatly. The only ingredients actually required to make bread are flour, salt, water and yeast – the other ingredients alter the texture, flavour and other properties of the bread in various ways.

What bread is made of: common ingredients used in making sliced bread

  • Wheat Flour (eg wheat)
  • Water
  • Yeast
  • Salt                                                   
  • Sugar                                                
  • Oil, Butter
  • Emulsifiers (eg lecithin)
  • Milk
  • Preservatives (eg calcium propionate)
  • Bread Improvers – numerous (eg ascorbic acid,L-cysteine)
  • Enzymes (eg amylase, lipoxygenase)

History and Invention of Sliced Bread

What bread is made of?

Bread has 4 essential ingredients: flour, salt, water, yeast. All other ingredients are optional.

The earliest breads were made from wild grains that were ground, mixed with water, then baked using hot stones or the sun. The oldest bread specimen ever found consisted of wild wheat, barley and plant roots It was made by prehistoric hunter-gatherers in the Jordan region and is estimated to be 14,000 years old. Unleavened flat breads were made in the Middle East from wheat and barley around 9,000 years ago. Egyptians are thought to be the first to use leavening in bread, and tomb paintings depict ancient Egyptians making bread with leavening.

Historically, bread baked with white flour was considered a wealthy person’s food, whereas dark bread was for the poor. The reason for this is was due to the flour—white flour was more refined and, therefore, considered to be better quality. Coarse, unrefined flours containing bran (which made the bread darker) were considered lower quality.

The invention of sliced bread

Making bread in the traditional manner is often time-consuming and laborious, making it not suited to large scale production. To address this issue, the British Baking Industries Research Association developed a commercial bread making method in the 1960s called the Chorleywood Bread Process. Hence the origin and invention of sliced bread, that plastic-wrapped loaf from the supermarket that we are now so familiar with. This method sped up bread production by introducing bread improvers and high-speed mixing and is now the predominant process for making bread worldwide.

Did you enjoy this article ‘What Bread is Made of: Ingredients & Processing of Sliced Bread’?

If you’d like to learn more about the processed foods we eat everyday, please check out my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced. The book features 60 common foods, detailing their history and manufacturing process using illustrations and food infographics.

If you have ever wondered where factory food really comes from and how it is made, this book is for you. Don’t just take my word for it. Food critics and reviewers love the book too – check out critic reviews here. Find out more about the book here and read more free samples here.

Thanks for reading!

-Ayla Marika

Credits for ‘What Bread is made of…’ article: Featured Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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