In its simplest form, bread is just ground grains and water heated up, which produces the most basic flatbread. Past civilizations around the world, as far back as the Neolithic Era, are thought to have made this bread from a simple paste created by grinding wheat, adding water and heating the "dough." It was later discovered, most likely by accident, that adding yeast to the equation would make the bread rise into a fluffy loaf. Most breads, no matter how simple or complex, all seem to follow this basic starting point of ground grains (flour), water and yeast.
Some of today's most beloved bread varieties haven't veered too far from this ancient recipe, while others have transformed into complex recipes containing a variety of different ingredients, such as milk, cheese, sugar, fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, and seeds. The types of grains used for the breads flour also varies through cultures and geographic regions of the world.
Here are some of the common and basic bread categories, and details on what makes each unique in its own way.
Common Wheat (white vs. wheat)
In the U.S., the two most common breads are "white" and "wheat." Both are made with common wheat, which as you can tell by the name is the most common wheat variety used in American bread-making.
Wheat bread uses whole grain kernels, ground into a flour that consists of the endosperm, bran and germ of the grain. This is a key difference between white and wheat bread. White bread flour is made from only the endosperm of the grain, which involves the removal of the bran and germ of the wheat. This flour is also bleached to give it uniformity in its white color. Removing the outside of the grain and bleaching the flour causes it to lose most of its nutritional value - so, ironically, the flour must then be enriched with vitamins. The end result is a nearly flavorless, nutrient deficient flour that is low in dietary fiber. White bread is not favored by culinary experts or nutritionists, however, it has become one of the most popular and affordable breads in the U.S.
We recommend always choosing whole wheat products over "white." It's better for you and its flavor is more rich and fulfilling.
Durum (macaroni wheat)
Durum in Latin means "hard," which refers to the species being the hardest of all wheat varieties. It's particularly high gluten and protein content combined with its hardness have made Duram the wheat of choice for pasta/macaroni noodles, pizza crust and of course bread. Duram bread is more common in Europe and Middle Eastern countries, however, it is sold in the U.S.
Spelt (called Dinkel in Germany) is closely related to common wheat, but its flavor is nuttier and more pronounced. Spelt contains fewer glutens than common wheat, making it a common replacement for common wheat among those with the gluten allergy Celiac Disease. German bakers use spelt to make their popular Dinkelbrot bread.
Historically the primary wheat grain for bread making in Egypt, Emmer is used today in specialty breads made in the U.S. The wheat crop itself has a reputation for being resilient to drought and providing relatively high yields in areas with poor soil fertility. Like Durum, Emmer is a hulled wheat - it's glumes (husks) are strong and difficult to remove to access the grain, which requires that it be milled to effectively crush and remove the grain. When incorporated into bread making, Emmer provides a sweet and nutty flavor, that is often complimented by the addition of Rye.
Rye is a grain-bearing grass related to barley and wheat. In addition to being used as a bread grain and flour, it's also used to make rye beer and a few varieties of whiskey and vodka. Northern and Eastern European countries are the main rye producers of the world, although the U.S. also produces a significant amount (9th highest production in the world). The most popular rye bread in Europe is pumpernickel - a dark brown, dense bread that often contains molasses, cocoa powder and coffee before being slow baked (sometimes as long as 16 to 24 hours).
Much like emmer, barley was used in ancient Egypt to make simple breads and beers - then considered a complimentary and complete diet when eaten together. Most U.S. barley production goes to feed animals (more than 50 percent) and to brew beer. Like duram and emmer, barley must by hulled before consumption. Once dehulled, the barley bran and germ are considered a "whole grain" and can be ground into flour and added to breads, or eaten like oatmeal or grits. Most breads containing barley are a mix of barley flour with another whole grain flour, such as common wheat.
There's nothing like a loaf of cornbread with a little butter on top to capture the spirit of the south - some add chili, others drizzle honey, but there's no wrong way to enjoy this sweet, one-of-a-kind bread. Cornbread start with cornmeal, and after that it's up to you what to add. The Mexican style is to add jalapeños and some grated cheddar, while "Yankee Cornbread" involves replacing half of the cornmeal in a recipe with wheat, making a fluffier, lighter version. Either way, cornbread has become one of the most versatile breads to fit in as a side dish at the dinner table. So, be bold and daring - try something new with cornbread today!
Sourdough gets its sour, tangy flavor from the bread's "starter culture" - a live, symbiotic culture of lactobacilli and yeasts that create lactic and acetic acids. Bakers commonly save a portion of dough from their latest batch to keep alive and use for the next batch. This can be done for years, developing a distinct flavor that is different between every sourdough.
Sprouted grain bread has become more popular in recent years, due to being very healthy and hearty. The process involves soaking the grains and letting them germinate (sprout) briefly, then smashing the sprouts and making the bread as normal. The idea is that by allowing the sprout to grow, it begins to convert some of the grains carbohydrates and fats to vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Sprouted grain breads are higher in protein, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals than regular bread.
These bread basics overview is just the tip of the loaf. To learn more about bread, find a simple recipe for a basic bread online, boldly add a few of you favorite ingredients to the recipe and make your own loaf of bread. It's a great experience and you'll learn more about bread than you could have ever imagined. Good luck!