Sam Bauman: Gluten-free is a good, expensive diet for seniors
My son Nick from Minneapolis recently dropped by to see my new apartment. During breakfast he passed on croissants and bagels, saying there was no real food value in modern bread. It made for a difficult breakfast, but it inspired me to look into modern breads, figuring seniors would like to know if there was a real problem there.
Sifting through the welter of articles on the subject online, I was surprised to find much verifying my son’s claim — and no denials from supermarket bread bakers. It seems that it all dates back to two changes.
First was the introduction of hot steel wheat-roller mills in the 1900s, replacing the traditional stone grinding mills of the past. This made milling easier, although it removed some of the vital nutrients of stone-ground flour. But this flour would store well, while stone-ground flour rapidly spoiled. Almost all modern mass-produced bread products use the cheaper, less nutritious steel mill flour.
The second change came in 1952, when geneticist Norman Borlaud introduced a dwarf wheat that was much more easily grown using hybrid seeds and fertilizer. It was hailed as the “green revolution,” saving millions from starvation and earning him a Nobel Prize.
But this new wheat, abundant as it was, contained fewer of the important minerals and nutrients of traditional wheat. Most American wheat is the new, dwarf variety.
To some extent, the current aversion to gluten in bread is a result of this, and switching to spelt or Einkorn is not a real good answer for those who suffer celiac problems. Gluten is present to some degree in almost all grains.
What is the consumer to do to avoid mass-produced bread? The answers aren’t easy.
One problem is that stone-ground flour goes bad in weeks or less, so even if you find it in health-food stores it might be unusable already. One answer is grinding flour at home. Home stone grinders are available, but there’s a lot of work involved, and finding good wheat can be a problem.
You can visit local bakers. I tried a couple of supermarkets, but no one there seemed to know anything about white flour (brown flour is white with color added). Then I visited Paul Schat’s Bakery at the Carson Mall.
“We use stone-ground flour for our bakery products,” said baker John Lopak, wearing a white apron with flour smudges showing. He pointed to the array of breads on a sales table — at least a dozen unusual varieties.
“We’re not gluten-free; we mix all of our breads in one place so some gets out,” he said.
Bread at Schat’s is not inexpensive. I bought a loaf (black bread that looked like the German bread I used to buy when living near Munich) along with a croissant for $10.50.
I’m not trying to promote Schat’s; it just happened that I had lunched there and remembered the panoply of breads. I’m sure Carson City has more than one artisan bakery.
I took my loaf home and cut off a couple of slices, complete with a hard crust like the bread I used to enjoy in Naples — the kind you can break a tooth on. That recalled my time in Munich, where the Aying Brewery up the road would drop of a case of local pilsner every Friday, and where the local baker would leave fresh brochean on the doorstep daily.
I thought of those old days while I sampled my fresh bread — plain, no butter. I had forgotten how good it could be.
No offense, supermarkets!
Sam Bauman writes about issues affecting seniors for the Nevada Appeal.