That good ol’ American bread

This note comes in from reader Jilly all the way down under in Ozzieland. It reads:

I’m from Australia and I’m just astounded by the immense softness of
so much American bread, I love to go to the grocery and poke it! My
favorite was when I picked up a loaf of supposed “sourdough” only to
find it was like a pillow!

I’m still confused as to what makes it so soft! Also, do you know why
most American supermarket breads contain over 20 ingredients, mainly
chemical it seems??

Jilly’s email reminded me of the old Wonder Bread commercials from when I was but a lad in the 70’s. All of them ended with a shot of a woman’s hand giving a loaf of Wonder a good wholesome squeeze. “Squeeze Me, I’m Fresh!” was the slogan, as I recall. It’s been discontinued for years, probably due to smart aleck kids like me who took the invitation a little too much to heart. However that was the major selling point for big bread makers like Wonder and Holsum: that their products stayed fresh and soft — for weeks!

That of course is where some of the additives come in, however the majority of them aren’t intended to keep the bread soft and fluffy, but to boost its nutritional value. For indeed that was the other side of Wonder bread’s appeal — that it was fortified. “Builds Strong Bodies 12 Different Ways!” was another one of the ad slogans from those days. Today of course we take fortification for granted, since even Twinkies are fortified to the point that a person could probably live off them for years and never suffer a vitamin deficiency.

Yet even though fortification is old hat, the idea of increasing the nutritional value of packaged foods has gained renewed currency in the nutraceutical movement. What are nutraceuticals? In short, they’re nutritional ingredients that (supposedly) offer benefits that go beyond traditional essential nutrients. Things like Omega-3’s, flavonoids, beta glucans and assorted other polysaccharides, lipids and proteins that are thought to have almost medicinal effects on the body. We’re seeing a lot more of them referenced on food packages these days, but to my mind “Contains Diadzein and Genistein!” just doesn’t have the same zing as “Squeeze Me, I’m Fresh!” Could just be me.

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