May 17, 2011

Ode to Gluten.

Bitchin’ Breads of Berlin

Gluten-intolerance is a hard-hitting reality that requires legitimate lifestyle shifts—achieving culinary wonders with brown rice and quinoa, saying farewell to favorite micro-brew beers, and baking spelt-flour cupcakes for best friends’ birthdays. But, for the fortunate majority, the gluten-free everything fad is but another nutritionist trend. Bread-hate is a boon for the processed foods industry, which harnesses whatever food fear happens to be en vogue to churn out—and turn a pretty profit off—a dizzying array of packaged edibles. The Western diet’s complicated connections with factory manufactured comestibles will eventually run its course, but for your own (gluten-yeah!) gastronomic adventures, try noshing on German-style, dark-brown breads.

I’m currently savoring a live-work sabbatical in Berlin, and after spending a good deal of time (feverishly) pondering how German women maintain lustable hips and glossy, flaxen hair, I’ve alighted upon a (for the purposes of this pro-bread article) thesis:  Such fresh-faced fräulein are shoring-up on vital, age-gracefully nutrients from the rich loaves sold in Berlin’s everywhere-you-look bakeries.

How do the Germans do it? A Deutschland staple that titillates even my California-cuisine, artisanal-everything palate, the country’s vast selection of bread is uniformly dense and moist, boasting a crackling crust and perfect crumb. Bread is a long-standing, celebrated aspect of the country’s food culture and is taken seriously. Its baking tradition is centuries’ old, using whole-grain flours and a slow-bake, steam-heated oven method. The resulting breads are nutty, dark, and paradisiacal.

Bakers prepare the loaves with unrefined cereal grains that leave intact the plant’s vitamin-and mineral-rich bran and germ. The white-flour milling process strips away everything but the wheat plant’s endosperm. (Hello, simple starch!) When you eat white flour, the body quickly metabolizes these refined carbs into glucose—setting off a jolt of energy, followed by a craving for more, and finally storage of unused glucose as fat. No wonder Americans are leery of the common carbohydrates in our industrial diet—these breads leave us tired, hungry, and overweight.

Conversely, bona fide whole-wheat flour processing keeps grains as close as possible to their original form. As recently as 100-years ago, old-school European diets relied on these unrefined grains, which maintain the über-essential bran and germ. Bran is the hard, outer-layer of the wheat grain—it is replete with B-vitamins, as well as fibers that slow down the rate at which the body metabolizes food. Germ is the wheat seed’s innermost part—it is protein-rich, also containing Omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids.

In Berlin, a jaunt to my neighborhood bakerei reveals a treasure-trove of delicious pumpkin seed-topped or hazelnut-laden breads—the sheer array of whole-grain baked goods within one block of my apartment. The funny-sounding German names–like Landbrot and Vollkornbrot–are really cute. The best thing of all, though, are the Brezels: An easy English-language cognate, pretzels are a beloved German snack—these fresh-baked yums are everywhere you go, and what distinguishes them is their chewy, bagel-like texture and salty, dark exterior. One bite, and I’m in the mood for love.

Check out an earlier iteration of this story, published in EcoSalon.

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Abigail Wick  |  Contribution: 2,420