EU-FRESHBAKE – Freshly baked bread: the healthier and greener way
Bread is thought to have been part of the human diet for around 30,000 years. In mediaeval Europe, breads were named after the class of people who ate them – giving rise to the likes of “squires loaves”, knights loaves”, “common loaves,” or even a “pope’s loaf”.
Today, Europeans consume 25 million tonnes of bread - and far from being tied by our social class or our occupation to just one type, we are becoming increasingly demanding, both in terms of the variety and the quality of bread we expect.
Total bread consumption in Europe is relatively steady, growing at just 1% a year. But bread produced by one particular technology is growing very rapidly. So-called 'bake-off technology' (BOT) bread is growing at about 10% a year.
Bake-off technology involves leaving the bread in a semi-finished state, such as frozen dough or part-baked, to be finished off either at the point of sale – the supermarket or petrol station, for example - or at home. The advantages are clear: fresh bread can be baked on demand, providing a greatly enhanced experience for the consumer and resulting in less waste.
Unfortunately, the problems are equally clear. First, bake-off technology is more energyintensive than conventional baking, requiring as much as four times more energy. Second, it is almost entirely focused on the production of bread types which have limited nutritional value, such as white flour plain rolls and baguettes. Healthier breads are much more difficult to make using BOT.
The difficulty for the bread industry is that consumers are now showing clear signs of demanding precisely these healthier bread varieties.
The EU-FRESHBAKE research project was established towards the end of 2006 to address these twin issues, thereby providing an important boost to the European bakery industry as well as delivering significant benefits for the consumer.
Backed by € 2 million of funding under the EU's 6th Framework Programme, the 38-month project brought together 12 partners from eight different countries, including Russia. They included seven research organisations and five industrial partners – three baking companies, one bakery equipment company and one ingredients supplier.
One important success for the consortium was the development of innovative baking equipment, resulting in reduced energy consumption of between 30% and 50%. Improved refrigeration equipment was also developed, cutting energy requirements by 5% to 15%. When used in tandem with carefully managed freezing and storage conditions, this energy saving rose as high as 50%.
The project also investigated ways in which bake-off technology could be used to enhance the nutritional value of bread. Three types of bread were studied – conventional, glutenfree and organic. Aspects the scientists examined included managing the glycaemic index of bread – a higher glycaemic index indicating greater risk of Type 2 diabetes – together with ways in which the type of bread and its method of production could affect the way in which nutrients in the bread are absorbed by the body.
The full findings of the research were collated in a comprehensive Guide of Good Practice, published to provide the bakery industry with detailed recommendations to optimise both nutritional quality and energy conservation through all stages of the BOT process.
As a result of the EU-FRESHBAKE project, producers and consumers have been brought an important step closer together. The industry is better placed to meet ever more sophisticated customer demands, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact required to do so.
Even after 30,000 years, the story of bread continues to develop.