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Myths of multigrain
Wholewheat, brown, multigrain, wholegrain - bakeries and manufacturers can slap any label on bread, but it doesn't guarantee that the bread in the package is much healthier than white bread. "Commercial brown bread is called that, because the colour is brown, " says Manjit Singh, chef and owner of Bangalore restaurant Herbs and Spice that bakes its own breads. "But it is often made with refined wheat flour, and the colour comes from caramel. " There are no regulations in India that specify how much wholewheat a loaf must contain before a manufacturer can label it thus. And multigrain only means that the bread contains more than one grain. If a loaf made with bleached, refined flour has a few ragi and flax seeds patted onto the surface just before it's put into the oven, it could still legally be called 'multigrain'. Despite all the confusion, it's not so hard to tell the difference between what sounds healthy, and what actually is healthy. Bread lovers seeking better loaves and rolls only need some label smarts, and need to then ask the right questions.
HOW MUCH WHOLEGRAIN DOES BREAD REALLY HAVE?
A wheat kernel consists of three parts: the outer layer of bran which contains B vitamins and fibre, the layer of living germ which is rich in protein, Omega-3 s and antioxidants, and the inner endosperm which is mostly starch and gluten. To make white wheat flour or refined flour, the bran and the endosperm are removed, thus ridding the grain of all its nutrients. Wholewheat bread should contain a significant amount of flour made with the wholegrain to have any benefit.
"Bread which has only 20 per cent wholewheat is not making a difference toward improving your health, " says Nira Singh, owner of Delhi brasserie Chez Nini. "Also, ask yourself, is there any malt involved? Companies use malt and caramel to make their bread super brown, but they are essentially sugars. " Her restaurant has its own bakery and Singh says that they use at least 70 per cent wholewheat in their bread. Britannia, which makes India's largest-selling bread, lists ingredients in their Whole Wheat Bread in this order on the packaging: wheat flour, whole wheat flour (22%), yeast, sugar, salt, edible vegetable oil, malt extract, Class II preservative, acidity regulator, improver, vitamins, emulsifier, and antioxidant. Britannia was not available for comment.
Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of decreasing amounts, so labels are good guides to what and how much of it goes into our packaged foods. "Big food businesses have their constraints, " says Farhad Bomanjee, owner of Kala Ghoda Cafê in Mumbai, which sells in-house organic wholegrain bread. "They need to make their bread in large quantities in one location, and ensure that it's travel-worthy. "
TOUCH, LOOK AND TASTE
If the label doesn't reveal much, and you are not sure if your bread is wholewheat, eyeball it and prod at it. "With wholewheat you don't get a lot of leavening and it has a grainy texture, and it doesn't expand as much as maida, " says Alex Sanchez, Executive Chef of The Table in Mumbai, who offers 100 per cent aata bread rolls with amaranth, flax and other seeds, as part of the breadbasket. Wholewheat bread looks less even than bread made with refined flour, it is denser, chewier and doesn't bounce back as easily when squeezed. Compress a piece of bread made with maida enough, and it will look like a lump of maida. Not so with wholegrain bread. Also, wholewheat spoils easily, because the oils in wheatgerm go rancid pretty fast. John Paul Carmona, former chef de cuisine of Manresa in California, who is visiting India, says that breads made from wholegrain rarely last more than a couple of days. "The more unrefined flour you use, the less moisture it holds, " he says. "The only way to keep wholegrain bread longer is by slicing it, freezing it in portions, and then toasting it when you want to eat some. "
'BROWN' BREAD, PRESERVATIVES AND OTHER HIDDEN INGREDIENTS
When wholewheat bread stays longer than a few days at room temperature or in the fridge, it's possible that it has been loaded with preservatives to increase its shelf life and emulsifiers to improve its texture. Most artisanal bakers think it's a shame to consume this bread. "If you eat bread with enzymes, bread improvers, and chemicals, you are putting garbage in your system, " says Nira Singh. Manjit Singh compares it to a mother putting preservatives in the family's rotis. Bomanjee says the only answer for consumers is to not buy this kind. "Most wheat is bleached for whiteness, " he says. "If it is not unbleached flour, you shouldn't be eating it, because it is no longer food. " (Freshly milled flour is yellowish. Bleaching agents include peroxides and chlorine. ) While bleached flour might be among the worst kinds of processed food, the industry has come up with healthy-sounding names for what is essentially refined flour. Enriched flour, unbleached flour, wheat flour - all of these are just different names for maida. Enriched flour is simply flour that has been stripped of its nutrients and then loaded with artificial vitamins and minerals.
THE MEANING OF MULTIGRAIN
If wholewheat flour sounds confusing, multigrain leaves room for a whole lot more interpretation. Take a look at the ingredients listed on most commercial multigrain breads. One major brand has only ten per cent whole wheat, 5. 7 per cent legumes and oil seeds, and five per cent cereals in its multigrain bread. Also, we also tend to forget that multigrain does not necessarily mean wholegrain. "Multigrain merely refers to a food that contains more than one type of grain, " says Alain Coumont, founder of Belgian cafe chain Le Pain Quotidien. "Common grains included in multigrain foods include rye, oats, buckwheat, cracked wheat, quinoa, barley, spelt, faro, millet and more. While some multigrain food may include whole grain ingredients, the term multigrain does not necessarily ensure that the food contains whole grain ingredients. Ingredients could be either whole grains or refined grains. " Healthy multigrain breads, with whole grains and no chemicals have similar downsides to wholewheat bread. "There are some minor downsides, which include early dryness and staleness, as well as reduction in size and change in shape, " says chef Manoj Shetty of Salt Water Cafê in Mumbai. He says that for Salt Water Cafê he uses other grains to wheat flour in a ratio of 3:1. Manjit Singh feels that any more than 40 per cent makes the bread too dense. "There aren't any set standards that are prevalent in the industry, " says Jaydeep Mukherjee, chef at Indigo Deli in Mumbai. "The choice of how much of what grain to put is dictated more by questions pertaining to taste and texture of the bread in question and also cost implications of production, rather by mandatory standards. "
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