There is something undeniably special about bread. The flavour of a good loaf, the texture of the soft crumb combined with the crispness of the crust, is almost a sensual experience. It has been the staff of life since time immemorial and intrinsically connected to the rise of civilization. Together with the development of animal husbandry, it enabled Neolithic peoples to abandon their ‘hunting and gathering’ lifestyles and to dwell in more permanent communities, thereby ‘kick-starting’ life as we know it today.
One could say, without exaggeration, that the trade of baker is one of the oldest crafts in the world. The product of a baker's labour, bread, has played a central role in family and community life for thousands of years. Not only is it a nutritional dietary staple for every member of the family, 'breaking bread' has come to symbolize unity and togetherness across many cultures. Bread comes in many shapes and forms and is made of a wide variety of grains, including wheat, barley, rye and maize. It has and remains the mainstay of life for many people around the globe and, as a reflection of this role, has attained a tremendous religious significance (think for example of its inclusion in the Lord’s Prayer for Christians).
Given the importance of bread it is of little surprise that bakers, for most of recorded time, played a central role within the communities they lived and labored in. That is, until the late 18th century. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, this central role of the baker and the traditional neighborhood bakery, especially in North America, has been surpassed by ever-larger commercial bakeries. The volumes achieved in these bakeries enabled ongoing cost reductions, resulting in bread becoming more affordable to the population as a whole. The downside, however, was that the bread 'industry' started introducing more and more artificial agents (bread conditioners and preservatives) into products to speed up the production process and extend the shelf life of their products. The inclusion of these synthetic agents, combined with the almost exclusive use of enriched flour, resulted in the development of North American bread products that showed little resemblance to traditional bread. Starting in the later part of the twentieth century, a strong cultural trend developed towards a healthier lifestyle, especially towards more balanced, safe and wholesome eating habits. A changing perception of bread and the bread production process were an integral part of this movement and bakers started looking to their European counterparts for inspiration and traditional baking methods. Much has happened since then, and many small as well as larger bakeries have returned, in part or in whole, to the old-world baking philosophies, methods and products.
At Portofino Bakery, we very much adhere to this 'going back to our roots’ philosophy of baking. Although we’re a wholesale bakery catering to a large variety of customers, requiring many different types of product (each with its own distinct production method), we have begun implementing measures that will result in:
the complete elimination of all synthetic ingredients (including conditioners and preservatives) in our baking processes and products; and
the complete replacement of bleached, nutrient-deficient enriched flour in favour of wholegrain flour.
More specifically, in terms of our products, this entails the following:
We are a trans-fat-free bakery, meaning that none of our ingredients contain trans fatty acids (TFAs), with the exception of trace amounts of TFAs that naturally occur in dairy (and meat) products. There is as such no indication or scientific proof that naturally occurring TFAs have the same detrimental impact on your health as the industrial-formed TFAs.
At our request NutraSun Foods, a predominantly organic milling company, has developed an all-natural dough conditioner made of organic wheat flour, organic barely flour, ascorbic acid and enzymes, thus enabling us to replace the commonly used synthetic dough conditioners with a natural alternative. Consequently, our products no longer contain synthetic dough conditioner, making Portofino the only wholesale bakery on Vancouver Island to offer non-artisan bread products such as sandwich loaves, French loaves and buns with 100% natural ingredients. Although some of our pastry products still contain some synthetically produced sub-ingredients, we are actively sourcing replacements for these ingredients. We are confident that all Portofino products will be free of synthetic ingredients or sub-ingredients by the end of 2009.
We have started replacing significant quantities of enriched flour with 100% wholegrain flour. None of our artisan loaves contain enriched flours. We are furthermore increasing the overall usage of organic flour in our bakery.