In the Grain: Exacting standards

Will the new Israeli standard for healthful bread make things easier for confused consumers?

Sourdough bread (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sourdough bread
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Health Ministry recently published a new standard for identifying healthful bread. All breads meeting this standard will bear a special label attesting to this fact.
This should come as welcome news to confused consumers who have to suffer multitudinous attempts at misleading in an unregulated, “anything goes” market.
Currently, any manufacturer can write practically anything on his labels, implying that the bread is a “healthy bread” when in fact it is anything but.
Unfortunately, upon delving deeper into the new ministry standard, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The root of the problem seems to be defining what healthful bread is. This should not be such a difficult task. All one needs to do is travel back in time 400 years before the Industrial Revolution. There were no chemical pesticides, no genetic engineering of grains, no artificial additives to the dough, and the milling process did not remove the healthful portions of the grain. Back then, bread was healthful. In fact, a diet consisting of bread and legumes (which complemented the missing essential amino acids in the grains) was the basic subsistence of much of the world’s population for millennia. It is only in modern, industrialized society that bread is no longer healthful. Worse, it has become a significant contributor to the rise in obesity and diabetes in our modern age.
The new ministry standard defines healthful bread as containing 80 percent or more of whole-grain flour, less than 400 mg. of salt per 100 gr. and a maximum of 250 kg. of calories per 100 gr.
Undoubtedly, increasing the whole-grain content and reducing the sodium and calorie levels in the bread makes it healthier, but it does not necessarily make it healthful.
This standard does not address issues such as chemical additives, preservatives and colorings. If the ministry has finally decided to regulate the market, why did it not go all the way? A more effective method for standardizing healthful bread is to use a points system. That way, the consumer can easily see where any particular bread is positioned on the scale and can make an informed decision when purchasing. The three Health Ministry criteria mentioned above are only a starting point. Additional points should be awarded to bread that is made from non-GMO (genetically engineered) grains, contains only organic ingredients, is made from flour containing the naturally occurring ratio of endosperm, bran and germ (the new ministry standard does not specify what whole-grain flour means), contains no added gluten, contains no artificial preservatives, contains no extraneous colorings (caramel, dark malt), is made with natural/ sourdough yeast, and contains flour that is low in gluten (like spelt, oats).
Point systems are widely used worldwide in all types of standards and may be simplified for the consumer with graphical representation; for example, as a symbolic checklist showing which features are present and which are not, followed by a total score, graphically represented on a sliding scale.
The question that begs asking is why did the ministry not implement a truly reflective standard for the benefit of the consumer? One would hope that pressure from the food industry monopolies was not the determining factor in a deliberate attempt to lower the bar and thus allow inclusion of their existing products and processes in the “healthy” category, when they are far from it.
As it stands now, the new standard is certainly better than nothing, but it is totally inadequate and allows the perpetuation of many of the maladies that afflict the health bread market instead of curing them.
Makes one 750 gr. loaf
✔ ½ cup organic whole spelt flour (fine)
✔ ¼ cup water
✔ ¼ cup sourdough starter (see Sourdough for dummies)
Mix and leave to rise for 12 hours.
Final dough:
✔ 2½ cups organic whole spelt flour (fine)
✔ 1 cup lukewarm water
✔ 2 tsp. sea salt
✔ 1 tsp. instant powdered yeast
✔ 1 cup shelled organic sunflower seeds
In a bowl, combine the levain with the final dough ingredients. Mix and knead for 10 minutes. Leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Punch down, shape into an oval loaf and place in bread pan. Leave to rise for 1 hour and bake at 230° for 35 minutes.
Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.