Bread is a protein!

It is not difficult to see how many families become protein-deficient.

Focaccia bread (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Focaccia bread
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Many people do not know that while bread is undoubtedly rich in carbohydrates, it may also be protein-rich, depending on which flour you use to make it.
Proteins are an essential nutrient and serve multiple functions in our bodies. They are created from building blocks called amino acids, the alphabet for creating proteins.
Just as one may construct millions of words using the 26 letters of the English alphabet, one may construct a myriad of different types of proteins using the 20 amino acid “letters.”
Our bodies know how to synthesize 10 of these 20 amino acids on their own. The remaining 10 are called essential amino acids and must be obtained from protein-rich foods. We call foods that contain all 10 essential amino acids complete proteins and foods that contain only some (but not all) of the essential amino acids incomplete proteins.
You can easily find the complete protein entries on your grocery bills – they are the large figures, chicken, meat, fish, cheese, etc. Complete protein-rich foods are expensive! For a family on a limited budget, it is not easy to ensure adequate daily protein intake. Vegetarians and vegans who do not eat these types of complete proteins have a different problem – ensuring they eat enough of the right combinations of grains and legumes that make up the entire mosaic of 10 essential amino acids.
The average recommended daily allowance (RDA) of complete protein is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. To get this amount, one would have to eat nine hard-boiled eggs, or a 250 gr. of steak, or four chicken drumsticks, or 300 gr. of fish, or drink 1.5 liters of milk – every day! Most of us would need an extra mortgage to fund that, never mind the effect that it would have on our cholesterol.
It is not difficult to see how many families become protein-deficient.
Enter protein-rich breads! Regular bread made with the common grains such as wheat are not entirely carbohydrate. In fact the protein content of four slices of bread is equivalent to a hardboiled egg, (13 gr. of protein per 100 gr.). So one could theoretically eat 16 slices of whole-grain bread a day and be covered for the RDA of protein, except for two minor problems. Firstly, common grains like wheat are not complete proteins and are missing a number of essential amino acids. Secondly, as with eating nine hard boiled eggs a day, eating two-thirds of a loaf of bread each day is accompanied by other side effects, such as obesity. So regular whole grain bread is not a substitute for complete protein.
It is possible to make bread out of a flour rich in complete protein such as soy flour (made from grinding soybeans into flour). The amazing thing about this flour is that it is a complete protein and it is equivalent to meat or chicken in its protein content, without the cholesterol.
There are two drawbacks to using soy flour for making bread, however. First, it has no gluten and is only really good for flat breads like focaccia. Second, soybeans, especially genetically engineered soybeans, are the subject of much controversy regarding their efficacy in building health. For the second reason, many people shy away from soy products in general and would certainly not build their staple diet from it.
The (almost) perfect flour for making high-protein bread is hummus. What most Israelis (and most other people for that matter) don’t know is that chickpeas, from which hummus is made, when ground, make an almost magical flour.
Chickpea flour is almost ideal for making protein-rich bread. Its complete protein content is similar to that of meat and chicken (21 gr./100 gr. as opposed to 26 gr./100 gr. for meat). As with soy flour, chickpea flour has no gluten and is also only suited to flatbreads. Unlike soy flour however, chickpea flour has lower quantities of two essential amino acids, tryptophan and methionine. There is some, but not enough. To supplement these, simply add a small amount of spinach for the missing tryptophan and sunflower seeds for the methionine. Chickpea flour can be found in health-food stores.
So there you have it, a magical complete protein-rich bread, which if eight slices are eaten a day (two double- slice sandwiches in the morning and another 2 similar sandwiches for lunch or supper), provide the RDA of protein for the average male at a fraction of the cost of meat/chicken/fish, without the added cholesterol and half the calories of the equivalent in regular wheat bread for the same protein content. Add to that – this bread is gluten free and vegan. Need we say more?
Chickpea-flour focaccia bread
1 cup chickpea flour ½ tsp. salt 1¹⁄3 cups water 1 Tbsp. chopped (cooked) spinach leaves 1 Tbsp. chopped (shelled) sunflower seeds
Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add water to form a batter (no lumps). Stir in the spinach and sunflower seeds. Grease a pan with olive or coconut oil and heat over high heat. Pour all the batter into the pan and spread over the entire surface. Cook for 3-4 minutes until firm and bottom is crisp. Flip carefully using large spatula and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Remove from pan. Cut into wedges and serve. To alter bread thickness, use a larger or smaller pan and adjust cooking times accordingly.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, that 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.