Scientists on mission to create healthier white bread

Scientists are on a mission to develop a new type of bread.

The new bread is as healthy as wholemeal but still looks and tastes like the classic white loaf. Funded by the UK government to enhance the health benefits of food, this project is making waves in the world of nutrition.

So, what’s the secret recipe?

The researchers plan to sneak in some extra goodness by adding small amounts of peas, beans, and cereals to the bread mix. They are also bringing back bran and wheat germ into the mix. These components usually stripped away during white flour production, pack a punch in terms of nutrition.

Haven’t breadmakers tried this before?

They have experimented with adding bran to their flour, but unfortunately, customers were not thrilled with the taste and texture. However, this new research project is still in its early stages, and the team is determined to crack the code.

Dr Catherine Howarth, one of the project leaders from Aberystwyth University, explains that achieving the nutritional levels of wholemeal bread while preserving the white bread experience is like walking a tightrope. It involves carefully reintroducing wheat germ and part of the bran removed during milling. Other grains like quinoa, teff, sorghum, millet green peas and chickpeas are also providing an extra protein boost.

“We want to find out exactly what vitamins and minerals are lost during the milling process,” said Dr Howarth.

“Using other cereals we can enhance the iron, zinc and vitamin levels and most importantly the fibre content, because white bread has very little fibre, which is so important for good health.”

What vitamins and minerals vanish during the milling process?

Dr Howarth and her team are on the case. By using various cereals, they aim to amp up iron, zinc, vitamins, and—most importantly—fibre. White bread, notorious for its lack of fibre, is about to get a makeover.

Once Dr Howarth prepares some potential recipes, Chris Holister, a product development manager at Gloucestershire’s Shipton Mill, will test the new bread on real people. Can they tell it is different from the regular supermarket white loaves? Only time will tell.

“Most people know that wholemeal bread is better for you, but a lot of them are put off by the flavour, or because it’s not what they are used to and they are simply not interested,” he said.

Holister sampled an early prototype made from a mix of normal white flour and added grains and peas. Crustier than your average supermarket loaf, but still unmistakably white bread. 

In about two years, we might find this innovative bread gracing supermarket shelves. The research team’s approach—focusing on the inner layer of bran, which is less strongly flavoured and coloured—shows promise. They’ll need less of it because they’re incorporating other highly nutritious yet subtly flavoured grains.

White bread must have added minerals and vitamins to compensate for what’s lost during refining. But Dr Amanda Lloyd, collaborating with Dr Howarth and Mr Holister, believes that natural ingredients can take it a step further.

Tim Lang, a food policy professor at City University (unaffiliated with the research team), sees this work as a pivotal step toward better health. For over a century, the British have adored white bread, but nutritionists have longed for more whole grains on our plates. “The British have had a love affair with white bread for more than a century and nutritionists have longed to get more people to eat the whole grain,” he said. “The new research seems like a really interesting approach to doing that.

“Critics would say that it is tricking people into improving their diet, but nutritionists would say it doesn’t matter how it’s done – it’s important to get it down people’s throats to improve their health!

“But the jury’s out as to whether this new approach will work,” he added.

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