Matt Preston: The return of white bread
Feel guilty no more – the white loaf is back in vogue and it’s the best thing since sliced bread
IT’S about as bogan as moccasins with a mullet and as unpopular as the cake stall at a Pete Evans paleo rally. It’s even so cheap it makes chips look like they’ve been on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive with Kanye West’s credit card.
White bread has been demonised for being everything from a cause of cancer to just empty calories for the emptyheaded. But after decades of smiling our way through all that worthy wheat germ and teeth-cracking sourdough,things are changing.White bread is back,baby!
TOASTIE OF THE TOWN
White bread’s renewed popularity is being buoyed by the toastie’s rebirth.
As exhibit A, consider the boom in toastie pop-ups and food vans and how top pastry chef Darren Purchese’s new book, Chefs Eat Toasties Too, is a homage to them.The fluffy white loaf of death is, of course, the only choice for the vast majority of toasties given how it crisps up and squishes in the sandwich press.
CHEFS KNOW BEST
Darren isn’t the only top chef who has put white bread back on the menu.
Instagram is awash with images of soft white bread at the hippest hangouts, such as Cutler & Co’s abalone katsu sandwich or Bar Liberty’s GLT (gribenes, lettuce, tomato) in Melbourne, the rissole sandwich at Scout in Brisbane, the crispy chicken skin sandwich with pan drippings for dunking at Adelaide’s Africola (sigh) and,in Sydney,The Dolphin Hotel’s Tokyo 7/11 sandwich, or the katsu sando at Cafe Oratnek.
Even Gaggan Anand, of Bangkok’s Gaggan restaurant, voted number 7 in the world, has weighed in. Asked by CNN for the 2017 hot trend, he cited bread and butter. “Diners are getting tired of jellies and foams, and the fine dining market is saturated with chefs who forage, pickle and ferment,” he said.
There is a distinct whiff of snobbery and pov-shaming going on with some of the stuff written about white bread.
The foodie intelligentsia is quick to vilify the fluffy white stuff. Certain social commentators constantly shame Aussie battlers for their food choices in their little corner of the blogosphere, where household budgets can afford to run to imported grains, grass-fed rare-breed meat, organic vegetables and the fees for their kids’ Steiner school.
You’ll seldom see these keyboard warriors pointing their barrels at other potentially high GI foods like gluten-free pasta, brown rice and the much beloved sourdough which, at least one academic points out,when made with white flour is not much better than the fluffy stuff.
THE WHITE LIE
Do any reading about the dangers of white bread and you’ll soon come across the Milan research that linked cancer to eating five or more slices of bread a day.
However, this research didn’t differentiate between white bread consumption as opposed to wholegrain or sourdough. Nor did it look at what was being put on this bread. Butter? Carcinogenic cured meats? Fresh air?
Still,when you’ve got an agenda to push,why let the facts get in the way? (Which is the point I am trying to make – you can twist facts to make even the most despicable foods, like broadly damned white bread, acceptable.)
I’M BAD, YOU KNOW IT
The food industry has a sneaky habit of loading convenience foods with stuff that makes them taste good.The lofty GI of white bread is a worry unless you want an immediate energy hit and you don’t mind paying for it later.
Leaving the fibre in the flour makes digestion easier. It leads to a more desirable, slower release of energy. Whereas by removing the outer part of the grain kernel, our body can access the energy more easily and this leads to energy spikes. Many scientists have suggested these surges in blood sugar and insulin levels may fuel cancer cell growth, promote the risk of diabetes and increase the risk of hypertension.
DEVILS IN DISGUISE
Let’s not just blame it all on the fluffy white loaf. There are large numbers of popular foods with a high GI score, including most wheat-based breakfast cereals, short- and medium-grain white rice, biscuits, cakes and potatoes.
A LITTLE LUXURY
Instead of calling it “bread”, let’s see it as being something else – a magical, elastic aeration of sugars, fats, gums and rather more salt than we’d like to admit.
Let’s view it as an occasional luxury with a strange ethereal texture that means it makes the best chicken mayo sandwiches, and can conjure up the most vivid childhood memories whether spread with Vegemite or honey, or dunked as soldiers into a drippy egg.
My 12-year-old daughter describes it as “I-wanna-but-I-canna” food, pointing out, “sure, white bread is the devil, but it’s a very yummy devil”.
Just like her, maybe we can all be a little more honest about how much we like it but also a little more sensible about how much we eat.