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Cereals, Flours, And Bread

( Originally Published 1904 )

The cereals upon which we are most dependent are wheat and rice. To those may be added rye, barley, and corn. These occupy the most important place in the group of vegetable foods, and their importance in the nourishment of man can hardly be over-estimated. It has been very justly said that the civilization of man began with the cultivation of grain; for that caused man to give up his nomadic life, and to take up a fixed abode.

The nutritive value of cereals is very great. This is not at all surprising if we reflect that in eating grain we are in reality eating that which in the vegetable kingdom bears a true relation to the egg of the animal kingdom. The grain of a cereal is its seed; and this is an organ which contains in itself all that goes to make up a new plant.

Wheat flour may serve as a type of all the grains. It is used almost exclusively in America in the making of bread, and in many ways in the art of cooking. It contains, besides a small quantity of fat and a few salts, water, gluten, a special sort of albumen, and starch as a carbo-hydrate. Nothing is easier than to separate these two materials; mix a little flour and water to thickness of a paste, after it has stood a little white, mould it in the hands under a stream of running water, collect the water as it runs off, and after it has stood for a while a deposit of starch will be found in the bottom of the vessel in which it rests; the elastic, soft, grayish mass left in the hand is the gluten. Wheat flour is composed of from 10 to 12 per cent. of gluten, 72 to 75 per cent. of fat, and some salts, principally phosphates.


If the statistical records are reliable, man finds in bread nearly half, and among the less wealthy part of the population about two-thirds, . of the nourishing material which he needs. The process of bread-making is not to be described here in detail; suffice it to say that it consists in making a raised mass by the fermentation of a small quantity of sugar (which accompanies the starch) into alcohol and carbonic-acid gas. It is this latter which causes the mass to " rise." When this is cooked the outer covering, under the immediate action of the heat, is hardened into crust. The inner portion remains tender and soft.

Wheat bread is composed of:

Water, 34 to 35 per cent.; albumen (gluten), 7 per cent.; starchy matter, 55 per cent.; fat, 2.10 per cent.; salt, 1 per cent.

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