All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sourdough Wheat Bread with Udad flour

You can add almost anything to wheat bread.  

I often find myself wandering the aisles of different stores and markets, looking for things that might be added to a loaf.  In particular, I like to peruse the international section of grocery stores, and when I can find them, ethnic stores.  The other day I had the opportunity to check out a certain Indian food store.  There are a lot of things there that make me wonder: would this go well with a Tartine-style sourdough bread?

The residents of India have been grinding up lots of things for their culinary arts for years.  In particular, today I want to look at how they grind up a certain legume and turn it into flour.  Udad flour (Udad d'Urid) is made from the so-called "black lentil," or "black gram pulse."  Wikipedia says it is ground from the whole urad bean, Vigna mungo

Is the Udad flour I found (imported by Deep) ground from the whole pulse, or is the dark husk removed before the flour is made?  From the light colour of the flour, I suspect that much of the skin has been removed prior to milling -- but I don't know.

The flour has an unusual scent when you are mixing it, quite noticeably leguminous, almost like the scent of pea stalks.  There is a sweetness to it.  Perhaps this is why Indians make sweet deserts from it, like the Udad flour laddus.  I've also seen recipes that use it to make batters for frying, or crepes, cakes and pancakes.  There are lots of things you can make with it.  Many times, it is added to wheat flour.  Khichdi, a dish with rice and lentils, seems to be one of the staples of south Asia.

An interesting blog posting by Sala at veggie belly, quoted an Indian chef who said that idli, dosa and uthappam are made with a 5:1 rice:udad fermented batter.  Idli are made on the first day, dosa on the second, and uthappam on the third.  I would assume that the difference in taste and texture achieved is due to the amount of fermentation going on; when other ingredients are added to the batter to make a completely different food, the dish obtains a completely different name.  Ah, the genius of invention and experimentation with fermented food.  It might be fun to try some of these different recipes.

But here, I am simply adding some udad flour to an ordinary sourdough whole wheat bread to see how they work together.

  • WW flour 80%
  • Udad flour 20%
  • sourdough starter 20%
  • wheat germ 5%
  • salt 2%
  • water 76%

This was the standard Tartine sourdough method.

But I was gone to the post office and grocery store when the dough was quite done bulk fermenting.  By the time I got it into the baskets to proof, the dough was becoming flaccid.  There must be a lot of proteases in the Udad flour.  Or else it ferments a lot faster than the wheat flour.

In any case, I had no great belief that this bread would turn out.  The dough felt gummy, and wouldn't hold its shape.  Nevertheless, I put it in a heavily floured basket with a few flax seeds in the bottom, and set it in the cold garage.  My intention was to bake it sooner than later.  My original idea was to bake it in the morning, but the dough was fermenting too fast, so I felt that even 2 hours in a cold garage was going to be too long.

Regarding Udad
"Pulsecanada" describes udad flour as "moderately tasteless", with 24% protein, 59.6% carbohydrate, and 1.4% fat.  But it also states that some varieties of black gram may be defatted.

The nutritional info on the back of the Deep flour bag was woefully inadequate to satisfy my own curiosity.*  Furthermore, I was quite surprised that I could not find much nutritional info on Udad flour on the Internet.  The pulse that this flour is made from is one of the staples of the poorest people who thrive on a vegetarian diet in South Asia.  And yet, very little is known about its specific nutritional qualities.  It hasn't been studied to the same extent as many other parts of the human diet.  It is generally assumed to be a good source of protein, but one continuously comes across warnings that overeating it may promote flatulence.

In the absence of western chemical science, which might take apart the legume completely to discover its makeup in vitamins and minerals, and thereby learn how these affect humans in vivo, we get traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which has centuries of anecdotal evidence regarding the many properties of urad, and its flour, udad.  Yet if that is where I must go for information, so be it.

The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia (Tirtha, S. (1998) The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia: Natural secrets to healing prevention and longevity. Ayurveda Holistic centre Press, Bayville, NY) says this of the "black gram (Masha)," in its section on legumes:

Black Gram (Masha) Energetics: Sweet, astringent/cold/sweet P- V+ K+ mildly Action: Nutritive, demulcent, aphrodisiac, nervine tonic, lactogogue Indications: The most strengthening bean, diarrhea, dysentery, indigestion, hemorrhoids, arthritis, paralysis, liver disorders, cystitis, rheumatism. Increases semen and breast milk. Externally —plaster for arthritis/joint pain. **

As with other legumes, "they combine well with grains for a staple food, containing all the eight essential amino acids…"

I did find one interesting article (Karakoy, T. (2012). Diversity of Macro- and Micronutrients in the seeds of Lentil Landraces.  Sc World J. 10.1100/710412, 9pp.) which studied the macro and micro nutrients of various lentil varieties, especially wild varieties, which the very poor tend to use as staples in their diet.  It states that "lentil is the fourth most important pulse (legume) crop in the world after bean, pea and chickpea" but that "on average, global pulse consumption is in decline, but lentil consumption is increasing faster than human population growth."  Again, this tells us little of the specific udad or urad flour I found, but the article does point out that a lot of the variation in nutrients in lentils mostly comes from the soil it is grown on.

IF the udad flour is made from a typical lentil, it may or may not have nutrients in more or less these quantities (I have combined Karakov's means with pulsecanada's info, but I wouldn't take any of these values as gospel.  It just gives a ballpark number):

  • Carbohydrate: ~59.6%
  • Protein: ~25%
  • Fiber: ~22%
  • Fat: ~ 1.4%
  • Micronutrients:
    • Potassium      0.8% 
    • Phosphorous  0.385% 
    • Calcium         0.154%
    • Magnesium    0.1%
    • Sodium          0.0398%
    • Zinc               0.0055% 
    • Iron                0.0038% 
    • Niacin            0.002%
    • Copper           0.0012%
    • Manganese     0.0013% 
    • Thiamin          0.00042%
    • Riboflavin       0.0002%
    • Vitamin C       0%
Despite claims that I've seen for lentil's relatively high folate levels, I've found no specific information on it.

I didn't have high expectations for this bread, especially since it smelled so weird when mixing it, and especially since it sagged so much and was so gummy when shaping it.  And I felt it was too fermented because the gluten kept tearing.

Despite that: this was a very good bread.  The final scent of the loaf was not too leguminous; the taste was not too beaney.  The crumb was moist, the crust not too rigid.  The bread was good with cheese, and with nut butters, and with tomato based spreads.  Quite a well-rounded loaf.

Notes to Myself
  • Although this is not a traditional Indian bread, you could certainly look to Indian cuisine for ideas on how to improve it.  Spices could be added to this bread for other taste ideas, with little trouble: cayenne, fenugreek, turmeric, or basically whatever suits your fancy.  If flatulence is a problem Ayurveda has remedies for that: ginger, catkins, etc.
  • As usual, grinding the whole lentil for your own flour is going to be healthier, I assume, than using some pre-milled legumes.  I like the idea of whole foods.  Before going to Veggiebelly's web site, I'd never seen those unique wet grinders.  I'm not convinced I need one, but they look cool.
  • ** The P, V and K named in the quotation from the Ayurvedic Encyclopedia above refer to the 3 constitutions, or doshas: air (Váyu), fire (Pitta), and water (Kapha), whose balance can get pretty complicated in Ayurvedic medicine.   I respect this tradition, admitting that I don't understand it.  However, the pronouncements Ayurveda makes on ingredients don't seem to have the same kind of rigor of scientific testing that the best western science has -- but that might only be my own bias, born of cultural blinders and ignorance.  I've seen bad western science, with very poorly designed tests, whose results are misleading.  I suspect there is both good and bad info in Ayurveda too.  As with all things, test it for yourself and see if your results are consistent with what is said to be known.
  • * If you can't make out the crappy picture above (I couldn't):
    Nutrition facts
    serving Size 1/4 cup (30g)
    servings per container about 30

    Amount Per serving

    Calories 113  Calories from Fat 9
                                 % Daily Value *
    Total Fat 1 g        2%
    saturated Fat 0g   0%
    trans fat 0g
    Cholesterol 0mg   0%
    Sodium 25mg       1%
    Total Carbohydrate 19g 6%
    Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
    sugars 1g
    Protein 7g

    Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
    Calcium 0% Iron 15%
    * Percent Daily values are based on a 1200 calorie diet.  Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs

    Calories per gram
    Fat 9  Carbohydrate 4  Protein 4

    Nutrition Information  ??

    Typical Values   Per 100g
    Energy  1604kj/382Kcal
    Protein  23.3g
    Carbohydrates 63.2g
    of which sugars 3.3g
    Fat 3.3g
    of which saturated 0.0g
    Fiber  13.3g
    sodium < 1.0g
    Cholesterol 0.0g
    Trans fat 0.0g

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pan Integral Bakeoff: 100% Hard Red vs Hard White Sourdough Bread

Hard Red WW vs Hard White Sourdough Breads

Caveat emptor
I've been reading about White Whole Wheat Flour for some time now, but I've never tried it.  The other day when I was in Arva Flour Mill picking up some more organic whole grain flour, I noticed a small bag of the organic white wheat, so I picked some up.  To me, it was the perfect opportunity to try making some bread with it, side-by-side with the 100% whole wheat sourdough bread I always make, in the Tartine style.

Unfortunately, one has to be extra careful when buying wheat.  If it doesn't say "whole" wheat somewhere, you are getting a fraction -- some of the bran has been removed.  This bag doesn't indicate what the fraction is, but in later conversations with staff at the Arva Flour mill, they have assured me that this bag is not whole white wheat.  Furthermore, the organic flour -- the hard red whole wheat flour (that I usually buy), or this white wheat flour -- that one can obtain at Arva Flour Mill is not milled there.  They do not have the facilities to mill organic flour.  They buy it, repackage it, and sell it to consumers like me.  They cannot even tell me the extraction rate, or how much white bran is in it.  In fact, I do not even know if the white wheat is a true hard white wheat, or is merely a blend of hard and soft white wheat flour.

I can buy organic red wheat berries from Arva Flour mill, and I can mill my own organic grain from them (that'll be my next option) -- but I have to look elsewhere for organic white wheat berries.  I am told that Arva Flour Mill cannot get them.

Despite my frustration at not getting white whole wheat flour, this is my experience with using the Organic White Wheat flour for the first time.  It gives me an opportunity to research hard white wheat.

First, the breads.

White Wheat Bread, Red WW Bread
Both breads are made with:

  • 100% organic wheat flour (this is the only difference between the loaves: one is a ww hard red, the other a hard white wheat flour that is not whole)
  • 76% water
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 2% salt

Both doughs were stretched and folded, for about 4 hours.  Then the dough was divided, bench-rested, and shaped before placing in a basket to proof in a cold environment (my fridge, my garage) overnight.

The white wheat dough was very sloppy and sticky.  It is a long time since I have used anything but whole wheat flour in bread dough.  I could tell that the gluten wasn't developing the same way as the hard red whole wheat flour; furthermore, I could tell that there wasn't much bran in this extremely white dough.  I had added the usual 5% wheat germ back into the mixture, but it still didn't have the 'golden' look to it that has been described of white whole wheat flour.  This whiteness was an unnatural whiteness.

The proofed dough was sagging despite being chilled, but there was the usual fairly good oven spring for the loaves.

I wish it had been 100% whole white wheat flour I was using, for a proper "pan integral bakeoff".

Questions, questions, questions about Hard White Wheat
Organic White Wheat Flour is prohibitively expensive.

Is it worth buying?  Does it appreciably add value to one's loaf?  Is the nutritional quality on par with regular (hard red) wheat?  Is the baking quality similar -- i.e. does it make a good loaf of bread?  How's it taste?  Are the organic claims legit -- i.e. has it been genetically modified to be an albino grain?  These are all the kinds of questions that someone who knows nothing about it would ask.  That's what I wanted to know.

So in addition to building 2 loaves, side by side, I did a bit of Internet research on the topics.  In other words, I let Google serve me up a few interesting web sites until my curiosity was satiated.  

If there is one thing I've discovered from trying to obtain white wheat berries from the Arva Flour Mill, its that the average person like me is going to have a hard time obtaining white wheat berries.  Why?

Justin Turner, working on his Master of Food Science in Kansas in 2003 (Turner, J. (2003) Whole wheat flour milling: effects of variety and particle size. MS thesis. Kansas State University.  67p), provided part of the answer:

"The majority of whole-wheat or whole grain products sold in the baking section of grocery stores are made from red whole wheat.  The reason for this is most likely due to the availability of hard white wheat and the extra costing involved with sourcing, procurement, transportation, and identity preservation of these varieties.  The extra costs involved in creating a supply chain for hard white wheat products are something that most consumers would not pay more for." 

It is no great secret that there are health benefits to eating whole grains rather than refined grains, but consumers as a whole are not buying it -- we as a whole society are not eating enough, in ratio to the amount of refined grains -- and this fact is not lost on food producers.  Most people tend to like the taste of refined grain products.  Because of this, according to the study of Chase (Chase, K. et al. (2004) Perceptions Of Members of the American Association of Cereal Chemists Regarding Production of Whole Grain Foods. Journal of Food Distribution Research. 35(3) pp. 53-59),  industry leaders have not been historically keen on promoting whole wheat products.  But white wheat has piqued the interest of captains of industry because it can fool consumers into thinking they are eating refined products.  The taste of hard white wheat is often described as "milder," which many consumers seem to prefer (for some reason; to me, another way to say "milder" is "tasteless").  

Hard white wheat is something that some of the big users of wheat products are beginning to demand.  The Whole Grains Council lists many of the larger manufacturers who have sourced white wheat for their bread: King Arthur, George Weston Bakeries, Maple Leaf Bakery, Rich's, Farmer Direct, etc.   These large-scale users of white wheat are able to afford the "identity preservation" of a white wheat supply chain, and are able to claim "whole wheat" status on bread that looks and tastes almost like highly processed bread flour.

But how does it compare to bread made from red whole wheat?

The Whole Grains Council will tell you that white wheat is nutritionally similar to red wheat -- that there are bigger nutritional differences to be found based on where and when wheat is grown (and how much water it receives), than the variety.  But then, they will admit that the genes of the white wheat are different -- they have to be, they don't even have the gene(s) that encode(s) for bran colour.  And of course, the bran does not have the same "strongly-flavored phenolic compounds' as red wheat.  That means the taste is different: it is milder, and it has a lighter texture.  And try as they might to avoid it, they do seem to admit that the protein is slightly less than red wheat -- you have to adjust your recipes.

Maziya-Dixon & Klopfenstein's study (Maziya-Dixon B. and Klopfenstein, C. (1994) Nutritional properties of hard white and hard red winter wheats and oatmeal I. effects on cholesterol levels and faecal fat, neutral sterols and bile acids in cholesterol-fed rats. Cereal chemistry.  71(6). pp. 539-543) found that whole red and whole white flours when mixed similarly had the same viscosity.  This should mean that if I am substituting whole grain for whole grain, I shouldn't have to adjust the materials for viscosity at all.  However, similar hydration might still not work as well, for a couple of reasons: (1) there still may be a difference in protein.  A stronger gluten net is going to trap more air and other gases. (2) white whole grain may be milled to an extremely fine powder.  The bran may not have the same water-carrying ability, if ground very fine.

Okay, so the nutrition, and the feel of the dough might be more or less the same (if the grain is whole, and the flour is milled similarly); but what about the final product?

Studies with an "electronic nose" (Sapirstein H. et al. (2012). Discrimination of volatiles of refined and whole wheat bread containing red and white wheat bran using an electronic nose. J Food Sci 77(11). pp. S399-406) have shown that white whole wheat can fool people into assuming that the bread they are eating is made with refined flour.  The crust is lighter, the crumb does not remind people of traditional whole wheat, and the aroma of white whole wheat bread does not even give it away, because the white bran has an entirely different complement of volatiles, closer to white bread made without bran (again, one wonders about the change in nutrition, therefore, if the volatiles are different).

Luminosity studies show that the phenolic acids are different in white wheat, and this changes the colour. (Jiang, H. et al. (2011) Color of whole-wheat foods prepared from a bright-white hard winter wheat and the phenolic acids in its coarse bran. J Food Sci. 76(6). pp. 846-52.) Specifically, white wheat seems to have more protocatechuic and p-hydroxybenzoic acids in its mix of phenolics.

Most surprising, Maziya-Dixon B. and Klopfenstein (Maziya-Dixon B. and Klopfenstein, C. (1994) Nutritional properties of hard white and hard red winter wheats and oatmeal II. effects on faecal water-holding capacity and loss of protein, ash, calcium and zinc in cholesterol-fed rats. Cereal chemistry.  71(6). pp. 544-547) found that while Red Whole Flour seems to have slightly more ash, and zinc, White Whole Flour has slightly more fibre (both soluble and insoluble), and more calcium and physic acid.  And curiously -- again, because it seems more counter-intuitive -- increased soluble fibre meant less calcium loss, in animal nutritional studies.

So it would seem that if I were to obtain hard white wheat berries, and mill them to a certain fineness, the bran would still be there in the mixture, conferring all the benefits of whole grain, and yet the bread crust would look tan and the crumb would be ivory white, and it would smell and look like a bread made with refined white flour.

Hard White Wheats
I corralled my research into White Hard Wheat with a quick survey of what types are available here in North America, what cultivars and varieties are being grown.  According to the Dow patent, 1990 was the year that "Hard white wheat" was added as a U.S. market class.  According to the Whole Grains Council, Australia had been growing white hard wheat for decades prior to that.  Much of the work that went into developing hard white wheat for the North American climate was started in Kansas.  According to the patent by Monsanto, developing new cultivars takes exacting and expensive research requiring 7-12 years of selective breeding.  Incidentally, all of these patents make for very interesting reading; the Monsanto patent in particular goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the genes their hard white wheat has been selected for in their breeding program -- including disease resistance, high yield, herbicide tolerance, whiteness, strong gluten, etc.:

However, farmers would not look for seed with these patented names, but would rather know the wheat they grow by their 'popular' cultivar names.  The following list is not necessarily complete, merely representative.  If nothing else, it should show the flurry of activity in the breeding programs for hard white wheat, since the earliest cultivar I found mentioned (Ramona50, released in 1951).  As export markets of China and Japan demand more white wheat, we can expect the amount of white wheat flour to grow, as a market percentage, here in North America.

  • AC Vista - 1996 - developed by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • Snowite475 -- 2007 -- developed by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • Snow White -- 1993 -- Goertzen Seed Research
  • Lolo (IDO 533) - 1997, 2003 - developed by University of Idaho
  • Argent - 1998 - developed by NDSU
  • Explorer - 2001 - developed by Montana State University
  • WestBred - 2001 - developed by WestBred
  • AC Snowbird - 2004 - developed by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • Wendy - 2004 - developed by South Dakota State University
  • Golden 86 - sold by Walton Feed, Idaho, but seems to be somewhat of a mystery grain, according to the provenance related at cfi
  • IDO377S -- 1994 -- developed by Idaho Breeding Program
  • Lochsa(IDO 597) -- 2006 -- developed by University of Idaho  
  • Otis (WA 007931) -- 2005 -- Agricultural Research Center of Washington state university  (and University of Idaho, Oregon state University, and USDA-ARS)
  • Blanca Grande -- 2001, 2006 -- Resource Seeds Inc.
  • Blanca Fuerte --2006 -- Resource seeds Inc.
  • Blanca Royale -- 2007 -- Resource seeds Inc
  • Clear White -- 2005 -- University of California
  • Patwin -- 2006 -- University of California
  • Patwin 515 -- 2011 -- University of California
  • Platte2 (96x0799-14W) -- 2006 -- AgriPro Wheat
  • WB-Cristallo -- 2009 -- Westbred LLC
  • WB-Paloma -- 2010 -- Monsanto Technology LLC
  • Oro Blanco -- 1996 -- AgriPro Seeds, Inc.
  • RonL (KS03HW158) -- 2006 -- Kansas AES, KSU
  • Shavano (HV9W98-929W) -- 2006 -- WestBred, LLC
  • Galileo (ID0641) Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Gary (ID550) -- 2001 -- Ed Souza at Aberdeen
  • UI Darwin (ID0641) -- 2006 -- Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station 
  • MDM (WA7936) -- 2005 00 WSU 
  • NuDakota (97ROM-SDW) -- 2006 -- AgriPro Wheat 
  • NuFronter (W94-480s) -- 2001 -- General Mills Operations, Inc.
  • NuGrain (W98-530-03W or GM1006) -- 2006 -- AgriPro Wheat
  • NuHorison (W95-610w) -- 2001 -- General mills Operations, Inc
  • Palomino (W96-359W) -- 2007 -- Agripro Wheat
  • WB-Perla (SI909-371W)-- 2011 -- WestBred, a uniti of Monsanto Co.
  • Alta Blanca (IDO470) -- 2006 -- University of Idaho
  • Delano (APB W10-8) -- 1994 -- Arizona Plant Breeders
  • Golden Spike (UTI944-158) -- 1999 -- Utah AES
  • Ivory (OR850513) -- 1998 -- OSU Kronstrad
  • Idaho 377s -- 1995 -- Idaho AES
  • Macon -- 2002 -- Agricultural Research Center of Washington state university  (and University of Idaho, Oregon state University, and USDA-ARS)
  • YU995-231W -- 2002 -- Western Plant Breeders
  • WB-Cristallo (DA904-32W) -- 2009 -- WestBred, LLC
  • MT9420 -- 2008 -- Montana State University
  • Pristine -- 2000-2 -- Western Plant Breeders
  • Ramona 50 -- 1951 -- California AES and USDA-ARS
  • Siete Cerros 66 -- 1966 -- International maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Mexican Ministry of Agriculture (INIA)
  • Vaiolet -- 1998 -- AllStar Seed Company
  • Winsome -- 1998 -- Oregon AES
  • Klasic -- 1981  -- Northrup-King & Co.
  • BZ998-247W --2003 -- Western Plant Breeders
  • BZ998-256W -- 2003 -- Western Plant Breeders
  • CA-901-580W -- 2004 -- WestBred, LLC
  • CA907-8186W -- 2009 -- WestBred, LLC
  • Clara CL (KS08HW35-1) -- 2012 -- Kansas State Univ. Res. Foundation
  • KS03HW6-6 -- 2006 -- Kansas AES, KSU
  • KS84063-2W -- 1998 -- KSU Agronomy dept
  • KS85W663-42 -- 1998 -- KSU Agronomy dept
  • KS95HW61-6 -- 1999 -- Kansas AES, KSU
  • KS96HW115 -- 2000 -- KSU Agricultural Research Center
  • Palamino (W96-359W) 200? -- Agripro 
  • AP402 CL2 (CL03016) -- 2008 -- Syngenta Seeds
  • Arlin -- 1993 -- Kansas AES, KSU
  • Aspen (HV9W96-1383W) -- 2008 -- WestBred, LLC
  • Phoenix -- 1981 -- California AES and University of Melbourne
  • Pima 77 - 1977 -- International Maize and wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Mexican Ministry of Agriculture (INIA)
  • Plata -- 2001 -- Resource Seeds Inc. 
  • Prairie Gold - sold by Wheat Montana since 1988; same as Golden 86 (according to cfisupply)

Some of my Sources, for the above list:

Bread Results
Both of these breads are good.  I prefer the red whole wheat 100% pan integral.  It has more flavour, more taste, more bulk, you really feel you are getting something nutritious when you eat it.  You don't require much -- one or two slices, and you don't think about food for hours.  I'm not used to eating breads with refined flour -- which is what most of the world apparently demands.

My wife likes the lighter loaf.  I'll be honest and tell you that when I eat it, I like the taste, but I don't like the way it makes me feel afterwards.  I feel bloated.  I don't feel full, I feel like I want to eat again soon.  And my breathing changes: my breath is noticeably shallower.  I don't know how to describe this sensation.  I don't feel good about myself when I eat processed wheat.

But I also have to say that I'm disappointed that I haven't yet have the opportunity to make my own whole grain, whole hard white wheat loaf, for a true bakeoff comparison.  I will have to search beyond the Arva Flour Mills for the grain, and mill it -- perhaps grow it -- myself.

Notes to Myself
  • Lots of interesting factoids in the article by Maziya-Dixon B. and Klopfenstein. For example, it was once believed that both fibre and phytate bind minerals (eg. calcium, zinc) in the digestive tract, making them biologically unavailable. But red and white wheats "showed no significant differences in physic acid concentration," and "red...flour diets were more efficient feeds than the respective white wheat diets." Furthermore, "whole wheat diets" were found to provide more calcium absorption than diets of either straight flour, or straight bran. In an effort to explain this surprising finding, the authors of the study suggested that "fermentation of soluble fibers in the colon may result in lowered pH values. That could make the calcium more soluble, thereby enhancing its absorption." They also thought that the more phytates in the flour, the more phytase might also appear, which would render the binding ability of phytate to be less, and the absorption of minerals would actually be enhanced.
  • Not only are white wheat varieties patented, a special method of milling white wheat has been patented.  ConAgra sells their white whole wheat "Ultragrain Flour", and it has pursued copyright infringement lawsuits in 2011 against ADM, which sells "Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat Flour."
  • I'll have to somehow obtain some (organic) white wheat cultivar and grow it in my backyard.  I may be able to get some berries for my personal use from Wheat Montana.  If I can do it, why can't Arva Flour Mills?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hemp, Semolina and Celery Seed Bread and a bread made with Kamut

Feb. 12

Made a couple of breads today.

Bread#1: partial hemp and semolina with celery seed

  • 700g ww flour
  • 200g hemp flour
  • 100g semolina flour
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 20g celery seed
  • 20g salt
  • 750g water
  • some flax seeds for the top

This was a very damp dough, so I didn't add any extra water at the addition of salt.  It did improve after a bit of sitting.  I only turned it twice, and then decided sleep was more important.  And I was noticing that my sourdough wasn't performing very well -- I hadn't refreshed it for 3 days, and it was likely nearly spent -- so I opted for a longer bulk ferment, in tins, and I'd bake it in the morning.

I baked it at 500 degrees F for 20 minutes, in a covered roasting pan, then removed the lid and baked another 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Then I removed it from the pan and baked it on the rack for an additional 6-8  minutes.  When it came out of the oven, I immediately brushed butter on the top to soften the crust.

Bread #2.  Partial Kamut with added flax and bran
I refreshed the sourdough again, and it seemed to be more viable now, so I made this second bread, after taking the tinned loaves from the oven.  This bread consisted of:

  • 700g ww flour
  • 300g kamut flour
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 50g wheat bran
  • 50g flax seed
  • 750g water
  • 20g salt

No great design here.  I simply was using up some flour and other materials that I had on hand.  I had no idea whether the kamut was whole grain, so I added the extra bran.  It can never hurt.

I have been using organic ww flour now since January, and notice no difference in taste or quality.  I suppose one pays extra for psychological benefits, and peace of mind.  And for the earth too.

I really liked the partial hemp and celery seed bread -- but my wife found it bitter.  I found the taste interesting, and I also found that it left my breath fresh (unlike some breads).

I felt that the partial kamut and bran loaf was also good; it had a good rise despite the branniness of the crumb, which bordered on the furry when the knife went through it. But  my wife found it a bit more sour in taste than usual.  That's probably a reflection on the state of my starter, more than anything else. 

On Kamut

These scientists decided to test the hypothesis that our modern wheat causes more immune response than more ancient grains -- a view that has been popularized by  many people, including Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly.

The science does not support this view, at least, not yet.  This article tested a couple of "ancient grains" -- Graziella Ra and Kamut, both thought to be older versions of our modern Durum wheat.  Comparing it to four modern Durum wheats (Cappelli, Flaminio, Grazia and Svevo) they found the ancient wheat causes similar immune response with those suffering from celiac disease.  The older the variety, the more protein it had; the more protein, the more gliadin, and thus, the similar immune response from those with Celiac Disease.  There were some small differences in the proteins, but it was felt that in the absence of more study, all of these varieties had potential to elicit an immune response in susceptible humans.

And how far back does one have to go, in history, to find an "ancient grain" wheat variety that would not cause an immune reaction in those who are susceptible?

Interesting factoid from the article: "Capelli is an Italian traditional strain of durum wheat which deserves a privileged place among the varieties of old established durum wheat for being the very first selected variety."   (The Italian Traditions web site tells us that the Capelli wheat was selected for in 1915.) Flaminio, Grazia and Svevo are contemporary varieties.  Graziella Ra and Kamut are distant ancestors, so far back their relationship to durham is controversial, debated amongst geneticists.  And what we find is that the protein levels are higher in the earlier wheat varieties, less in newer varieties.

So how to explain that Celiac Disease and immune responses to wheat are on the rise, if older varieties would have caused CD too?  Here's a thought: is it possible that there are more people who have more immune reactions to wheat these days because more of them are surviving?  A whole lot of diseases that are on the rise might also fall into this category -- e.g. Diabetes.  People are living longer with these genetic predispositions, long enough to have children of their own (which may or may not have happened as often in the past, due to a lack of understanding of the illness, or less medical care).  Since these problems are better understood, people are surviving, and are now passing along more of their genetic material.

Wheat is also passing along its genetic material, to newer varieties.  By studying ancient grains, we are learning what we need to select for our future grain.

Notes to Myself
  • The Italian Traditions web site has a good description of the how to make Capelli Bread. I am a bit curious about what the difference is between "Yeast culture" and "Sourdough", but I am intrigued by the method, which no doubt has evolved within the culture of South Italy, alongside their preferred variety of durum wheat. In a nutshell, the method is:
    • In the evening, 1/3 of the culture yeast is mixed with 2/3 capelli flour.
    • It is left 3 1/2 hours, then the same proportions are repeated.
    • When the dough doubles in size, the culture yeast has leavened the dough and its ready to use.
    • It is kneaded 30 minutes, and then the dough is left to proof in wooden containers lined with coarse, dry cloths. Again, it is left 3 1/2 hours.
    • Baking time and temperature depend on the size of the dough

Monday, February 11, 2013

Everyday Sourdough Bread, 20% Rye, 80% WW

My Everyday 20% Rye Bread

This is my go-to bread.  My fall-back-on bread.  My everyday bread that I make without thinking.   I made sure I had some on hand, in case the latest garlic powder bread didn't work out (and it didn't).  I knew I could count on this bread.

But it means there is nothing new to learn here.  I put some flax seeds on the crust.  That's all.

Thoughts of Rye
I'm growing some rye in one of my raised beds in my backyard, this year, to see what will happen.  Planted in the fall, now it is under a blanket of snow.  I've been warned about ergot, which led me to look at that again.  This blog represents a couple of hours of browsing/research/fun.

Kren (Kren, V. (ed.) (1999) Ergot: the genus claviceps. OPAreported that in 1992, P.M. Scott completed a study of Ergot in grain foods sold in Canada (The original article is: Scott, P. et al. (1992).  Ergot alkaloids in grain foods sold in Canada. J. AOAC Int. 75:773-779 -- but I couldn't find it online), and found that as much as 4 ppm are in our foods, despite improvements in cleaning methods.  This is thought to be small enough in quantity that it will not cause "St. Anthony's Fire," but it is a concern to be diligent in testing.

The fungus is in all grain foods, but there is more in foods made with rye flour.

In Europe, the European Food safety Authority (EFSA), of Parma Italy, concluded that ergot alkaloids are present in food, and determined that muscle atrophy occurs at a level of 0.33 mg/kg by weight per day (using rat studies).  Tested grain foods were found to be contaminated at lower levels, and the toxicological risk was determined to be low (Alexander, J. et al. (2012) Scientific Opinion on Ergot alkaloids in food and feed. EFSA Journal 10(7) pp 2798-2956).  

A good description of St. Anthony's fire, along with some of the history of ergotism can be found in this article: De Costa, C. (2002) St Anthony's fire and living ligatures: a short history of ergometrine. The Lancet. 359. May 18. p 1768-1770.  A more complete history can be found in Lee, M. (2009) The history of ergot of rye (Claviceps purpurea) I: From antiquity to 1900. J. R. Col. Physicians Edinb 39. p 179-84, and points out the difficulty chemists have had isolating the active ingredients in the fungus.

Clearly this is a dangerous substance, for the way it affects bloodflow in the extremities, leading to gangrene, or sometimes convulsions, and even death.  But it remains a feared curiosity in our cultural context, due to its association with the hallucinations of St. Anthony of the Desert, and because LSD is derived from ergotamine -- and we all know the interest that LSD garnered in the 60's.

Merhoff and Porter (Merhoff, C. and Porter, J. (1974) Ergot Intoxication: historical review and description of unusual clinical manifestations. Ann surg 180(5) pp. 773- 779) discussed some of the mental symptoms of ergot ingestion: formication (or the feeling of bugs under the skin), transient disorientation to permanent dementia.  All of these effects are usually thought to be secondary to vasoconstriction and ischemia.  The hallucinations, including the feeling of flying, are probably related to the effects of the ergotamine chemicals on the neurological receptors.

The Sologne in central France was a swampy area until the early 1700s.  It must have remained wet in those rainy years in the generation following the land reclamation, and became a prime breeding ground for ergot when rye was grown extensively.  A good description of what Dodart encountered when he investigated the cause of St. Anthony's fire among patients in the area can be found in Stroup, Alice. (1990) A Company of Scientists: Botany, Patronage, and Community at the Seventeenth-Century Parisian Royal Academy of Sciences. Berkeley:  University of California Press.  If anyone was under the impression that a peasant's diet of whole grain, black bread was superior to a more balanced diet, this short chapter should correct that view.

Large scale outbreaks like what occurred in Sologne France in 1778, when 8000+ people died, are no longer to be found; but "ergotism in the more developed world has been confined to individual cases of ergotamine overdosage."  Ergot is still used medicinally, and this is often how the poisoning occurs these days.

Mycotoxins and aflatoxins are ubiquitous in our food.  But it seems that healthy bodies can tolerate a small bit of ergot, and good nutrition is paramount to the body's ability to cope.  Studies of various aflatoxins have shown that pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is important to prevent liver damage, as is the amino acid methionine and vitamin B12 (each of which may have neurological consequences if they are not in balance).  Balanced vitamin A is also helpful -- you shouldn't have too much or too little (Newberne, P. (1974) Mycotoxins: Toxicity, carcinogenicity and the influence of various nutritional conditions. Environmental Health Perspectives 9. pp. 1-32).

Identifying ergot in rye is important for me, since I plan on growing it and harvesting it and making bread from my own backyard supply, some day.  I spent some time examining this text: Alderman, S. (1999). A laboratory guide to the identification of Claviceps purpurea and claviceps africana in grass and sorghum seed samples.  Oregon Dept Agriculture.

Bread results
Hard to look at this loaf and realize that the dark rye flour I used probably contains a teensy bit of ergot.  Does it make me feel any better to understand that the levels are probably safe?

Some weirdly shaped holes in tis side of the loaf.
Probably due to the way it was shaped; the rest of the bread was fairly dense.

I enjoyed eating this bread.  And thankfully -- so far -- I don't feel like I have bugs crawling around under my skin.

Notes to Myself
  • I have always had an outsider's interest in the strange hallucinogenic states that narcotics like morphine can have on the human mind; and a fascination with LSD without ever wanting to try it.  Similarly, I've been curious about exorphins, psilocybin, salvia, ergot, and many other 'natural' hallucinogens for some time.  I've also asked myself what is going on, when people experience spiritual states of consciousness through exercise, or meditation or other similar spiritual or religious practice -- but for some reason, I've stopped short of experimenting with anything other than bread.  And the occasional meditation.
  • We should be able to get B vitamins (other than B12) in our cereals; and we should also be able to get pyridoxine there too.  Does that make them safer, I wonder?  But not if we take out the germ -- then the flour is deficient in B6...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Celery Seed Rye Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Rye Bread with Celery Seed

We've all heard some crazy shit about celery.  Like the urban myth that says it costs more in calories to masticate and metabolize celery than it provides, therefore it is the perfect diet food.  Or the belief that it transforms the breath of human males, making them exhale pheromone-like substances which makes them suddenly more attractive to women (at the same time boosting the male's libido, fortunately).

Well, that last one is sorta true.  In theory.  Most of the girls I've met aren't really that impressed with celery-munchers (or bread eaters, come to think of it).  I think they must be more interested in guys exuding pure testosterone than androstenone...

I could say something about celery seed extract here, and how it has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and inhibit stroke; I could point to studies that show celery seeds have many unique compounds that are beneficial in various ways -- antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, inhibiting cancer growth.  But by now, no doubt, you've grown tired and suspicious of the hype surrounding celery seeds.  I know I have.

But the point I'd like to make is this: you can take the extract, for arthritis, or gout, or any other ailment that the seed itself has been used for since before the Romans took over the boot of Italy.  And you can hope that the scientists who have concentrated the extracts have left all the beneficial things that celery root in its whole form might have (even though they don't know all the details yet).  Or you can just eat some seed.  

In this bread, I add some seed to the dough, and I get my celery seed this way.

How much seed do you need?  I dunno.  The celery seed extract companies want you to take a "75mg capsule standardized to contain 85% 3nB and other celery phthalates at a dosage of 75 to 150 mg twice daily."  (Natural factors, Reseach Information, Celery Seed Extract).  3nB stands for 3-n-butylphthalide, one of the molecules found in celery that has been found to be so beneficial.  Apparently this corresponds to "8 ribs of celery per day."

Here's what I did. 20g of seed is enough to taste the celery flavour, a little bit.  And it turns out, this gives you a pretty good representation of celery seed in your diet.*

Same amount of celery seed, by weight, as the salt to be added

20% Rye Loaf with celery seed

  • 80% ww flour
  • 20% rye flour
  • 20% sourdough
  • 2% salt
  • 2% celery seed
  • 76% water

Even adding a tiny bit of seed to the dough, as I've done here, the seed takes on water and gives the dough a mucilaginous texture.  It becomes gluier, tighter, quicker.  The gluten won't develop as much elasticity, even at 76% hydration.

I liked this loaf well enough.  I could double the celery seed next time to see what would happen -- but I would have to increase the water content, for sure, to offset the mucilage that would tighten the dough.

Now if you add celery seed to maca in dough, you might be looking at an unbeatable sex bread combination.  In theory.

Notes to Myself

Friday, February 8, 2013

White Bean Sourdough Raisin Bread

This recipe originated with The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.  I've made  her Black Turtle Bean Raisin Bread before, and liked it.  This time, I used white beans, and sourdough.

Everything else is pretty much the same.  Except I pre-cooked the beans, froze them, and just thawed them and used them when I wanted them.  That meant I didn't keep the reserved bean water.  Oh, and I used a bit more beans, because I was adding 20% sourdough.  I took the beans to 30%.

300g of white beans, precooked, frozen, then thawed

Teasing the dough instead of kneading it leaves the beans largely intact

And I didn't knead it.  I developed the gluten the Tartine way, through folds and turns.  That worked fine, but the beans stayed chunky.  They look a bit like macadamia nuts, in the dough.

Pretty good bread.  The beans don't have a lot of taste, but the raisins and molasses make this a very sweet bread.  I think it could have used a bit more baking time.  There were spots where the bread sat on the hot stone that didn't look baked through.  I think the dough is pretty wet and needs a lot longer baking time.

Notes to Myself
  • I wonder if dusting and rolling the beans in paprika or cayenne might give this bread an interesting twist.

A Rather Bland Kamut Loaf

Not much to say about this loaf.  Some might think that's a good thing.

Clerk at the store where I got this kamut flour asked me why I use it, and I said that it tastes good, so it is worth it.  However, this time I used it, the loaf tasted rather bland.

Not sure why, exactly.  Was it because my taste buds had been given a recent zing through the increased sour taste of Whitley's loaf, or because of the many garlic breads I've been experimenting with?

  • 70% ww flour
  • 30% kamut flour
  • 2% salt
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 75% hydration


Nothing wrong with these loaves, they were just blah.  Or is that bleh?  Or meh?

Say this 3 times, quickly:

Bland Bread, Bland Bread, Bland Bread.

Meh. I think I heard a 'blah' in there.

Notes to Myself
  • Semolina tastes better than kamut

Garlic Bread Failure

Realizing that the last Whitely Easy Sourdough Loaf had great keeping power, I decided to try it again:

  • 760g ww flour
  • 40g wheat germ
  • 128g sourdough
  • 13g salt
  • 560g water

It is a good thing I made this bread, it carried me through, when I thought I'd be eating this next bread:  I made a loaf with garlic powder.  And that "garlic powder bread" was an abysmal failure.

  • 1000g ww flour
  • 750g water
  • 20g salt
  • 200g sourdough
  • 150g garlic powder
  • 50g wheat germ

This dough didn't rise, it just sat there like a stone.  It was as if the garlic powder totally inhibited the yeast and the bacteria, and they became inert.

Fail: this loaf didn't rise and didn't bake

It did smell nice when baking.  And my friend, to whom I give half of my loaves, said he even liked the taste -- what he ate of it.  But it was so dense it didn't bake well.  Even with extra oven time, it did not bake all the way through.  A total disaster, I nibbled at the crust of a slice, and then promptly gave the entire mess to the chickens.

Why bother adding things like Garlic Powder to bread dough?
Here's the thing.  I've discovered, over the last few years of looking into bread, that it is a wonderful, high-energy foodstuff -- for those who can tolerate it (and most of us can).  

However, for all its amazing properties, it is not a complete protein.  It is low in lysine, for example.  Hussain's team in Pakistan (Hussain, T. et. al (2004). Lysine fortification of wheat flour improves selected indices of the nutritional status of predominantly cereal-eating families in Pakistan. Food Nutr Bull. 25(2) pp.114-22) proved that supplementing lysine in bread, when bread constitutes much of the diet, will improve children's height and weight scores, and will increase hemoglobin, transferrin levels (so it should improve oxygenation), CD4, CD8 and complement C3 (so it should boost immunity).  Adults also showed a moderate increase in the prealbumin -- which should lead to increased metabolic regulation.

I probably seek out lysine-rich food like cheese to put on my finished loaves, and perhaps that is one way to supplement the amino acids in the diet that consumes a lot of bread.  But another way would be to look for other ingredients which contain lysine, or other limiting amino acids, and add them to the dough.  Unfortunately for the vegetarian, a lot of vegetables and roots and things that might go into bread are similarly limited by lysine.

And besides, lysine isn't the only reason I want to add ingredients to my bread.  Ever since making my coconut bread (see my sidebar rant on that posting about 'why are we eating?') I have been thinking about nootropics recently. How do we boost brain power?  How do we provide nourishment to the brain?  What do we require in our diet to move nutrients through the blood-brain barrier, to enable the brain to think clearly, and work optimally?  That has been where my recent thoughts have taken me.

There is so much I don't know about this, and the learning curve is steep.  In the meantime, I have just been experimenting with adding things to dough that I think might help.  Without knowing what to do, I've been using intuition, and using the things that I happen upon.

So recently, I've added some of the following ingredients to my loaves: coconut flour, maca root flour, hemp, etc.  Since making the Maca loaf, out of Peruvian maca, I have been wondering what sort of root from this country I might add to dough.  Perhaps Jerusalem Artichoke, or potato, or turnip... but then it occurred to me that garlic had a lot of almost magical properties, and perhaps garlic powder might give a loaf an interesting quality.

Not a root, but a bulb, the problem with garlic is that it has antibiotic and antifungal properties.  It occurred to me after trying the first loaf that this was the main problem with my garlic loaf.  It was attacking the sourdough that was supposed to leaven the dough.  I decided to try it again.  A different way.

Garlic Powder Loaf Attempt 2
For my second attempt at using Garlic Powder, I made the usual 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, but this time I didn't add the 150g of Garlic Powder until the bulk fermentation stage was done.  At this point, the gluten had developed from about 4 hours of gentle stretches and folds.  At the moment when the dough was divided, then pre-shaped, and finally shaped, I added as much garlic powder as I could -- and I used it in place of flour on the countertop.  So a certain amount was incorporated in the interior of the dough, but much more was incorporated into the crust.

The bread did not proof long before it was covered and placed in the refrigerator overnight (about 8 hours).  Upon awakening, it was removed and brought to room temperature for 2 hours, then baked on a stone with steam.  I found the crust quite tough to score; it felt sort of like cutting into flesh.  And the garlic powder in the baskets where the dough had proofed was very damp and clumpy.

I had better results with the rising, this time.

Adding garlic powder at the end of the bulk fermentation worked a little better.  A side effect of this, however: this bread had a very crispy crust, and the garlic scent was pretty overpowering.  If you like garlic -- if you like a lot of garlic -- and you don't mind a strange crust, this loaf might be up your alley.  But this bread is probably not for me.  I just can't get over what garlic does to the breath.

About Breath
Perusing the wiki on garlic, I was struck by the section 'Adverse effects and toxicology,' wherein it is mentioned that garlic breath is caused by "allyl methyl sulphide (AMS).  AMS is a volatile liquid which is absorbed into the blood during the metabolism of garlic-derived sulphur compounds; from the blood it travels to the lungs…," and out through the breath.

Following wikipedia's footnotes to find the source of this info, one quickly comes to the conclusion that there are many other compounds in garlic that similarly are absorbed by the bloodstream and travel to the lungs, where they are excreted/exuded.  AMS just happens to be the one we associate the most with garlic breath (Block, E. (2010). Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 0-85404-190-7.)  This has all been carefully studied, because garlic has some amazing properties and scientists want to know what's going on (Rosen, R. et. al. (2001). Determination of Allicin, S-Allylcysteine and volatile metabolites of garlic in breath, plasma or simulated gastric fluids. J of Nutrition. 131(3) pp. 968s-971s).

But the work with garlic made me wonder: what are the metabolites of ordinary bread that come out through the lungs?  I don't necessarily think that "wheat breath" is as powerful a scent as garlic breath, but i believe that some of the components of bread metabolism do reach the lungs; some of these molecules may follow the gradient involved in the exchange of gases (oxygen for carbon dioxide).  And some of these metabolites of our diet may or may not end up in the mucosa and tissues of the lungs themselves.

I have for some time been curious about whether eating whole grain breads, in the amount that I do, causes an increase in the quantity or quality of boogers (e.g. see here, or here).  (Or is it just that I eat most of my bread as sandwiches while at work, and in that extra-dry, almost poisonous, enclosed hospital air environment, my nasal mucosa just naturally pick up more of the gunk floating around there, and so I merely associate the boogers with the bread, but there is no causal link?)

How does an ordinary human test such things, without access to a gas spectroscope or high-powered microscope?  

I have mentioned the hydrogen breath test before, when I blogged about fructose.  It has long been known (Douwes, A. et al (1985) Hydrogen breath test in schoolchildren. Arch Dis Child 60. pp 333-337) that the exhaled breath will contain more hydrogen (like, >100ppm) if ingested carbohydrate is improperly metabolized.  The bacteria in the gut will produce hydrogen because they are fermenting that undigested carb.  The hydrogen goes through the gut lining, into the bloodstream and then into the lungs and is exhaled; it does not just leak back up through the GI tract and out the esophagus (Rumessen J (1992). Hydrogen and methane breath tests for evaluation of resistant carbohydrates. Eur J Clin Nutr 46 pp S77-90).  

What else goes through our bloodstream and to our lungs when we eat bread?  Certainly nutrients travel the bloodstream and go to the cells; the liver scoops up a lot of the remaining stuff we can't use and either stores it or breaks it down again.  So what manages to slip by the filters and continue on to the heart and its pulmonary loop, and out through the breath?  One can see tiny hydrogen escaping fairly easily.  But what else?

How do we perform breath gas analysis, without expensive machinery?  I'm sure that my dog can tell you everything I ate in the last 30 days, by scent forward and backward.  But unfortunately (or depending on how you look at it, fortunately -- can you imagine humans getting into the habit of sniffing butt the way dogs greet each other?), my sniffer isn't as good as a dog's.  So how is the average person supposed to know what is in his or her breath?

As someone who has taken CPR courses, and has provided CPR in the course of my professional life as a nurse, we learn that the breath we exhale contains carbon dioxide yes, but also some oxygen, enough for a victim who requires CPR to benefit from our exhalation if they are not breathing on their own.

Air is composed of approximately:

  • 78% nitrogen
  • 21% oxygen
  • 1% argon
  • 1-4% water vapour
  • 0.04% carbon dioxide
  • 0.002% neon
  • 0.0005% helium
  • 0.0002% methane
  • 0.0001% krypton
  • 0.00006% hydrogen
  • 0.00003% nitrous oxide
  • 0.00001% carbon monoxide
  • 0.00001% xenon
  • 0.000007% ozone
  • 0.000002% nitrogen dioxide
  • 0.000001% iodine
  • trace ammonia
This is the ambient atmosphere, for most of us.  Breath typically uses 4-5% of the oxygen we inhale, and replaces that volume with a similar mass of carbon dioxide.  And so the exhalation contains, roughly:

  • 78% nitrogen
  • 13-16% oxygen
  • 1% argon
  • 5% water vapour
  • 4-5.3% carbon dioxide
  • 0.002% neon
  • 0.0005% helium
  • 0.0002% methane
  • 0.0001% krypton
  • 0.00006% hydrogen
  • 0.00003% nitrous oxide
  • 0.00001% carbon monoxide
  • 0.00001% xenon
  • 0.000007% ozone
  • 0.000002% nitrogen dioxide
  • 0.000001% iodine
  • trace ammonia
  • acetone
  • methanol
  • ethanol
  • other volatile organic compounds

But there are literally hundreds of volatile organic compounds in breath, leading the international association of breath research to set up a database to better understand them.

The smell of acetone has long been used as a marker for diabetes (but it can also be used to monitor low carbohydrate diets, and weight reduction, and exercise levels); cirrhosis may increase concentrations of thio compounds (methanethiol, ethanethiol, dimethysulfides and alkanethiol and alkysulfides); ammonia, dimethyl sulphide and mercaptans are increased in hepatic disease; ammonia has also been found to be increased in breath exhalation as we age (Spanel, P. et al. (2007) Acetone, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide in exhaled breath of several volunteers aged 4–83 years. J Breath Res 1 pp L1-4); and demethylamine and trimethylamine are increased in uremia.  But medicine is just beginning to understand that some of the more obscure metabolites in breath can be used as diagnostic criteria for other diseases.  Only now are the metabolic pathways in the human body well enough understood and the technology able to differentiate parts per million and parts per billion of gases in a volume of breath.  How far we can take this is anyone's guess.  For example, even psychological stress has been found to increase the breath's isoprene levels (Manolis, A. (1983). The Diagnostic Potential of Breath Analysis. Clin. Chem. 29(1) pp. 5-15).

Most recently, scientists have been focusing on the life cycle of the billions of bacteria in the human digestive system, many of which are beneficial for us.  Keeping those critters happy keeps us healthy.  That is what the recent craze behind probiotics is all about.  One of the earliest finds was that the amount of resistant starch in the diet has been shown to impact the growth of fermenting gut bacteria.  Different resistant starches have different effects.  We can't digest it, but the bacteria can use some of it.  This bacteria will produce extra acetone, propionate and butyrate as byproducts of fermenting it (Muir, J. (1995) Resistant starch in the diet increases breath hydrogen and serum acetate in human subjects.  Am J Clin Nutr 61. pp. 792-9).  The increased butyrate in particular has been shown to be beneficial to cells, stabilizing DNA and the "down regulation" of oncogenes.  That means it will shore up our own epithelial cells lining the gut and will very likely inhibit cancer growth.

Rye bread and sourdough breads are considered healthier because they may provide slower gastric emptying, based on the C-ocanoic acid breath test.  This in turn may slow insulin response, increase the fermentation response of gut bacteria, and prevent excessive energy intake which would lead to obesity, heart disease, the metabolic syndrome and diabetes (Bondia-Pons, I. et al. (2011) Postprandial differences in the plasma metabolome of healthy Finnish subjects after intake of a sourdough fermented endosperm rye bread versus white wheat bread. Nutrition Journal 10:116 pp 1-10).

One must be careful in breath studies, because there are breath differences due to diet, individual metabolism, sex and age of the person being studied, as well as local atmosphere.  There are tons of variables, in other words, and the volatile compounds and molecules studied are in very tiny amounts indeed.  But there may be more diagnostic tools using breath in the near future.

Notes to Myself
  • I have had a total of one insight since starting to do a bit of yoga.  And that is, "Follow the breath."  Asanas and all stretching follow the breath.  The yogis insistence on pranayama is not just mumbo jumbo.  Breath has a lot to tell us.
  • I'm still not any closer to determining whether my boogers get nastier due to eating whole grain breads.
  • Maybe put some parsley in this bread, too.  If you ever make it again.