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 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...

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