This is a really good article, Against the Grain, in The New Yorker, by Michael Specter, especially as his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives is one of my favorites; big surprise he’d be one to, at minimum question, and mostly debunk most of the gluten fad and freaking out, plus come to the defense of bread, and more importantly good baking.
But hold on, this isn’t just a rant about nutrition scolds, bread enters in this too with a new project underway that promises to be REALLY cool.
This is a long article that mostly starts out about gluten and the gluten-free fad and fanaticism, but ends up mostly about bread, and actually some interesting ideas about whole grain breads. Specter claims to do a lot of his own baking and thus seems to have hands-on knowledge of some of the issues.
In terms of gluten he mostly just presents the evidence (very slim) and some of the claims. Rather than vigorously debunking them he mostly just raises inconsistencies (like has wheat really changed in the last hundred years (as anti-wheat crowd claims, without facts), esp. in terms of gluten (yes, it probably has changed to have less natural nutrients (easily solved with good whole grain flours)). And he points out some of the issues of how terrible nutrition trials are, how the anti-gluten trial is so limited (even its author warns against over-interpreting it) and how a fad can start much more quickly than the science can actually do serious trials and get real facts.
But enough of that. Later in the article (either be patient or scroll down past all the gluten dross), he also mentions Washington State University’s Bread Lab and goes on to relate many details of this lab and bread-making research:
Jones’s lab is unique; few bakeries have Brabender farinographs, which Jones and his team use in their search for the ideal ratio of gluten to water in dough, and to measure the strength of flour. Nor can there be many labs with a Matador deck baking oven, which can accommodate more than a dozen loaves at a time, and which circulates heat uniformly, at hot enough temperatures, to insure a voluminous loaf and the strongest possible crust.
Oh my, when can I book my flight to go work there, baking bread and doing science at the same time, a dream come-true. But interestingly,
For all the high-tech gadgets on display in the Bread Lab, the operation is decidedly old-fashioned, relying on stone mills of a type that have not been used for more than a century and on a philosophy that all it takes to make genuine and delicious whole-wheat bread is time, talent, flour, a little salt, and lots of water.
It just gets better, tradition, good old-fashioning bread making, high-tech and science all in the same place! How do I get to work there?
But as they say in informercials, WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Since then, Myhrvold and his team have been working on an equally ambitious follow-up project, tentatively called “The Art and Science of Bread.’’ The book won’t be ready for at least another year, but Myhrvold has said that it will be both a comprehensive history of bread and an exhaustive guide to baking it.
Oh my, be still my heart. Have you ever looked at Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine: the Art and Science of Cooking? – incredible! Now as the book is way to rich for my blood this is one of the few times I was willing to look at some pirated PDF’s (rather good reproductions of the book). I only want to look and never keep the PDF’s and never used then, which only slightly reduces my sin (I could claim “fair use” doctrine on copyright violations but I won’t).
Before I saw Nathan on some PBS show (Nova, I believe, but forget) I didn’t like him. Of course I also didn’t know him or really anything about him, but anyone with a fan club like his and outsized claims of brilliance is offputting to me since I’ve known more than my share of self-proclaimed geniuses who aren’t (obnoxious and arrogant, yes; but brilliant – they wouldn’t know it if they see it).
Well I can admit I’m wrong and probably what I didn’t like about Nathan Myhrvold is simply that I’m jealous. He is fabulously rich, is truly brilliant, and instead of wasting all his life at Microsoft (or buying sports teams like Paul Allen) he goes and does interesting and fun projects. The lab he set up, the people he hired, esp. photographers, the work they did, and the book they produced – oh YUM.
Now to think there is one like this in the words for bread! This one I may have to save the green and actually buy. If it’s anything like Modernist Cuisine it will be worth its likely outrageous price (less than Superbowl tickets and both more durable and entertaining).
So anyway, take my hint and wander over to this article and get some class information instead of hacked-together blog posts.