Tuesday 23 April 2013

Beer, bread - simplify, simplify

497 years of simplicity in German beer.

On the this day in 1516, the first Reinheitsgebot (purity order) was published in Ingolstadt in Bavaria.  By uncritically re-churning the idea, over the last many years, that German beer is composed of only four ingredients, I have been guilt of gross (33%) exaggeration.  A bit of research shows that in the original order only barley, water and hops are allowed. Everything else is streng verboten. In 1516 Pasteur was 300 years in the future, spontaneous generation (geese from barnacles, and so on) was universally accepted and yeast may not have been recognisable as an ingredient. 
I’ve extended my misapprehension to insist on only four ingredients for bread (flour, water, yeast, salt) and I stick by that.  Next time you buy one of those dreaded sliced-pans check out the (>4) excess on the table of contents.  If that gives you pause, join me in baking your own bread at home.  Actually, I’ve been on a bit of a sourdough jag recently which gets me back into Reinheitsgebod territory: flour, water,  salt . . . and a bit of stuff from the last batch (which didn’t and doesn't count).
The mention of bread is relevant here, and not only because bread and beer are the two great products of fermentation by Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  The original Reinheitsgebod was brought in, at least partly, to manipulate the market to ensure the availability of cheap bread by preventing the brewers from making mere booze from wheat or rye, and diverting those staples from Pudding Lane.
The effect of the Gebot was to homogenise the sorts of beers available so that every shaggin’ bierstube served essentially the same lager – an early-modern example of macdonaldfication.  So it made the world more boring, but as the previously used ‘preservative’ ingredients included out-there hallucinogens like fly-agaric mushrooms Amanita muscaria and henbane Hyoscyamus niger, not to mention soot and twigs, it was safer too.

Modern beer is, of course, completely safe – except insofar as it makes you foolishly try to txt while driving – but so gypped about with additives and processing as to warrant the phrase “tis a long way from food that was rared”, and that goes for shop-bought bread too - yes, even the 'baguettes', 'ciabatta' and 'chapattis'.

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