Within a decade of its launch, the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) became the standard commercial method of bread production, and today continues to be the method by which around 80 per cent of British industrial loaves are made.
So what is different about this bread process, what does it have to do with Chorleywood, and why is it controversial?
The work of the scientists at the Chorleywood Flour Milling and Bakery Research Association laboratories led to a new way of producing bread, making the average loaf in Britain 40 per cent softer, reducing its cost and more than doubling its shelf life.
Its origins lay in the late 1950s and the need to try to find a way for small bakers to compete with new industrial bakeries. The light brown ‘national loaf’ during the long years of rationing had, for many consumers, outstayed its welcome. Soft, springy, white bread – that stayed fresher for longer – was what the public wanted.
In December 1958, the then Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip visited the British Bakery Industries Research Association in Chorleywood to learn more about the bakers’ ongoing investigations.
The research bakers at Chorleywood discovered that by adding hard fats, extra yeast and a number of chemicals and then mixing at high speed you achieved a dough that was ready to bake in a fraction of the time of a normal loaf. It allowed bread to be made easily and economically with low protein British wheat.
While the process allowed for easy-to-make and cheap-to-buy bread, not everyone is a fan. Sustain, an alliance for better food and farming, runs the Real Bread Campaign, with a mission to work towards a future in which “everyone has the chance to choose ‘Real Bread’ and can access it within walking or cycling distance”. Sustain define ‘Real Bread’ as bread made without chemical raising agents, so-called processing aids or any other additives.
Chris Young, Real Bread campaign coordinator, is damning of the CBP: “The result of this ‘no-time’ process is a soft, pappy product, with a leathery outer layer in place of crisp crust, and a flavour that is distinctly different from freshly-baked Real Bread. Typically, a CBP loaf will be laced with calcium propionate or calcium sorbate in an attempt to prolong the shelf life, but this hasn’t stopped it from being one of the most wasted foods in the UK, with millions of mouldy loaves being thrown away each week.
“While there are people in Chorleywood who are proud of the industrial loaf fabrication method developed there, we’re sure there will be many others who are ashamed at their town’s name and reputation being associated with a milestone in ultra-processed food. More than 60 years on, the CBP loaf is still with us, though its sales continue their long-term decline, while those of genuine sourdough and other Real Bread are on the rise.”
Photo credit: Sustain Alliance