In our modern western world the shoppers' expectations are getting intrinsically higher, and we need to admit to ourselves that we have become spoiled: just look at some of the third world countries. The shelves are overstocked and the over abundance of the varieties of choices that we have are overwhelming. This is true in general, and also in regards of baked goods. With the aid of our high technological standards, we can achieve and satisfy even the most demanding customer. But we really have to realize that all of this comes at a price. This doesn't necessarily mean only in dollar and cents, but also our health in the long-term. I am confidant that if we apply modern technologies properly, we could reintroduce mandatory human food requirements that have sustained us for many thousands of years, which have only been discarded in recent times (the last 100 years).
It might be better to have less choice, but with better quality. The hidden cost of providing enormous amounts of variety in our foods - especially in perishable foods - are far exceeding their possible nutritional impact on our health. Many inhabitants of third world countries would be happy getting a handful of rice, or a loaf of bread, yet in the western world, we insist on enormous, sometimes exotic, varieties of food. The wasted food that results from this large variety could easily provide food for many third world countries. We need to adjust our morals and return to a more sensible way of eating and living, based on principles that are deeply embedded in our human heritage, and this includes bread made from a sourdough (bacterial) culture.
In the last 50 years the baking industry has provided many conveniences that a baker can employ to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for diverse products. Initially it began with cake and bread mixes, as well as various powders for mousses, creams, etc. This has simplified and economized many operations in the bakery. But the baking industry has already entered another dimension altogether: a point where the baker is even further out of control of the ingredients that make up the products he bakes. This is the new market of frozen products (pastry items, breads): just thaw it, proof it if necessary, and bake it. The new, modern bakeries rely on a large freezer, and possibly don't even need a mixer anymore. An undeterminable amount of hidden ingredients, and preparatory processing techniques are incorporated in today's modern baking practices and they do not find their way on the ingredient labels of the retail products. This is very disturbing, and should be unacceptable for any discerning consumer. The identity of the baker is compromised or just reduced to an extension of the mega company. These techniques are becoming quite widely practices and accepted; for example: croissants made by the baker himself, using raw ingredients, are becoming quite rare. Most croissants sold in North America are made by a handful of companies, and are distributed nation wide in a frozen state to the retail level bakery. This is also true for specialty breads: the choices are anywhere from the chocolate-raisin to the banana-mandarin or the sourdough bread. There is no limit whatsoever. These breads (doughs) are just thawed and baked and "Voilà! One now has oven fresh, in-store baked breads".
The smell of the fresh baked bread gets your mouth watering, exactly what they want when you are shopping for groceries.
It is much better to put diverse fresh raw ingredients (bananas, salad, ham, sprouts, homemade marmalade, etc.) on your bread, this way you can have infinite variety and are more in control of the quality of ingredients, otherwise you compromise your position, and rely more on a companies' ethics and marketing strategies. I think this should be avoided or minimized at all cost. Stay away from all kinds of spreads, if you can't trust the origin; make your own.
For the retail baker this becomes like balancing on a tightrope: in one way, the demand requires variety, which reduces baking the traditional way, leaving no other choice than to incorporate modern baking methods in producing his baked goods. Yet in another way, this creates more waste: the juggling act of demand and supply limits the options, and rules. When the expecting consumer realizes what is involved in supplying and delivering them this large variety, many, I believe, would choose to be less demanding, and would return to the traditional style of baking.
It becomes a matter of personal preference and circumstance of how far a baker is willing to go along with this new trend. My preference and conscience dictates me to hold on to traditional values and practices, leaving me in control of the ingredients that make up our products. I believe it is my responsibility towards my customers to ensure them that there are no unwanted, hidden ingredients in our products. We are already getting overloaded with foreign substances (chemicals) and pollutants on a daily basis: pesticides, herbicides, various indoor and outdoor fumes (smoking or car exhaust), preservatives, highly processed foods, etc. We are in a health crisis and we owe it to our future generations and to ourselves to act now before it is too late.
I don't want to imply that all bakeries follow the new trend. The situation is that each bakery chooses their own combination of modern and traditional baking practices, determined by the potential customers or personal preferences. The prices of these frozen products are kept in such a way that it becomes quite enticing to utilize these shortcuts and conveniences in the modern bakery. It becomes obvious that within a short time the learned skills of baking from raw ingredients vanishes quite quickly into oblivion: an apprentice for the modern bakery needs two weeks, compared to a minimum of three years in the old days, to learn how 'to bake'.
This sadly has made it a world of 'buyer, beware!' Most consumers are totally unaware of the new technologies that are utilized in some modern bakeries, and don't realize the hidden costs associated with them. It becomes the responsibility/obligation for the shopper to analyze how far he is willing to accept and compromise his/her health. This becomes like playing 'Russian Roulette'. With all of the other important things we have to accomplish daily, it is just another item on our list. It has become a vicious cycle. No single person is to blame; it is just the 'times' we live in.
We have selected to specialize in the production of traditional sourdough bread giving us the freedom that allows us to concentrate on one thing, and that is, to bake bread. As long as enough people buy our products, we can stay in business and provide them.
For any uninformed and curious customer, we provide some of the unwanted ingredients that are utilized in modern baking practices. For more information see the article entitled "Dough Additives".
Clever wording on packages and advertisements can be quite misleading. This leads to more confusion and distracts the consumer from the real important issues. I think that it is best to trust nature, and not to meddle around with it too much. With all of the additives found in modern bread, may they be of natural origin or not, I think we are unable to determine the health risks in the long run. It is much better to rely on a 'recipe of nature', which has proven itself from the first successful leavened loaf, up until it's recently unaltered state.
*Note: Mega bakeries that deliver countrywide are in a league of their own.