European Confederation of Bakers and Confectionary Organizations
Home Consumers The world history of bread

History of bread


The Hungarians have a saying: "bread is older than man".

12,000 years ago, primitive people made flat breads by mixing flour and water and placing these "cakes" in the sun to bake.  Later, bread was baked on heated rocks or in the hot ashes of a fire. 

It was the Egyptians who are credited with using a "starter" of wild yeast from the air that was kept and mixed with other dough and baked to create a leavened product.  Legend has it that a slave in a royal Egyptian household forgot about some dough he had set aside. When he returned, it had doubled in size. Trying to hide the mistake, the dough was punched down furiously and baked. The result was a lighter bread than anyone had ever tasted.

Bread lead man to dwell in communities

Bread has been one of the principal forms of food for man from earliest times. More than 8000 years ago the human being discovered the benefits of wild growing barley and wheat, which directly affected the way man had lived. Until now man had wandered to hunt wild animals and herd cattle but the discovery of barley and wheat lead man to the Neolithic (new stone age) and the farming culture raised. The use of barley and wheat lead man to dwell in communities and made the trade of baker one of the oldest craft in the world.

When ancient man discovered a food which would keep through the winter, and could be multiplied in the summer, civilization began. When having a reasonably safe store of food to carry him over, it would give him time to develop other skills besides hunting, fishing and cattle-herding.

In the Old Testament times, preparing the grain, making bread and baking, was the work of women, but in places of kings, princes and larger households, the baker's duties were specialised and the ruins of Pompeii reveal bakeries existing in those times, 72 B.C. In the houses of kings, princes and larger households ovens were build, though poor people would bring their bread to public bakeries to be baked, or they bought ready-baked bread.

The bread moves along and becomes our daily bread

The bread spread from the areas along the Nile in Egypt to the all parts of Europe and everywhere the bread was seen as valuable and thereby offered to Gods. An example is Osiris and Isis, the protectors of grain and givers of bread. The bakers enjoyed special privilege as they were specialised in the craft of making bread and cakes. Through out the years, the use of millstones for grinding flour and the refinement of the flour made it possible to bake white bread – which at that time was seen as the most valuable bread of them all.

Millers appeared and they developed ancient methods of wind and watermills to grind flour. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a Swiss engineer invented a new type of mill, abandoning the use of the stone mill-wheels. He designed rollers made of steel which operated one above the other. It was called the reduction roller-milling system, and these machines soon became accepted all over Europe and in Britain.

They were driven by steam-engines, which by now had improved, and the new method proved a great success. They became very popular and within about thirty years from their introduction in Britain in 1880, more than three-quarters of the wind and watermills, which had served so faithfully for hundreds of years, were demolished or left to rot.

Meanwhile, the development of the North American prairies, ideally suited to grow wheat, provided ample grain for the fast-growing population in Europe at the time of the industrialisation. This, together with the invention of the roller-milling system, meant that whiter flour and therefore bread could be produced at a price which brought it within the reach of everyone - not just the rich.

All through the ancient days, bread and bakers were held in the highest respect; this respect lives on to our times - what would we do without our craft bakers and confectioners?