The story behind a loaf of bread


E.Botham and Sons

Since this Web Site is about wheat and bread, it may be of interest to learn a little about the enemies our daily bread has to face, and the effort to eradicate impurities of all kinds from the flour. From its earliest stage, wheat, like all cultivated cereals, is attacked by enemies, both animal and vegetable. During its growth it can be attacked by certain diseases due to various fungi in, or upon the grains. Many insects attack the plant, too, at this stage. When the grain is harvested and stored, rats and mice eat it and spoil much more. Parasites, such as eggs deposited by moths upon the ears of corn while growing, can hatch during storage of grain, and the larvae, thus developed, cause much damage. Larvae, caterpillars and sometimes moths are found in old, stale, damp flour. Other dangerous pests are the Corn Wolf moth and the Wheat Flour moth. The larva of the latter is a pink colour, and it spins a web that causes trouble during milling, because it makes the flour clog and become like felt. Beetles and weevils are most destructive to the grains. As larvae, they live in the wheat kernels, eating out the whole inside, and afterwards boring their way out through the husk.

The Flour Beetle is a black insect about eleven-sixteenths of an inch long with dotted or striped wing-cases, and it loves the dark. They and their larvae are easily separated from the flour by sifting, but the eggs will remain. Bakers and millers take great precautions in fighting these enemies, and scald out utensils and bins before putting new flour in them. An eel-worm causes a disease in corn called Ear Cockle. If an ear of corn is affected by the disease, it will be seen that many of the kernels have been replaced by little black balls like peppercorns. If one of these balls is cut open and viewed through a microscope, a cottony substance will be seen which is composed of a mass of tiny transparent worms. These can attack the young wheat plant, feeding upon its juices. Later, they move to the corn ears, forming fresh peppercorns. These tiny creatures are very hard to destroy; some have lived after having been dried for over twenty years; they can be frozen, or heated to 125 F several times without being killed. Other horrid diseases of wheat are Bunt, Rust or Corn Mildew, and Smut; the last two can cause havoc with a crop-as much as 60 per cent loss has been suffered by some farmers in the past. The common cockroach is a pest, too, in the baking industry. It loves the warmth and the flour in the bakehouse, but cannot stand the light.

The presence of the Flour Mite is always a sign that the flour is unfit for use, and is old and damp.

It must be stressed that, although all these various enemies of the wheat ears and flour exist, the precautions taken against them are vigorous and efficient; our bread is quite unlikely nowadays to contain any impurities whatever, because a strict watch is kept by sampling and testing right from the time when the corn is in the field to when it becomes flour in the mill. Modern methods of screening ensure that the bread we eat is 100 per cent pure.