Here, president of Alvardo Street Bakery Michael Girkout explains the difference between organic and non-organic bread. He also offers insights into the benefits of organic sprouted bread and helpful hints on how to make it at home.
Q: What distinguishes organic bread from its non-organic counterparts?
A: The defining difference between organic and non-organic bread is how the primary ingredients are grown and processed. To have breads certified organic, bakers are required to use grains and fruits that have been grown and processed without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs. Additionally, they must maintain a detailed paper trail leading back to the seed from which the grains used to make the bread were grown, the fields in which they were planted, and the methods used for fertilization, pest management, harvesting, and handling. This gives all parties, from baker to consumer, the assurance of quality standards and the confidence that the claims being made have been certified by an accredited certifier. Non-organic bread is not required to meet such standards, and therefore does not offer the same level of assurance about how its ingredients were grown and processed.
Q:What are key factors you consider when sourcing the ingredients for your organic breads?
A: Although price is always a strong factor, we have other key factors that we insist upon with all of our suppliers. Quality is always foremost, Locally sourced whenever possible, Certified Organic , and Minimally Processed. We also consider the source. We verify the Good Manufacturing Practices and Food Safety certifications and protocols of all of our suppliers to assure the safety of the food chain. Additionally, we need to be assured that our suppliers do not exploit their workers and that they respect the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profits to align with our own mission.
At Alvarado Street Bakery, you make many of your breads using sprouted grains. What are sprouted grains and what effect do they have on the flavor/texture/etc. of the bread?
Most bakeries get up in the morning, open a bag of flour, and make something. At Alvarado Street Bakery, our process is quite different. We get our grains directly from the organic farmers who grow them. As such, the grains do not go to a mill to be processed; they come to us as whole grains. We take these whole grains and soak them in filtered water for several days until they sprout, or start to grow. At that point, they are no longer hard, dormant seeds, but are living, breathing plants. We then grind these living sprouts into dough (using no flour!). This method creates a very moist bread with great texture and taste.
Q: Are there nutritional benefits to choosing foods made from organic sprouts?
A: Sprouted grains are living plants, and it’s a lot easier for the body to digest plant matter than something made with heavily processed flour. The vitamins, trace elements, and nutrients that are naturally present in all whole grains are more readily absorbed by the body through the complete digestion of sprouted grains.
Q: What is the best way to store organic bread to maximize its shelf life?
A: Since there are no artificial preservatives added to organic breads, they do tend to have a relatively short shelf life. Most of our breads have a life of about 7days when kept at room temperature. Refrigeration will extend the life to 10 – 14 days. One of the unique attributes to sprouted grains is that they freeze very well and retain their integrity. Sprouted breads can be kept frozen for up to 1 year. In fact, when thawed after many months, it’s hard to tell the difference from a loaf we baked yesterday.
Q: Do you have any tips or recipes for people interested in baking organic sprouted breads at home?
A: Although it’s not rocket science, working with sprouted grains can be challenging. Sprouts tend to be temperamental and need to be “harvested” at their peak or they will pass the point of no return and begin to ferment. My best success in baking with sprouted grains at home is this fairly simple recipe:
Sprout your grains in the dark; otherwise they will develop green shoots that contain chlorophyll, which are very bitter tasting. Sprouts grown in the dark will be white, soft, and sweet. Sprout grains for about 3 days--just until the root begins to show itself. Drain all excess water and put into a home food processor. Using the pulse button, chop and grind the spouts into a mushy paste. At that time, you can add any additional ingredients you may want (no rules here use your imagination!). I like to add a bit of fresh yeast, some sort of sweetener to feed the yeast (honey, organic raisins or dates, barley malt, etc.), and a pinch of sea salt. Process again until all the ingredients are combined and the dough begins to “roll around” inside the food processor forming a ball.
Once the ball has let go of the side of the bowl, it can be removed to a work surface. At that point, the dough needs to be kneaded (just like breads made with flour). Let it sit to rise in a warm environment for about 30 minutes, then knock down and let rise again. At that point, shape dough into rolls, oval, or round loaves and place them in loaf pan or on a flat sheet pan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 27 minutes, remove and let cool before slicing.
First attempts will be rough, but with a bit of practice you will find this recipe to be a new family favorite. This unique dough is also great to use for tortillas, hot dog and burger buns, and perhaps the world’s best pizzas.
About Michael Girkout
For almost 30 years, Michael Girkout has been the President of Alvarado Street Bakery, the Nation's oldest and largest organic whole grain bakery and a pioneer in the organic foods movement both nationally as well as internationally. He is responsible for all aspects of marketing including: package design, product development, advertising and global sales.