The Chemistry of Bread

Can you replace the chemistry used in baking bread to get the same result?
Chidinma Okechukwu
Grade 8


Often the 4 basic ingredients in bread, salt, flour, yeast, and water have been in short supply or even unavailable. And people cant make one of the simplest food. My project will hopefully solve this problem and make it easy. 


To get the answer for my project I first looked into how bread worked and the differnent parts of bread. I looked into each ingredient's role and what makes them work together and how people dicovered these connections. THen I looked at other substances to see if they cpould do the same thing or something similar as the original ingredient. 



What is bread?

Bread is a food made with flour or meal that is mixed with water or milk into doubt with or without a leavening agent and baked. A simple loaf of bread has water, flour, yeast, and salt. You mix them together and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 F.

History of Bread

.When cavemen were around they would grind grains and mix with water for a meal.   As early as 22,000 years ago there were signs of people grinding grains by ancient people in Israel. About 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic Age, the rise of farming and stationary life, wheat and barley were the first foods to be domesticated in the “Fertile Crescent” or the region of Mesopotamia and near the Nile. When people discovered how to plant food but there was a problem. The grain would get blown away by the wind before it was ready to be eaten. So they only cultivated the ones that clung to the seed for a long amount of time without being blown off and could only be removed by trampling, shaking, or threshing. After a thousand years, the wild grasses changed into what we know today as wheat, rye, and other major grains. Oats were not too big because they still had a tendency to let their grain be blown away by the wind. They were also unfortunately favored by livestock, no one wanted to eat the same thing as an animal, which they viewed as below them. People even suggested classifying oats as a weed. Some threw cherished oats for their nutritious value but most turned their nose at it. The Irish and the Scotts loved oats which were frowned upon by many. Barley and wheat lived together as the most popular of grains until the invention of bread in Egypt. Barley was not suited to make bread and it quickly fell out of popularity Wheat became the most popular grain and has stayed that way to the present so it was the obvious choice for the first bread prototype. The Natufians were the first to settle The Naftunizns ground grains into flour and make a pita-like flatbread that is cooked on coals. Egyptians were the first to make a system for cultivating wheat that included tools and even animals. Bread became the main food for Egyptians and was even used as currency. By now only flatbread. The only known way to make your bread rise quicker and faster was by adding the froth of beer or a small piece of dough from another bread into the new one but no one knew how it worked. The discovery of yeast made bread easier and organized bakeries that sold bread became bigger and people began experimenting and adding new ingredients into their bread like coriander, dates, and seeds. Cultivating wheat was introduced from trading into Western culture. Very quickly the production and quality of bread rapidly. The invention of a sort of prototype of the oven with a door and preheating was made by the Greeks. There are 72 different bread types and the first prototype of pizza dough was known as pluck wound. There were as many as 300 organized bakeries in Rome. The bread had a prominent place in the Byzantine Empire. Bread-making stained similar across cultures until 1881 when electricity was developed and bread-making became even easier. During this time things like the croissant, tiramisu, crepes, brioche, baguettes, cake, and many others sprang up. In the 19th century, people made yeast a product and fast fermentation became more popular. White bread, like wonder bread, had a rise in popularity, especially in America. From the past to the present bread has been a staple of food across the world.



Yeast is single-cell organisms/ fungi that are commonly found in the atmosphere that is the type as the white fungus on grapes.  Yeast can be found on anything including humans and only a few types of this fungus are safe for consumption. When the dormant yeast comes in contact with warm water and starts eating. When the bread is rising what is happening is yeast is eating sugar from the flour and the sugar and burping out Co2 and ethyl alcohol. The Co2 can't escape and the dough expands/ rises. The yeast eats this sugar because they need it as energy and sugar, in various forms, is their favorite food. The ethyl alcohol makes the freshly baked bread smell and tastes that everyone knows. In the oven, the bread rises completely. The heat makes the dough expand because the Co2 molecules move faster as they are heated and hit the walls of the dough more and with more force expanding it. As well the water evaporates and makes steam which also expands it. As the oven gets hotter the yeast dies. The 3 most common types of yeast are fresh yeast, active dry yeast, and instant yeast. Fresh yeast is the hardest to find and comes in white or beige blocks. The yeast cells are in a sugar water casing. They have not been dried at all. Fresh yeast needs to be refrigerated and even then only lasts 2 weeks. If frozen it can last up to two months. Active dry yeast is the easiest to find and comes in tiny packets or jars. Active dry yeast comes in granular almost completely dried yeast cells. It can last up to a year sealed and is activated by putting it in warm water. Adding it to cold water can kill the remaining alive yeast cells. After the extreme drying process, many of the cells in the packet are already dead. Dead yeast releases a chemical called glutathione that can hurt gluten. The final one is instant yeast, a type of active dry yeast that was developed in the 1970s as a combination of the quality and convenience the other two yeasts provide. Instant yeast is not as sensitive to cold water as active dry yeast is and does not need to be activated. Yeast dies slowly. Over time the yeast cells work slower and slower until it doesn't work at all, to know if your yeast is inactive you have to put it in warm water with sugar or something that produces sugar(like flour.) Bubbles mean your yeast is alive and still able to eat sugar and produce Co2.


The simplest ingredient, water hydrates the ingredients starting the chemical reaction. It acts as a solvent and allows molecules to move throughout the dough. The temperature of the water you use can even determine the dough’s temperature. If you use tap water, it doesn't smell or tastes weird. Added chemicals can give a weird flavor to the bread and offset the chemical reaction. Other than that tap water works the same as bottled or filtered water.



Salt’s most obvious function is that it adds flavor to the bread but it can also be a natural preservative by dehydrating bacteria, Salt slows down the fermentation process allowing more flavor to develop. Salt also stabilizes the gluten network, strengthening it.  This makes the dough resist the building of gasses and rise slower



The most important ingredient in bread.WHeat flour starts as a seed that has 3 parts: Endosperm, Germ, and Bran. The bran protects the seed and has vitamins and minerals. The Endosperm has starch and protein that later makes gluten. The germ is a nutrient-rich core that has antioxidants like Vitamin E and B and healthy fats. Enzymes in the seed break down the starch, protein, and fat as the seed grows. Starch, and other carbs but mostly starch, Whole wheat flour is made by milling the whole grain which when put in bread can weigh it down with the bran pieces and make the bread denser while All Purpose is only made with Endosperm that makes it lighter and softer. The starch in flour making is broken down by fermentation and turns into sugar making the flavor of the bread more intense. Wheat Flour ( the most common flour) has 2 proteins called glutenin and gliadin which when combined with water form gluten and as you knead the gluten becomes stretchier and stretchier as the gluten relaxes into strands. Hydration is very important.  It also reinforces gluten and absorbs water during baking making it easier for the gluten to contain all the rising Co2. The more protein in the flour the more gluten strands in the bread. When baked the starch hardens solidifying the dough. (picture of gluten networks)



The fat in oil tenderizes the bread by coating the gluten and preventing it from hydrating and linking with other gluten which would make large networks and instead make smaller networks. These large networks would make the bread spongier while the oil makes it crumbly.  It also helps keep the dough soft for longer amounts of time without becoming stale. It can also add a slight taste.



The first ingredient to go is yeast, Yeast’s job is one of the most important ones in the process of making bread by giving bread its staple air bubbles. As a replacement, the first option is not surprisingly baking powder/baking soda. And more excitingly the second one has beaten egg whites. Sodium Carbonate, NaHCO3, or baking soda, is naturally found in a crystalline form, like salt,   but when used for baking it is ground into a powder. It is a salt compound that is composed of sodium cation and bicarbonate anion. Baking soda is a base which means it will react to any acid it gets into contact with by producing small gaseous Co2 bubbles. Though unlike yeast it makes and loses Co2 bubbles quickly. So the baker would have to work fast.  It also means there will be no rising period. At the same time to make the desired bubbles, I might have to add a lot of acids, like vinegar or yogurt, which might mess with the taste and smell of the product. As a plus, some baking soda can make baked goods more tender and thick by adding PH to the bread and weakening gluten. Like gluten when exposed to heat the baking soda gets hard and rigid.  Baking powder is the weaker version of baking soda. Baking powder is either single or double-acting. Single acting, true to its name, only has 1 initial activation when the liquid is added to it.  This is because the baking powder already has an acid in it. Double-acting baking powder reacts when first added to liquid and then again when baked. If I were to choose baking powder, double-acting would be the most like yeast. Finally beaten egg whites, has air beaten into them, and can add it into the dough for leavening, although I don't want the bread to get too rubbery or taste like eggs.

Flour can be replaced by half psyllium husk half cornstarch. Psyllium husk can imitate gluten networks and is a great binder. And cornstarch because it is a great thickener and you only have to cut it down by half which isn't a huge problem.

Salt is replaced by cinnamon. Not only do I like cinnamon bread. Salt isn't really a necessary ingredient but neither is cinnamon.

Water is probably the one I had to think most about. Most people don't need a replacement for water so there isn't that much information for it. The best replacement I could come up with is milk. Milk is already 87% water so it should easily substitute.




In my project, the question was whether or not you can replicate bread without using ingredients commonly used in it, my hypothesis was that it was possible but my hypothesis was not supported by my findings. Bread science and structures are hard to replicate. The 4 ingredients, water, yeast, flour, and salt are made from thousands of years of tweaking and changing to get it just right, and completely changing it won't work. If I were to continue this project I would expand to sourdoughs and the process of long fermentation, I would also change the recipe to see how close to bread I can get.
































Six Thousand Years of Bread:Its Holy and UnHoly History by H.E Jacob

Bread Science: The Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread by Emily Buehler



Thank you to Mrs.Hobart

Thank you to Mr.Mendoza

Thank you to  Mrs.Campbell