There is a parallel relationship that milk and bread - primary food staples for us - have undergone quite recently. Let us go back just a little over 150 years ago. The discovery of microorganisms, with the aid of the newly invented microscope, opened up a whole new world for us to discover. From that day on, this newly found has been enthusiastically studied. This exploration has since yielded many technological innovations, but we have only scratched the surface. Finally, scientists were able to see what spoiled milk, and identify what causes disease. This was a great leap into the new emerging world of microbiology. This opened up a whole new frontier that was shrouded in mystery until then. It isn't possible for us today to imagine the excitement that stirred throughout the scientific communities around the world. But it certainly was there, and everything associated with it was hailed as the new and promising future. Fundamental guidelines and tracks were layed down that would shape the world to come. Innovative ideas in medicine and day-to-day applications soon followed, which have continued to influence us, even in the 21st Century. The battles with many diseases have since been won victoriously. However, the first euphoria has since been dampened and overshadowed by mutations, resistances to antibiotics to fight diseases.
Two subsequent discoveries that interest us the most from that time are the pasteurization of milk and the production of bakers yeast. As we all know, Louis Pasteur was the man responsible for discovering that if you heat milk to a certain temperature, bacteria that is present naturally in the milk would get killed off, essentially sterilizing the milk, and enabling it to keep longer. This was a big problem at the time because the population grew drastically with the industrial revolution in full swing, more and more people moved into towns and cities to go to work in the new factories. In the country it wasn't such a big problem with milk, the excess would be used up for cheese making, yogurt, or buttermilk. But to supply a city with milk! The "shelf life" of un-refrigerated milk is one day, which made it just about impossible to deliver to customers. The simple heating of the milk to a higher temperature (about 70 degrees), a process known since then as pasteurization, this way the milk would keep longer, because the bacteria naturally found in milk had been eliminated. Refrigeration was not all that common in those days, but at least it would keep long enough to be able to ship it to the towns. We don't think about it much anymore, because nowadays, all milk, by law, has to be pasteurized.
It is of interest that a few years ago the cheese makers of eastern Canada fought this law, because to make cheeses like Camembert, it is much better to start with raw milk. The diverse bacteria present in the milk would give a much better flavor than when inoculated with only a few specific bacteria. The argument was to compete internationally with the cheese makers of Europe, who use unpasteurized milk to make their cheese. The law needed to be more flexible in Canada, allowing cheese makers to use unpasteurized milk for their cheese. If you weren't a cheese lover, this wrangling to get an exemption from this law was quite unnoticed. The intolerances (allergies) to milk and milk products are drastically increasing as a consequence of this pasteurization.
We all know how healthy and essential mother's milk is for their infants, or offspring, and we never sterilize (heat) this milk. It would defeat the purpose by killing off beneficial bacteria and immunity enhancing traits. Just another thought of what milk really represents: it is a nourishing, and also contains protective properties or qualities.
The other discovery that runs parallel to the discovery of pasteurization in the mid 1850's was baker's yeast. Yeast cells were the ideal microorganisms to study, because of their easy visibility under the microscope, their rapid multiplication, as well as their effortless culturing. It wasn't long before an entrepreneurial spirited company realized the potential marketing of specific yeasts. By the end of the 1800's, specific yeast strains that were strong and multiplied easily, leavening the bread, were packaged and shipped to bakers. We have to realize that up to this point all leavened bread was baked with a sourdough culture. The sourdough culture was primarily focused on multiplying the wild yeast, so that the bread would rise properly and facilitate the successful baking of it. Inadvertently, the bacterial cultures present at all times surrounding us in our environments, also played a major role in this process. The intimate knowledge required to produce satisfactory bread at that time was challenging. The long fermentation times required for the bread, were demanding and to kept the whole process successfully continued, required skills that were passed on from one generation to another. The breads produced by each baker varied in taste, quality, and flavor, according to each region, and specific local bacterial environments. The quality of bread fluctuated greatly depending on the baker's skill. Many influencing factors, like the quality of the wheat, growing conditions, milling, and the quality of the starter often decided the result of the final bread product.
Baker's yeast (as now known) was enthusiastically embraced at the time. Using baker's yeast would ensure proper leavening, and would drastically reduce the time needed to preferment the dough. This revolutionized baking, starting in France. This was aided by the fact that the French love their wheat bread, especially white bread. Wheat breads can be baked with only yeast, compared to rye breads, which need to be soured beforehand, to be able to be baked successfully, (you can read more about this in "Modern Baking" page). This fact doubled the enthusiasm by the bakers at the time, and baker's yeast triumphantly spread all over Europe, and later in the world, all in a relatively short period of time. Nations that baked more rye breads (the rye breads needing to be soured anyway) were slower to embrace baker's yeast, but it eventually conquered all bakeries. The practice of baking rye breads, using an active bacterial culture, but no added yeast, has survived much better to our present days, than wheat breads made exclusively with a bacterial culture. In countries such as Russia, Sweden, and Germany, where they grow and bake with a lot of rye, this tradition has been kept up quite fastidiously. For nations that bake mostly wheat bread, like France, Italy, and North America, the yeast revolution took these countries by force. This dates back to about a hundred years ago, and that's why it's no help to ask your grandmother, or even great grandmother, it goes back to four or five generations. The knowledge to bake wheat breads with a sourdough culture has largely been forgotten. To be successful in this type of baking, one needs to be dedicated, and have an extensive knowledge base on all factors that influence this baking.
These two practices, pasteurizing milk and the production of baker's yeast happened within the same short time period. Even though they were great discoveries at that time, the repercussions they have had on our health are being felt, I believe, more and more. With these two discoveries, we eliminated two sources of beneficial bacteria, both that aid our digestive system in consuming these foods (milk and wheat).
In milk, the bacteria was killed, and not replaced, and in bread, the bacteria were eliminated, and the leavening was accomplished by a monoculture of yeast. You can see for yourself what this had led to: allergies, digestive disorders, life threatening diseases, etc. How many people do you know that have allergies? As time goes on, every generation seems to get worse. It is time to recognize this and change it.