A quest to revive ancient heirloom grains in the world’s original breadbasket

A quest to revive ancient heirloom grains in the world's original breadbasket

Artisanal baking is experiencing a revival the world — and that includes Israel.

Hagay Benjamin Yehuda is just one of the handful of Israeli bakers who are committed to keeping their promises. to theWorking by hand using organic ingredients: Old methods, but still useful to produce healthier, tastier bread. He is a fifth-generation baker, working at a small artisanal bakery at Kibbutz Einat, in central Israel, where he’s returning toHis roots and pioneering theSearch for heirloom grains.

He wants toRecreate theEnjoy the taste of thePast and toProduce loaves that are very close to the original recipe to the original bread eaten all theWay back toThe Bible.

“This place of…” theEverything started in the Middle East in terms of wheat,” Ben Yehuda said, deftly kneading dough by hand at his bakery.

First wheat was cultivated inThis region was established around 10,000 years ago. This region is also known as theFertile Crescent is named after its shape. It included several countries in theMiddle East, which includes modern-day Syria. Lebanon. Israel. thePalestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, and parts of Turkey, Kuwait, and Iran are included.

But in present-day Israel, heirloom grainsThey have been replaced with industrialized wheat and modern farming techniques.

Interest in heirloom grains rising

“When I read the first time about traditional baking, it was when I realized how much I loved it. grainsIt was done by European bakers eight years ago,” Ben Yehuda stated.

“I travelled to France toI took a course and was asked, “But what about you?” ancient wheat? We should be here toYou can learn from me! “That really got me thinking,” said he as he shaped loaves of bread and placed them. in baking tins.

Miriam and Moshe Rosenthal, Ben Yehuda’s great-great-grandparents, are shown inPhoto inHis bakery. They came from Poland in the1890s, and the establishment of a bakery in thePetah Tikva, an Israeli city. (Irris Makler/CBC)

“It changed theI viewed my profession in a different way than I did before. toFrance, Germany, and Italy are also available. theI am a mother of baking. So, I embarked on this journey of discovering. theWe have treasure we don’t know about, but are sitting here with it.”

Interest inBaking with heirloom grainsIt has arrived later toIsrael is more than any other country inNorth America, Europe Over the past seven to 10 years, as it’s intensified, Ben Yehuda has been one of the pioneers.

Returning to the future of wheat has involved a steep learning curve — and a revamp of his bakery. He now mills his own flour, and along with a milling machine that separates the bran from the grain without crushing either, has invested in a hand-operated Spanish stone oven that rotates the loaves during baking.

Along the way, this project has also turned him into an organic farmer.

“I didn’t know anything about agriculture at all. So it was a quest for me. And I felt that if I want to be a good baker, I have to know my field,” Ben Yehuda said. “I have to go back to the source of our main ingredient, exactly as a winemaker knows their vineyard. I think we need to be like that in the baking world, too.”

To know a field, you need seeds to plant, but these weren’t easy to find. In the end, Ben Yehuda approached Israel’s agricultural research institute, the Volcani Center.

Researchers hunt for seeds

Researchers at the centre were taking part in the Land of Wheat project, a national effort to revive heirloom wheat varieties so there would be alternatives in case disease struck Israel’s crops. But when the researchers began their work, the cupboard was bare.

“When we want to work with ancient grains here in Israel, like the French breeder or the North American breeder, … we discovered that it’s actually very hard because there is none,” said Roi Ben-David, winter cereal breeder and researcher at the Volcani Center.

Roi Ben-David, a researcher at the Volcani Center, Israel’s agricultural research institute, stands in a field of triticale, a hybrid cross of wheat and rye, in Israel’s Negev desert. Researchers at the centre have taken part in the Land of Wheat project, a national effort to revive heirloom wheat varieties. (Zvi Peleg)

The researchers went on the hunt in collections and gene banks, locally and internationally, until they located a few forgotten packages containing some heirloom seeds in Israel’s gene bank. After planting and harvesting them, they produced enough to get Ben Yehuda started.

“My concern is that after the researchers from Volcani Center will finish, all the grains will go back to the freezers of the gene bank. And I want them to keep on living,” he said.

When Ben Yehuda told the researchers that his next goal was to combine different types of heirloom wheat in his baking, the institute planted one field with more than 100 varieties, including the intriguingly named Shin Jamal, the Tooth of the Camel. They call it Hagay’s field.

“For Hagay, the single ancient grain line is not enough,” Ben-David said. “He wants to take a mixture and to create a kind of diversity within his grain sample, actually within his flour sample.”

Looking out as the field is harvested, Ben Yehuda says he is grateful for this help on his journey as a baker.

“I always search for my authentic place because I’m not a European, and on the other hand I’m not coming from the Arabic culture. But I am living and I was born in the Middle East. So this is where I’m searching for myself,” he said.

WATCH | How ancient grains become bread for modern Israelis:

Ancient grains become bread for modern Israelis

An Israeli baker hunted down the seed for ancient Middle Eastern grains, which he has cultivated, milled and turned into bread for his modern customers.

‘I am a baker, and taste is above everything’

Back in his bakery at the kibbutz in Petah Tikva, Ben Yehuda removes loaves from the cupboard where they have been rising, slashes each top and inserts them one by one into the rotating oven using a large wooden peel, as the spade-like baking tool is known.

After an hour, he removes freshly baked sourdough loaves, crunchy on the outside and soft and dense on the inside, and stacks them on steel shelves to cool. He experiments with such flours as emmer and einkorn, and also mixes together varieties of the local heirloom wheat. He believes that, as with wine, the mix affects the flavour of the bread.

Freshly baked loaves are removed from the oven at Ben Yehuda’s bakery. He now mills his flour himself, along with a milling device that separates. theBran starting from the grain, has invested inSpanish stone oven with rotating handle that is operated manually the loaves during baking. (Irris Makler/CBC)

Ben Yehuda says he believes taste is vital for people to be willing to pay the higher prices for handmade organic bread from heirloom grains.

“In the end, I am a baker, and taste is above everything, it has to be,” he said. “A good story won’t save a loaf that is not tasty, people won’t buy it more than once.”

Ben Yehuda says his most popular loaf is also the most expensive — made from an old wheat called einkorn, which is low in gluten. For this reason, it is more difficult to knead and bake. He’s learned how to manage this ancient grain from German bakers who use rye, a similar grain in this sense.

“I love the taste of einkorn. It has been the big discovery of this journey for me,” he said. “It is interesting how much the people who are looking for health and taste agree with me.”

An exterior view of Ben Yehuda’s bakery at Kibbutz Einat, in Petah Tikva. He experiments with such flours as emmer and einkorn, and also mixes together varieties of the local heirloom wheat. (Irris Makler/CBC)

Every Friday, Ben Yehuda takes his loaves to the Tel Aviv farmers’ market. Situated on the seafront at the city’s port, it’s packed with colourful produce. Near his stall, there are seasonal vegetables, Lebanese sweets, traditional Druze pita bread and Japanese beer and condiments for sale.

Ben Yehuda says his main purpose is to get the message out about heirloom wheat and to gauge the public’s response to his bread.

Pensioner Nurit Ungar has become a regular customer. “I love the taste of this bread,” Ungar said. “Plus, to have the possibility to taste something that people ate hundreds of years agoHere — here! — I think it’s important and very touching.”

Customers sample bread at Ben Yehuda’s stall at the Tel Aviv farmers’ market, located at the city’s port. He believes taste is vital for people toBe open to change toPay thePrices for handmade organic bread are higher heirloom grains. (Irris Makler/CBC)

Shir Halpern is the one who founded the farmers’ market, says she admires the effort Ben Yehuda makes to communicate. “His interactions with clients are amazing because people come to Hagay, and they come for theBreads, they are really good! toLearn from him,” she stated.

Ben Yehuda said that he is still trying to get there toFind out theThe perfect combination in terms of taste and a connection to the past. Maybe he will one day succeed. inCreate theBread of their ancestors for modern Israelis.

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Joseph Hubbard

Joseph Hubbard is a seasoned journalist passionate about uncovering stories and reporting on events that shape our world. With a strong background in journalism, he has dedicated his career to providing accurate, unbiased, and insightful news coverage to the public.

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