Amid other sad news on Monday came the announcement that sliced white is toast. Well, it is at M&S anyway, with the retailer announcing plans to scrap “simple white bread” in favour of a fibre-enriched alternative – what product developer Jenny Galletly calls “bread with benefits”.
I’m tempted to object to this idea on principle, given that the main benefit of all bread, whatever the fibre content, is that it’s completely, addictively delicious, but though sliced white has a certain nostalgic pull for me, I can’t regret its passing.
One whiff of that yeasty, faintly vinegary smell and I’m back in school uniform again, rushing to cram as many slices of toast in as possible during morning break in the hope of inducing a pleasurable carb coma just in time for double maths. These days, however, with algebraic equations a distant trauma, I find its cotton-wool texture faintly sinister, and the way it gums to the top of the mouth downright unpleasant. I’m not alone; sales of sliced white are in what one research company describes as “terminal decline” as consumers reach for fancier, “speciality” alternatives, so M&S might well be on to something.
Yet the bog-standard loaf has some surprising adult fans; Nigel Slater, for one, who insists that a bacon sandwich “must be on white sliced bread of the very worst sort”, while Nigella uses it for her delectable mozzarella in carrozza toastie, writing that “one of the advantages of plastic bread is that it is easily wodged together”.
Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace is a fierce defender of the stuff – according to his autobiography (rarely off my bedside table), a fish-finger sandwich made with Mother’s Pride is his idea of “absolute perfection”. Fair enough. He has also, however, claimed to the Daily Mail, “there is no nutritional difference between a £10 artisan baked loaf and an 80p sliced white. The only difference is snobbery.”
Which is where I draw the line; anyone’s free to enjoy whatever bread they wish, but please, don’t claim that the cheapest sort, pumped full of yeast, palm oil, enzymes and preservatives to speed the baking process and retard the ageing one, are on a par with traditionally made versions. It’s just not true (plus, I’ve never come across a £10 loaf Gregg, and I live in Islington).
If we ate only for nutrition, we should probably stick to the kind of dark, brooding sourdough studded with so many seeds it should be sold with a box of toothpicks, but we don’t. White bread has a taste, and a texture all of its own, and some things, crisp butties and bacon sarnies among them, just wouldn’t be the same without it.
In an ideal world, it would just be made with flour, yeast, water and salt, but adding a bit of extra fibre is a good start. Let’s hope that, as in the case of the ready meal, and the gourmet sandwich, where M&S lead, others follow.
Feature in full here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/jan/11/marks-and-spencer-scrapping-simple-white-bread