Growing weary of friends and family, most especially my husband, claiming that bread is “junk food” and anything I make with bread (sandwiches for example) are “junk food”. Bread is a staple in many families in America, as well as other parts of the world. Whether it be sliced bread, bakery fresh bread, dinner rolls, whole wheat, or white bread. Knowing it’s definitely not junk food, I decided it’s high time to put this Indian myth to rest.
Before I begin, I’d like to highlight possible reasons why many Indians (and perhaps other large groups) remain delusional about bread.
- They see that bread is pre-made and pre-packaged, sold in almost every small convenience store. So they probably assume that, as with most pre-packaged food items, it can’t be good for you.
- They do not understand how bread is made. Junk food is lumped in with fast food, or “quick foods” as my husband calls it. Likely, they have never had fresh bread, they don’t know how bread is made, and they only know that they can buy it from the store and that it’s already ready to eat.
- They have been conditioned to think bread is bad for you, not as good as roti, or junk food. It’s not their fault, it’s what their parents taught them. Simply, they had no need to know how to make bread our way. Thus, they never knew better.
Bread VS. Roti (Chapati)
After a bit of research, it turns out, these numbers represent the average slice of bread and piece of roti. On the lower end of the spectrum, roti at best, equalled this specific brand of bread, in nutrition. Depending on the kind of bread, and size, the calories could differ. Same with roti. The sodium levels in roti really depend on whether or not the roti has any salt added to the dough.
Roti on a hot tawa – Image by markheseltine via Flickr.com
I chose a brand of bread that is familiar to me, but if you want to compare a popular brand sold in India, Britannia’s whole wheat bread (per 1 slice) is still healthier than roti.
As the chart pictured above will tell you, calories per 1 roti (as well as calories from fat) far outweigh the calories per 1 pice of bread. Roti seems to have slightly more fat and sodium – again, depending on whether or not it’s made with oil and salt. Carbohydrates are nearly doubled in roti, and fiber is only one gram higher. This loaf of bread has a bit of calcium and iron as well. While there is no mention of the same in roti, I can’t say for certain whether or not it has any bonus vitamins or minerals.
Now picture this…
Fresh alu sabji (a spicy, sometimes saucy, Indian potato dish) is steaming hot, and waiting on the stove top.
If I were to stuff that between two pieces of slightly toasted bread (how I make sandwiches in India) my husband would call this junk food. Despite complaining about not feeling full, he would never consider eating two sandwiches. Even though he finds it to be delicious.
If I were, however, to pair this with 5 roti smothered with ghee (as my husband usually eats with a meal) this would be considered a filling meal.
(Ghee is clarified butter made from the milk of a cow or buffalo.)
Let’s look at this factually.
400 calorie (2 servings) Alu Sabji
120 calorie (2 slices) Whole Wheat Bread
Total: 520 calories (1040 calories, if you eat 2 sandwiches.)
400 calorie (2 servings) Alu Sabji
600 calorie (5 pieces) Roti
325 calorie (2.5 servings) Ghee
Total: 1325 calories
Needless to say, bread is considerably healthier. But before I go on, I’d like to add that each person has their own specific needs, according to their body or their metabolism. One person may need more calories and carbs to feel full, and I suspect that is the case for my husband. In this case, it’s totally understandable that he would eat more roti. However, just because bread does not have as many calories as roti, does not mean it is junk.
How Bread is Made Vs. How Roti is Made
- Boiling water
- Active Dry Yeast (powder)
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Olive Oil (any vegetable oil/fat)
- And sometimes uses Eggs
- Water (hot, warm, or cold)
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Oil (any vegetable oil)
- Hot water is mixed with yeast and sugar, and stirred. Whole wheat flour is incorporated into the mix, and set aside to allow the yeast to rise. The dough will double in size, after about 30 minutes of resting. Afterwards, salt, oil, and a little more flour are added.
- The dough is stirred until firm, and then kneaded. Flour is added as needed, during the kneading process. The kneading is complete when the dough is no longer sticky.
- The dough is set aside and covered, to double in size again.
- Baking pans are oiled, the oven is pre-heated, and the dough is shaped into the baking pans.
- The dough is set aside to rise again, for about 40 minutes, this time in the bread pan.
- The bread is then baked at about 350 °F, for about 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.
- When removed from the oven, the bread is set aside to cool for about 10-15 minutes, and either served immediately, or stored for later. Bread is either sliced all at once, or as needed.
- Bread is good for several days at room temperature, or 7-10 days in the refrigerator.
- Whole wheat flour is mixed with oil and salt in a bowl.
- Room temperature water is mixed into the flour, slowly, forming the dough.
- When the mixture becomes firm, and is no longer sticky, the dough is kneaded.
- The kneaded dough is set aside, along with a small pyramid of flour to “dust” the roti with.
- The tawa (a flat, cast iron pan with no sides) is heated on the flame of the stove.
- 1.5 to 2-inch sized balls are pulled from the dough as needed, and rolled between the palms until slightly disc-shaped, and smooth – no cracks.
- The disc-shaped ball is gently dropped in the flour (also known as dusting), before set on the counter top and shaped into a circle with the rolling pin.
- As the dough shapes into a circle, it may require additional dusting to keep from sticking.
- When the dough is rolled into a circle, not too thin and not too thick, the roti is placed on the hot tawa.
- The roti is cooked until bubbles start to form on the surface, or until the bottom side has small golden-brown spots.
- The roti is then flipped, cooking for half the time on the other side.
- When circles appear on the other side, the tawa is removed from the flame, and the roti is cooked over the flame on each side, as it puffs up.
- The roti is then placed in a cloth, or container to keep it fresh and warm.
- The process of pulling dough, shaping, and cooking the roti is repeated until the dough is gone.
- Roti (as suggested by my mother-in-law and husband) should only be made fresh. If you wish to save leftover roti, save it in an air-tight container, wrapped in cloth, for no more than 12 hours.
As you can see, each process is difficult in its own way. Please note, there are several methods to making both roti and bread. Read more about home made whole wheat bread here.
Bread is good for you, and has far less calories than roti. Roti is good for you too, definitely a sturdy staple. Each taste best when they are cooked fresh. However, just because you can buy them pre-made, it does not mean they are “junk food”. Yes – even roti can be bought pre-made and pre-packaged. And so can tortillas (Mexican/Spanish flatbread), pita bread (Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flatbread), and any kind of bread you can imagine.
It’s always a good idea to check the ingredients of pre-packaged foods, and be sure to purchase the most natural product, preferably without preservatives. (Vinegar is an ingredient sometimes used as a preservative in bread, and that is okay.)
An Indian bread fried in oil, known as Puri. Image by Ahmed Mahin Fayaz via Flickr.com
And of course, there are many variations of breads. The least popular being white bread – made with maida, or white flour. You can read about the differences between white and wheat bread here.
Hopefully this will help a few people understand that bread really isn’t junk food, and it’s really not that bad. Even pre-packaged bread was mixed and cooked all the same, and as long as it’s used before expiration, it’s perfectly good.
As always, if you have anything to add, please comment! If you found this article helpful, please pass it on.
Featured image of fresh Sourdough Bread by jeffreyw via Flickr.com.