From Jesus to Oprah: A 5,000-Year History of Bread Heroes

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Africa Studio)

Bread flourishes in so many forms around the world: naan, tortillas, injera, arepas, pita, etc. And as consumers of grain-based sustenance, we all contribute to the history of bread in our own small ways.

Although you did an excellent job of finishing that bagel this morning, some of us have made a more significant impact than others. Here’s a look back at a few pivotal people in the history of bread.

3000 BC: Ancient Egyptians Discover Yeast

Egyptians were the first civilization to leaven their bread. They discovered that naturally occurring yeast hoists humble flour and water ever upward towards the heavens creating the light, airy texture we adore.

Fun Fact: Hundreds of their leavened loaves survived in pyramids and can be viewed (but not tasted) in museums today.

4 BC: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

As every church-going Christian knows, each Sunday service brings with it a bread filled not so much with flavor as with symbolism. According to the Bible, Jesus turned his body into bread (interpreted literally or figuratively) at the Last Supper to share with his disciples.

Jesus also made bread out of thin air — or rather, out of five loaves — for thousands of people. Yeah, He was a bread hero all right.

1000 AD: The English Invent Bread Pudding

Egypt, the Middle East, India, and Rome all salvaged their stale bread with a liquid component, but it was the English who unlocked the glorious combination of bread in a milk- and egg-based custard. So much more than the sum of its parts, our modern, usually sweet version of bread pudding increases the likelihood that we can enjoy bread’s every last morsel.

1790: The Rise of King Arthur Flour

Soon after the development of the automated flour mill, the company now known as King Arthur Flour began importing and distributing milled flour from England. In 1896, they introduced a premium flour to the market, and their superior products and comprehensive online instruction have been key ingredients for baking bliss ever since.

1928: Otto Rohwedder Creates the Automatic Bread Slicer

Rohwedder actually built a prototype bread slicer in 1912, but it was burned down in a fire in 1917 and it took him another decade to rebuild. Rohwedder’s machine was installed at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri, and, on July 7, 1928, the first loaf of commercially sliced bread was sold. It was such a big deal that sliced bread became the standard against which all future innovators must measure themselves (you know, the greatest thing since sliced bread).

(Image credit: Pillsbury)

1965: The Pillsbury Doughboy Giggles

This little guy has provided several servings of shame-free instant gratification in every box, can, and bag for over 50 years. With the crescent roll can’s familiar pop, we briefly imagine a world where everything is this easy.

1994: Jim Lahey Develops His No-Knead Bread

After studying bread-making in Italy, Jim Lahey opened Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and developed his now-beloved no-knead bread technique. Inspired by ancient, pre-KitchenAid times, Lahey realized that given enough time, yeast will work its elastic magic all on its own and produce chewy, flavorful results sans elbow grease!

2011: “Breading” Cats Becomes a Thing

One day, for unknown reasons, someone poked their cat’s face through a slice of sandwich bread, and cat-breading was born. This important innovation reminded us that the only limit to applications of bread is our own imaginations. Although cats likely had varying opinions of their temporary headgear, it was just funny to see these silly pictures for a minute there. And if you haven’t gotten your fill, there’s an entire Instagram account dedicated to breaded cats.

2016: Oprah Loves Bread

In case you haven’t seen the now-viral Weight Watchers commercial, Oprah recently proclaimed “I love bread!” in support of dietary flexibility. In that statement we saw humanity boiled down to three syllables. Oprah has embodied our aspirations for decades, and here she touches on one of our most central desires: to both eat bread every day and be satisfied with our body image.

Whether or not Weight Watchers is a necessary piece of that equation is a matter of personal choice, but we can all agree, “I love bread.”