Bread has been intricately woven into the tapestry of human history for thousands of years, entwined with our sustenance, survival, religious worship, and gastronomic pleasures. Throughout the ages, cosmic shifts occurred in our way of life, taste preferences, and habits. However, bread has remained a “pillar of life” and a fundamental element of our diet, transcending racial, religious, geographical, social, and cultural differences. It has simply adapted—and continues to adapt— to scientific, technological advancements, dietary trends, and the peculiarities of different places and times.
Bread is the dominant feature on tables across all cultures, ancient and modern, and the manner in which it is used is ritualistic and symbolic. At every milestone in human life, bread is offered as a symbol of nourishing power. The history of bread is as ancient as human existence on Earth. Bread, as one of the earliest processed foods, began to be prepared in ancient Egypt alongside the dawn of civilization.
However, evidence dating back 30,000 years in Europe reveals traces of starch on rocks where humans pounded plant roots with stones. During this period, it’s conceivable that an extract of starch from plant roots was placed over a fire and cooked. Around 10,000 BCE, with the advent of the Neolithic era and the spread of agriculture and cereals, the preparation of bread likely commenced.
If bread has gained a special place in the history of gastronomy, it owes it to the Greeks—everyone agrees on this!
Etymologically, the word “bread” comes from the verb “to rub” or “to grind,” or from “to feed” by putting small pieces into the mouth. Since bread was the staple food for ancient Greeks, the term “artos” referred to both bread and food in general.
Hippocrates mentioned various types of bread made from wheat flour, sifted or not, with leaven or without, with bran, with pearl barley, with honey and cheese, oil, poppy seeds, among others. Athenaeus refers to 72 types of bread. The rarity of wheat and its high nutritional value meant that wheaten bread was consumed primarily by high-status individuals, while the common people ate barley bread.
Greek sailors and traders brought Egyptian flour to Greece, where the creation and baking of bread flourished. However, they preferred white bread, and there was intense competition between cities to produce the best bread. Athens boasted about Theario, its finest baker, whose name appeared in the writings of many authors.
Herodotus noted that in ancient Egypt, bread was kneaded with feet, a practice that persisted into the early 20th century in many regions of Greece and Europe. In ancient Greece, bread was prepared and baked at home. The first organized bakeries appeared around the 2nd century AD Among the many types of bread produced in ancient Greece were zymitis, made from flour, water, and leaven, azymos, made from flour and water, and simigdalitis, made from fine flour from high-quality wheat, and more.
Ancient texts reveal that Greeks offered bread to the gods, calling them “thiagones breads”. Our eternal connection to wheat and bread is underscored by the fact that ancient Greeks worshipped the goddess Demeter, the bestower of this great blessing. During the Thesmophoria festival, they offered large loaves to the temple of Demeter in Eleusis, hence the festival’s name, “Megalaartia” (Great Bread).
Bread, made from flour ground in household mills, was the staple food for ancient Greeks. There were dozens of different types of bread for each hour of the day, for every occasion, for every taste: from the morning “dipping” (bread soaked in undiluted wine) to the wide variety of baked goods that formed the “core” of meals, and a multitude of pastries based on flour.
The Romans learned from the bread-making art of the Greeks and organized the production of bread on a somewhat industrial basis. (In Pompeii, for example, many bakery facilities were found beneath the lava of Mount Vesuvius). The first organized bakeries appeared in Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan in 97-117 AD.
In the prayer given by Christ himself, there is a request for the “daily” bread. In the Last Supper, Christ blessed the bread, equating it with His Body. The reverence people show for daily bread, never throwing it away, demonstrates its significance in sustenance and religious life.
There were many critical historical periods during which bread became linked with political, social, and economic movements, such as in the expansion and building of the Roman Empire or the French Revolution, where its price regulated the relationship of the common people with authority. How is the price of oil now? Something like that.
Bread in Byzantine times was the staple food for everyone, be they fishermen, farmers, shepherds, or artisans, regardless of where they lived or their occupation. In the first Christian centuries, until its occupation by the Arabs (7th century), the granary of the empire was Egypt. Wheat was collected in the port of Alexandria and shipped to the major cities of the empire, mainly Constantinople, where it was stored in state warehouses. The capital risked famine if the wheat did not arrive on time. Therefore, laws regulating the voyages of the commercial fleet, tariffs, storage, and distribution of wheat were very strict.
Significant advancements in bread-making techniques occurred with the widespread use of mechanized fermenting machines from the 19th century onwards.
Today, despite the tremendous progress made through the application of new, scientifically acclaimed methods, rapid technological achievements, automation, process standardization, raw material advancements, etc., the production of good bread still retains, to a large extent, an artistic element. The decisive role of the human factor remains crucial—those with inspiration, passion, craftsmanship, experience, and the ability to choose and combine the right materials effectively enrich and enhance the advantages of advanced and continually evolving bakery techniques.
In Greece, wheat cultivation has decreased in recent years, and many flour mills have closed. Few housewives bake their family’s bread from scratch. The era of bakeries has begun.
Today, the collection and processing of grain have drastically changed, with offerings not only of wheat but also of other cereals such as corn, barley, as well as mixes.
In Greece, the best bakers are considered to be from Epirus. Venetis produces the widest variety of bread daily, leading developments in the Greek market by continuously presenting new innovative products aimed at fully satisfying consumers. The best ‘white’ bread is primarily produced in Greece and southern Italy, as opposed to the northern countries of Western Europe, which mainly produce and develop ‘dark’ bread.
In modern Greece, the history of bread is intertwined with the history of VENETIS Bakeries. Established in 1947, VENETIS Bakery has managed to seamlessly connect responsible professional work with passion, impeccable baking technique with the beautiful art of bread-making, tradition with contemporary reality, Greek with European, a wide variety with excellent quality.
Bread, made like in the old days with natural sourdough and flour from Greek land.
Slow maturation to bring out the aromas.
Baking on a stone to evoke memories of the village.
This is the art of VENETIS BAKERY.