Breads of Life – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


Bread, in one form or another, has been with us since the dawn of agriculture. For today’s IC patient though, a loaf of bread can either be a tasty addition to a bladder-safe diet, or it can be a pain–literally. To understand why bread can be both friend and foe to our bladders, it helps to know that the bread we see in supermarkets today bears only a passing resemblance to what our great-great-grandmothers baked.

Many cultures throughout history have ground local grains into a flour and baked it. The breads that Americans are most familiar with originated in Europe where it was customary to add some form of yeast to the flour and let it rise, creating a light and airy texture. Yet even within Europe, regional specialities emerged, giving us everything from fragrant dark pumpernickel to crusty French baguettes.

As immigrants from all over the world poured into the American continent during the last two centuries, they brought with them their bread traditions. This included not only varieties of yeast-raised breads, but also unleavened breads from India, Greece and the Middle East. Americans put their own twist on the imported bread recipes, often incorporating New World grains such as corn or even vegetables.

As America changed with time, so did our bread. Unlike our great-great-grandmothers’ tradition-bound baking, today Americans have an amazing selection of specialty bread products to choose from. One of the latest trends in bread marketing is toward exotic grain combinations and “ethnic” breads. This trend is actually a bonanza to allergenic individuals and to IC patients. For people who cannot tolerate wheat for instance, there is bread made from spelt, oats, barley, amaranth and others. The trick is to find these products. While the variety breads are now making inroads in the major supermarket chains, the specialty stores, small bakeries, and local delis are still often the best places to find these interesting breads. Be adventurous! Trying different flavors is a great way to keep your diet from becoming monotonous. There are only a couple of pitfalls to watch out for… and here’s why.

In the 1700’s immigrants from Northern Europe made yeast from buttermilk whey or the dried flowers of the hops plant. (The same flowers used in beer-making). Housewives would even grow their own plants in garden plots for use in yeast-making. The hops acted as a natural antibiotic, encouraging yeast but keeping bacteria and harmful organisms from growing. Unlike the commercially produced yeast of today, home grown yeast contained many species, each giving the baked product a slightly different flavor. Our modern prepared dry yeast by contrast, only contains one or two robust species. These species have been specifically bred for our hurry-up modern culture where time is valuable. The commercially produced yeast of today makes bread rise twice as fast as did the home grown yeasts of past centuries (a frustration factor for cooks who try to recreate very old bread recipes). By the early twentieth century, modern dry yeast was readily available in stores. Rural yeast-growing gradually became a lost art.

The mid-1800’s introduced so-called “quick breads” (like corn bread for instance) made with a chemical leavening agent (usually baking powder or baking soda). Other chemical agents to speed up or enhance the leavening effect of yeast were developed as businesses strived to produce more bread, faster, for an increasingly urban population. New forms of transportation allowed bakeries to sell their products over wider areas. But how to keep the products fresh on store shelves? Every loaf that spoiled before sale and was thrown away, decreased profits.

As bread baking became big business, recipe decisions were directed increasingly by financial considerations and the necessities of large scale mechanical production. Bleaches made the flour whiter. Chemical preservatives were developed and added to bread to increase its shelf life. Dough conditioners were added to make the dough easily workable by machinery. Humectants were added to make the bread hold onto more water and seem more substantial. Yeast nutrients were added to puff up a small loaf with so much air that it looked larger on the market shelf. The additive-laden bread has little real ingredients and no taste or texture? Not a problem– there are additives to fix that too.

All these modern additions to bread are one reason commercially baked bread may be a problem for some of today’s IC patients. Often our bodies are tolerant of the major ingredients, but our bladders do not take kindly to the chemicals added for the convenience of the manufacturers. (The exception to this may be rye breads and sourdough breads. These bread doughs are subject to fermentation, a process that can create monoamines such as histamine and tyramine, which can in turn stimulate inflammation.)

Additive-free breads

Finding and using additive-free breads can be a challenge: they do get moldy quicker, are more expensive and are often inconvenient to find and purchase. In general, locally baked specialty breads are less likely to contain preservatives than nationally or regionally marketed brands. (Transportation needs often dictate the amount and kind of preservatives in bread).

Check your phone book for local bakeries or specialty grocery stores that bake in-house. Don’t hesitate to call around and ask questions about their products before you make a trip out of your way. Here are the names of a few chains that sell preservative-free breads: Bread and Circus, Corner Bakery, Trader Joe’s, Wellspring Markets, Whole Foods, Wild Oats. While they are a bit more expensive, additive-free breads are well worth the trouble if it means you can include the nutritional benefits of grains in your diet without triggering a bladder flare-up.
If you have to go out of your way to shop for additive-free bread, buy more than one loaf at a time and freeze the ones you won’t use right away. (Freeze bread loaves in double plastic bags to prevent them from drying out). When you want to use one, thaw it at room temperature in the unopened bag. When the drops of moisture have disappeared from the inside of the bag, the bread is ready to use. Thawing in the microwave is risky– it may not work well.

The crust of the bread forms a natural protective cover that seals in freshness, so you can store your bread at room temperature using paper bags to help maintain a crispy crust, or plastic bags if you prefer a softer crust. If you find you can’t eat up a whole loaf before it molds, store some or all of the loaf in the refrigerator. Just be sure to seal it in an airtight container to prevent drying out. To refresh your bread, wrap it in foil and warm it in an oven set at 375 degrees F. for four or five minutes. Then open up the foil and let it heat for another minute or so. Sliced bread develops mold quicker than unsliced bread, so it may be useful to slice the bread as you need it and store the loaf whole. (A serrated bread knife is important to keep delicate breads from squashing when you slice them.)

Here are a few types of interesting and bladder-friendly breads sold at small bakeries, and the typical ingredients found in them:

  • Challah- A shiny, braided, traditional Jewish egg bread is not only a great accompaniment at any meal, but beautifully decorates the table. Typically made from water, eggs, wheat flour, vegetable oil, butter, sugar, kosher salt, and yeast.
  • French bread (baguettes)– A long thin loaf with a thin crust and delicate interior. Try it for sandwiches, garlic bread, or croutons. Usually made with flour, water, salt, and yeast. Sometimes a bit of corn meal is on the bottom.
  • Ciabatta– A rustic Italian bread with a thin crisp crust and moist, porous interior. It’s perfect for dipping in flavored or plain warmed olive oil. It doesn’t stay fresh very long so don’t buy too much at a time. It’s usually made with semolina and durum wheat flours, water, salt, and yeast.
  • Focaccia– A popular flat Italian yeast bread, it’s often flavored with cheeses, vegetables, and herbs. Bladder safe ingredients in addition to wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt, can include basil, oregano, rosemary, olive oil, garlic, and ricotta cheese. Watch out for ones made with tomatoes.

Homemade breads

In today’s fast paced world baking your own bread may seem like an indulgent luxury, but it’s really not that time consuming and older kids may actually see it as fun and want to help. The most time-consuming part is waiting for the bread to rise (during which you can do other things). Slowing down and taking the time for simple pleasures like bread-making can not only enrich and de-stress your life, but spare your bladder the impact of commercially added preservatives.
Although you can use all-purpose flour for many breads, bread flour is better if you can obtain it. All-purpose flour is a mixture of hard wheat and soft wheat (i.e., semolina and durum). Bread flour on the other hand is mostly made from hard wheat which has a higher gluten content. It’s hard wheat that yields the sticky gluten and gives bread its texture. Potatoes, another bladder-friendly food, can be added to bread to give the loaf a dense body and keep it moist.(The lowly potato, a native vegetable of the Americas, is a recent addition to bread recipes. Mashed potatoes were originally added to American bread recipes during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to stretch out supplies of wheat flour during times of food shortages).

Here is a bladder-friendly potato bread recipe based on one originally circulated during the early nineteenth century. It has a chewy crust and makes a great sandwich bread. It’s delicious paired with soups and stews, or as toast. It packs plenty of fiber as well as vitamins. This updated recipe rises faster and takes less total work time than grandma’s version thanks to the use of packaged dry yeast. Free of any fats or oils as well as dairy or eggs, it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans too.

Potato Bread

– makes 1 large loaf

  • 1 pkt (1/4 oz.) dry active yeast
  • 1 very large russet potato
  • water to cook potato
  • 7-1/2 to 8 c. flour (preferably bread flour, but all-purpose flour will work)
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  1. Peel the potato and chop into pieces about an inch across. Cover with water (at least 2 or 3 cups) and boil until very soft. Drain the potatoes reserving the liquid. Puree or mash the potatoes until smooth, adding a bit of liquid if necessary. Set the potatoes and cooking water aside to cool until the water is lukewarm. Measure 3/4 cup of the cooking water (strained to remove any potato chunks). Combine in a small dish the potato water and the dry yeast. Stir to completely dissolve the yeast and set aside for about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, measure flour, sugar and salt into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Measure 1 cup of the mashed or pureed potatoes and 1-1/2 cups of hot water. Stir into the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Stir in the yeast then turn out on a floured surface and knead until bread is a uniform consistency. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set in a warm place (about 80 degrees F.) for one hour or until double in volume. Punch down and knead on a floured surface, working in another half-cup of flour. Turn in an oiled bowl and let rise again for 45 minutes. Knead for 5 minutes, then place in a large, well-oiled loaf pan. Let rest 10 minutes.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes in the center of the oven. Be sure there is plenty of clearance between the top of the loaf pan and the top of the oven– it rises quite high. (When done, the bread should sound hollow when the top is tapped). Let the bread cool before slicing.