Behind the Grain Reformation

The Bread Lab is arming bakers with a whole new set of grains

Bread Lab
Bread LabKim Binczewski

Good Taste Award Winner 2015: Tartine Bakery & The Bread Lab, The Bread Revolutionaries

Once upon a time, there was white flour and whole-wheat flour, and that was about it. In California, I'd watch my chef friends return from the markets with diverse hauls of amazing produce and think, Wait, what about us bakers?

At Tartine, I've always tried to use as many interesting grains as possible, including lesser-known varieties like kamut. (It makes a melt-in-your-mouth chamomile shortbread that puts white-flour shortbreads to shame.) But the alternative grain movement has been really taking off in recent years, thanks to The Bread Lab, run by Dr. Stephen Jones in affiliation with Washington State University. He and his team work with thousands of unique strains of wheat, and over the years have created many new varieties. They select and breed grains that are sustainable and affordable enough for farmers to grow—and delicious enough for chefs, brewers, and consumers to buy.

After eating a phenomenal piece of bread in Copenhagen, I described it to Dr. Jones, and his team started working on replicating it using Nordic grain varieties. At first, the stalks they planted weren't strong enough, but he and his team kept crossing the wheat with other strains, fine-tuning until they produced a unique and new ingredient bursting with flavor and nutrition. I now use it for richly flavored, perfectly chewy loaves. You can't buy it on the shelves yet, but I hope that in a few years, with Dr. Jones' help, bakers' choices will be as diverse and plentiful as vegetables at the farmers' market.

Chad Robertson is the CEO/founder of San Francisco' Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine, and the author of Tartine Bread (Chronicle, 2013)