When master baker Agnes Gabriel discovered a treasure trove of family recipes written by her great grandfather, she was inspired to establish Gradz bakery. Alongside her husband, Romuald Damaz, she wanted to share continental-style baking with Britain.
And while Gabriel still uses the same traditional baking methods, it hasn’t held her back from bringing the bread up to date for the modern consumer.
With ingredients like amaranth, spirulina and flax, Gradz defines itself as a specialist in healthy artisan breads – and it’s right on trend. Ocado has backed the business too by listing six Gradz breads online.
The loaves will also be stocked in independent delis, health-food stores and cafes, and restaurants, allowing Gradz to take its bread across the UK for the first time.
Since 2003, a natural mother dough has been the source for Gradz sourdough bread, with no starter mix or baker’s yeast used, making it easier to digest.
It also requires a slow fermentation process in which the dough rises gradually for up to 24 hours. During this time, flour and other ingredients are broken down, eventually making the bread gentler on the digestive system.
“As a family we are thoughtful about what we eat, and I always want to make sure we get the most from our food, so it seemed natural to make additions to our breads that added even more benefit to them,” Gabriel tells Food Spark. “Using natural sourdough is thought to make the bread easier to digest and less impactful on your gut, so we also looked at what more could we do.”
A growing interest in gut health has propelled consumers to seek out less-processed, easier-to-digest foods, fuelling a frenzy for fermentation and paving the way for slow dough, a growing trend in the bakery world.
In America, an ancient pizza-style eat called pinza (originally from Rome) is popping up in cities like Brooklyn and Seattle, made using a flour blend with a long fermentation period.
Consumers are also exploring new grains, and amaranth has been touted for its abundance of nutrients – not to mention its gluten-free aspects and the subtle nutty flavour.
In Mexico, popped amaranth is mixed with honey and served like a Rice Krispie treat, while boiled amaranth is found in some Indian recipes.
Gradz is using amaranth to create a bread that has a dark, flavoursome crust. It’s made with a mix of amaranth, wheat and rye flours to give it a distinctive taste and a light texture, which is less dense than many other sourdough breads.
“Amaranth is an ancient grain, and it has been eaten for over 8000 years. It is not from the same family as wheat or rice and so a lot of people find they have less sensitivity to it. A loaf with amaranth as one of the components seemed to suit a lot of people and tasted delicious too,” Gabriel says.
“We tested all our initial products on a market stall and got a wonderful response from our customers, so we were confident they would be popular when we launched them.”
Seeds and spirulina
It was a no-brainer for them, considering the health credential of spirulina, which they have combined into a loaf with pumpkin seeds.
Spirulina benefits the body as both a protein source and a source of all essential amino acid, as well as B Vitamins, iron and copper. Pumpkin seeds, meanwhile, have minerals including magnesium, zinc and manganese, and are a good source of antioxidants.
But Gabriel admits some experimentation was required with spirulina – it can have a fishy taste – as they wanted to add it to the bread without having a negative impact on the flavour.
“Pumpkin seeds turned out to be the perfect partner. The natural spirulina is added to the dough and the loaves are very bright green in their uncooked state. But we are not just making a nod to a trendy ingredient; there is a substantive amount in each loaf,” she says.
It’s part of the ethos of Gradz, with Gabriel saying the company loves that people are interested in eating things that will contribute positively to their wellbeing, but that consumers should not have to compromise on taste to do that.
“More people are becoming interested in what they eat and how that can assist them to maintain good health. We will continue to add to this range to help people make good choices about what they choose to eat,” she says.
Gradz has four other breads listed in Ocado: oats and flaxseed sourdough, rye with honey, gluten-free dark with seeds and gluten-free dark with sunflower seeds.
It might be a slow rise, but healthy breads are here to stay.