Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is it Worth Baking Your Own Bread?

For a long time, the choice of gluten-free breads wasn't very good. The breads you could find were either very dear (well over £5 per loaf) or they had a shelf life more appropriate for storage in a nuclear bunker (and not something you'd want to actually eat).

So the better choice was to purchase some gluten-free flours (such as from Dove's Farm) and make it yourself. (Having a bread machine helps, of course.)

Then came Genius Bread, made in Edinburgh apparently. So now you can go to one of the major supermarkets and purchase a relatively fresh loaf of bread that wasn't as expensive. There's even brown gluten -free bread!  The brand seems to be a hit, as the shelves are quickly emptied of it.

(I've also noticed another brand in the supermarkets called Honest Bread. However, the loaves that I tried were brittle and crumbled whenever I cut them.)

But a 600g loaf of Genius Bread costs just under £3.00 (400g loaves are about 50p less) at the major supermarkets. Honest Bread seems to be about the same price. So is it cheaper to make your own bread?

Let's look at the ingredients required for making gluten free bread and do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. The ingredients below are from the bread machine instructions for Dove's Farm gluten-free brown bread flour to make a "medium" loaf, and the cost estimates are my own guesstimates based on prices from the web sites of the major supermarkets:
  • 450g (16oz) flour. From experience with the bread machine that I own, the recipe needs a little more flour, so I'll assume 500g. The Dove's Farm bread flours average to about £2/kg, or about £1.00. (On their website the costs are slightly dearer, and from the major chains, slightly less.)
  • 1tsp salt, assume 1p.
  • 2 tbsp sugar, about 5p.
  • 2 eggs, about 40p.
  • 6 tbsp oil. The price of cooking oil varies, depending whether you are using bog-standard vegetable oil (£1.50/litre) or a fine olive oil (over £5.50/litre). We'll assume something on the lower-end of in-between, about 20p for 110ml of oil.
  • 1 tsp vinegar, about 2p.
  • 410ml (14 fl oz) milk, at 89p/2 pints that's about 32p.
  • 2 tsp yeast, about 15p.
That totals to about £2.15 per loaf of bread. (For making the bread by hand, they recommend using slightly less flour and 1/2 tsp of salt, so it's only marginally cheaper.) Add the electricity/gas costs for cooking and cleaning, and it's still probably under £3.00.

You could cut the price of ingredients by using a cheaper eggs, oil and milk and make the loaf for under £2.00. You might also consider using water and powdered-milk (which the recipes included with some bread makers recommend).

Cheaper gluten-free flour is harder to come by. Xanthan gum (the thickener used in the bread flour in lieu of gluten) is expensive, at £2.50/100g from the major supermarkets (much more from some smaller specialty shops). 2 tsp (10g) of xanthan gum is about 20p, so you'd need to find a gluten-free flour for under £1.60/kg.

I suspect you can get cheaper gluten-free flours in bulk from some of the Asian and Middle-Eastern markets. (Note that while the flour may be made from a grain that doesn't contain gluten, it might have been processed using equipment that also processed wheat, so unless it explicitly states that it is gluten free, it may not be.)

(I sometimes use a few ounces of the pulp leftover from making carrot juice, which is significantly cheaper than gluten-free flours.)

If you prefer to use nicer ingredients, say free-range/organic eggs, good olive oil, organic milk, fair/trade demerera sugar, you're still only adding 50p to the cost of the bread, so it's still cheaper.

Of course, you know what ingredients are in the bread you make. And you can add other things to the bread like seeds, herbs, raisins, cheese, etc.

I don't consider time a factor. It takes about 10-15 minutes to set up the bread in a machine, and only a couple of minutes to clean the machine's pan and paddle by hand. However...

Home made bread doesn't last long at home, as we usually eat it within two or three days. The store bought brands, as good as they (sometimes) are, are still unexciting, so they'll last several days.

UPDATE (24 Mar 2011): a friend reminded me that I was excited when Genius bread first became available, so I should fess up to that. The fact that it's available from the shop is a good thing, even if it lacks the excitement of something that I've made myself.

UPDATE (28 July 2011): I've noticed that the prices of Genius and other GF breads is often on sale for £2.00 at various supermarkets. This makes it worthwhile. And apparently you can get some gluten-free products (including breads) available from the NHS by prescription now!