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food made from grains that have been ground into flour or meal, moistened and kneaded into a dough, and then baked. Many types of bread are leavened, usually with yeast, which induces fermentation and causes the breads to rise. The discovery of fermentation is attributed to the Egyptians, who also invented baking ovens. Unleavened flat breads have been eaten since Neolithic times (10,000 B.C.), and bread has long been a staple in the diets of people in all parts of the world, excepting Asia, where the preferred rice is eaten in grain form. Flat breads are made from various types of grains—corn (e.g., the tortilla), barley, millet, wheat, and rye—but only doughs made from wheat and rye contain enough glutengluten,
mixture of proteins present in the cereal grains. The long molecules of gluten, insoluble in water, are strong and flexible and form many cross linkages. This gives flour its characteristic chewiness and permits breads and cakes to rise during baking as the gases within
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 to trap the gases caused by fermentation and expand into an airy loaf of bread. Dark rye breads are common in Europe; the light rye breads popular in the United States are made with a mixed wheat and rye dough. White breads are made from a finely sifted wheat flour, as opposed to whole wheat bread, which retains the fiber-rich outer kernel of the grain. Nutritionally, bread is high in complex carbohydrates and a good source of B vitamins. Whole grain bread is higher in protein, has twice the fiber, and generally has more vitamins and minerals than white bread. Other ingredients that may be added to breads include milk, fats, eggs, salt, and sugar.


See J. Beard, Beard on Bread (1973); J. and E. Jones, The Book of Bread (1986).


Each Sunday millions of Christians around the world participate in a ceremony known as the Eucharist. In this ceremony worshipers partake of bread and wine identified as Jesus' body and blood. Since this ritual commemorates the events surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection, it may be thought of as an Easter symbol and custom that is celebrated throughout the year. In this ceremony, bread stands for the body of Christ. When the Eucharist is viewed in the context of the biblical spirituality from which it emerged, the full meaning of this bread symbolism comes into focus.

Bread in the Bible

Throughout the ancient Middle East people depended on bread as the mainstay of their diet. Hebrew scripture acknowledges the importance of this food source. A line from the book of Leviticus refers to bread as a "staff" (Leviticus 26:26), a poetic way of saying that bread supports life in the same way that a staff supports the body. In fact, bread was such an important food source to the ancient Jews that they sometimes used the word bread to stand for all food, as in the well-known saying "man does not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Biblical spirituality, both Jewish and Christian, again and again reminds us that we depend on God for our bread. The book of Exodus, for example, relates that after the Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in a barren wilderness. They survived because God met their needs, feeding them with manna, or bread, that came down from heaven (Exodus 16). In Christian scripture Jesus teaches his followers what Christians now call the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). This prayer includes a request for "our daily bread." Indeed Christian scripture records a number of instances in which Jesus publicly gave thanks to God for food and drink.

The Bible not only reminds us of our dependence on God, but also assures us that God will provide for us. Christian scripture makes this point in a story that echoes the Exodus account of God's gift of manna in the wilderness. In a similar vein, Jesus supplied bread for those who had followed him far into the countryside to hear him speak. In this miracle, often called the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, or the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus transforms a few loaves of bread and some fish into more than enough food to satisfy five thousand people (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:1016, John 6:1-13.). This story also recalls the way in which God helped the prophet Elisha to feed a large crowd with only twenty barley loaves and some grain (2 Kings 4:42-44). Stories such as these portray bread as a sign of God's hospitality to those on earth.

Jewish custom demanded that human beings offer bread back to God in various sacrifices and rituals. One such ritual required priests to keep twelve loaves of bread, called the "shewbread" or the "bread of the presence" on a golden table in the Temple at Jerusalem. Replaced weekly on the Sabbath, this bread served as a sign of the covenant, or special relationship, between God and the Jewish people (for more on the Sabbath, see Sunday).

Bread in Christian Scripture

Bread assumes a special place in Christian spirituality because of its role in the celebration of the Eucharist. This ritual can be traced back to the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:1619; for more on the Last Supper, see Maundy Thursday). Christian scripture recalls that at this meal Jesus gave thanks to God for bread and wine, and then identified the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. He passed them to his disciples asking them to eat and drink. Today Christians commemorate this event in the Eucharist, a ritual whereby worshipers take a sip of wine and a bite of bread identified by the clergy as Christ's body and blood.

The role of bread in the Last Supper and in the Eucharist echoes already established biblical themes. God's hospitality again expresses itself in a gift of bread. The old idea takes on a new twist this time, however. God not only gives bread, but gives himself in the form of bread. In the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, which contains a number of stories and teachings concerning bread, Jesus elaborates on this idea:

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my own flesh (John 6:49-51).

Here Jesus contrasts a literal and a symbolic meaning of bread. Just as bread made from dough sustains life in the body, Jesus, "the bread that comes down from heaven," will sustain the spirit and impart eternal life. Jesus repeats another biblical theme here as well, when he describes his flesh as a sacrificial offering of bread, given on behalf of the world.

Bread Customs

The first Christians referred to their common meals simply as "breaking bread" (Acts 2:42). As time passed these informal meals became more ceremonious. Early Christians began to call these ceremonial meals eucharistia ("Eucharist" in English) which means "thanksgiving." Although only baptized Christians were permitted to partake of the bread prepared for the Eucharist, others could share in specially blessed bread decorated with Christian symbols. This blessed bread was eaten at communal meals, given to those preparing for baptism, sent to the sick, shared at funerals, and made available at shrines and on saints'days. Thus, for the early Christians bread served not only as an abstract symbol but also as a concrete vehicle of God's hospitality and blessing. Today's Orthodox Christians still maintain some of these ancient customs surrounding blessed bread. They call the bread antí- doron, which means "instead of the gift." This name distinguishes the blessed bread from the bread of the Eucharist, which they view as God's true gift to humanity.

Throughout the centuries Christians have experienced bread as an expression of God's hospitality and blessing in the ceremony of the Eucharist. Many Christians see the Eucharist as a ritual that represents the new relationship with God brought about through Christ. Viewed in this way, the bread of the Eucharist, like the ancient Jewish bread of the presence, symbolizes a covenant, or agreement, between God and human beings.

Bread Controversies

In the Middle Ages controversy simmered over the question of whether leavened or unleavened bread should be served at the Eucharist. The biblical accounts of Jesus' last meal with his followers found in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke assume that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. This implies that Jesus and his followers ate unleavened bread that evening. For the most part, western European clergy, influenced by this interpretation of events, served unleavened bread at the Eucharist. The Gospel according to John, however, suggests that the Last Supper occurred the day before Passover. Eastern European and Middle Eastern Christians, influenced by this account of the Last Supper, tended to favor leavened bread for the Eucharist.

Even after the Eastern and Western churches split apart from one another in the twelfth century, bitter debate continued between them about the value of one another's eucharistic practices. In recent times debates over the validity of leavened versus unleavened bread for the Eucharist have receded as clergy from many denominations gained greater respect for one another's customs. Today the Roman Catholic Church still serves unleavened bread at its celebrations of the Eucharist. Orthodox churches continue to serve leavened bread. Most Lutheran and Anglican clergy favor unleavened over leavened bread for the ceremony. Other Protestants feel free to follow either form.

Further Reading

Ferguson, Everett. "Bread." In his Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Volume 1. New York: Garland, 1997. Latham, James E. "Bread." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 2. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Myers, Allen C., ed. "Bread." In The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987. Noggin, J. F. "Bread, the Liturgical Use of." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: Stein, Robert H. "Bread." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.



a food product obtained by baking a dough prepared from flour, water, and salt, with or without the addition of sugar, shortening, milk, and other ingredients, and leavened by yeast or ferments. Wheat and rye flour are normally used to make bread, but corn, barley, and other types may also be used on occasion. Khleb, the Russian word for bread, may also denote wheat, rye, barley, and similar crops, the grain of such crops, and the flour produced.

It is likely that the human consumption of wild cereals in the form of whole, uncooked grains softened by soaking in water originated in the Mesolithic period. Later, the grain was crushed, and still later, roasted before crushing; grain foods in this period consisted primarily of thin gruels and broths. With the invention of the millstone in the early Neolithic, baked bread in the form of unleavened cakes was added to man’s diet. The cakes were baked by various methods: on hot stones, between two flat hot stones, between clay disks, and so on. It is assumed that the method of making bread from sour dough was discovered in ancient Egypt, from which it spread to other countries.

Bread became common in many countries because of its high nutritional value, good taste, consistent appeal (one does not tire of eating it), and good assimilation by the body. It also satisfies the appetite, is easy and economical to prepare, and may be stored without spoiling for comparatively long periods. The amount of bread consumed in different countries varies considerably as a result of nutritional characteristics of the population, long-standing traditions, economic factors, climatic conditions, and type of employment.

Bread is a source of protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins (primarily in the B group), and fiber (cellulose). Bread has an average content of 45 percent carbohydrates, primarily starch. The consumption of 500 g of bread per day provides approximately one-third of the body’s protein requirement, but it does not provide enough essential amino acids: lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan. However, when combined with the proteins from animal products, bread proteins ensure protein synthesis in the body and provide a complete diet. Bread is rich in phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur, but it has little calcium or sodium (see Tables 1 and 2).

The body assimilates bread well. For example, 85 percent of the protein and 96 percent of the carbohydrates in wheat bread made from first clears are assimilated. Bread made from whole-grain flours is the most nutritious with respect to chemical composition; it includes the germ and peripheral parts of the grain, which are removed during refining and which contain more proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Such bread has more bran, which is rich in cellulose and improves digestion and bowel function; however, it is less assimilated than bread made from higher grades of flour. With respect to vitamins and amino acids rye bread is more nutritious than wheat bread, but it is less assimilated. The nutritional value of bread can be improved by adding proteins containing essential amino acids, primarily lysine and methionine, to the bread and by fortifying the bread with additives containing vitamins (primarily B2), calcium salts, and the like.

Table 1. Chemical composition of bread products (g per 100 g of bread)
ProductFlour typeWaterProteinsFatsCarbohydratesCelluloseOrganic acidsAsh
    NaturalAdded monosaccharides and disaccharides   
Rye pan breadHulled rye45.
Rye-wheat plain pan breadWhole-grain46.
Orlovskii cottage loafHulled rye and low-grade wheat43.
Wheat pan breadWhole-wheat44.
Wheat hearth breadLow-grade wheat39.58.31.348.
French-style loavesWheat first clears36.37.42.948.
French rollsWheat first clears34.37.72.450.
Sweet yeast goodsWheat first clears29.
Crescent rollsWheat first clears23.38.312.
Milk-enriched French-style loavesWheat first clears, nonfat dry milk, and lactose34.98.21.549.
Table 2. Mineral and vitamin content and caloric value of bread products (per 100 g of bread)
ProductFlour typeMinerals (mg)Vitamins (mg)Calocric value
Rye pan breadHulled rye6009434411202.
Rye-wheat plain pan breadWhole-grain58919537551782.
Orlovskii cottage loafHulled rye and low-grade wheat48411331431192.
Wheat pan breadWhole-wheat57518537652182.
Wheat hearth breadLow-grade wheat49518033541302.
French-style loavesWheat first clears4021252533821.,046
French rollsWheat first clears4171302634851.,063
Sweet yeast goodsWheat first clears4061292533851.,205
Crescent rollsWheat first clears3271482636981.,452
Milk-enriched French-style loavesWheat first clears, nonfat dry milk, and lactose4161494537971.,033

The quality of bread is evaluated organoleptically—by appearance, condition of the crumb, taste, and aroma—and by means of physical and chemical characteristics—moisture, acidity, and porosity (additionally, sugar and fat content for pastries and puffiness for biscuits and baranki products). All-Union State Standards (GOST) set acceptable levels for these indexes in the USSR.

High-quality bread should be well baked and have a smooth surface without large cracks or tears. The crust should not be scorched or pale and should not have separated from the crumb. The crumb should be uniformly porous, without cavities or doughy lumps.

Bread becomes stale when stored. The crumb becomes less compressible and more crumbly, and the crust changes from smooth, hard, and crumbly to soft, elastic, and sometimes wrinkled; the aroma and taste are gradually lost. The essential features of the process are still not sufficiently clear. Staling is a complex physicochemical process in which starch is the most important factor. The starch ages (it is partially back to its original state, close to the state in which it was in the dough before baking), and it gives off water (syneresis). Stale bread can be rendered fresh again by heating. The staling process can be retarded by airtight packaging in polymer film or dense paper, deep freezing (to –30°C or lower) with subsequent cold storage (at –10°C or lower), the addition of stabilizers, such as molasses, and changes in baking conditions.

The use of lower-quality flour and violation of established baking standards may lead to defects in bread: foreign odor, pale crust, stickiness and doughiness in the crumb, increased acidity, cavities in the crumb, and a thick, scorched crust.

Under unfavorable storage conditions, primarily with high relative humidity combined with heat, microorganisms may develop in the bread and cause bread to spoil. Such defects include rope (the crumb stretches out in very fine, slimy threads when rolled between the fingers); mold; wild yeast problem (presence of spots or a chalklike film); and the formation of bright red areas in the crumb. They can be avoided by strictly observing all requirements for the preparation and storage of bread.

More than 800 different types of bread are produced in the USSR. The following classes are distinguished: bread loaves, weighing more than 0.5 kg; rolls and small loaves, weighing 0.5 kg and less; plain rolls and long (French-style) and braided (hal-lah-style) loaves; baranki; sweet yeast goods (pastries), with higher sugar and fat content; dietary bread for children, medical patients, and the elderly; biscuits; and local or national varieties of bread. National varieties of bread are mostly baked from wheat flour in the form of various kinds of cakes. In the Caucasus, for example, the Armenian bread lavash is common, as are the Georgian madauri and the Greek churek. Gidzha, patyr, and other types are found in Middle Asia.


Novye i uluchshennogo kachestva khlebobulochnye izdeliia. Moscow, 1972.
Zubkov, A. F., V. I. Telichkun, and A. A. Mikhelev. Vypechka natsional’nykh sortov khleba v SSSR. Moscow, 1975.
Kazakov, E. D. Ot zerna k khlebu. Moscow, 1975.


What does it mean when you dream about bread?

Break often represents our source of nourishment. Less obviously, it is often used to refer to financial “nourishment,” as in one’s “bread and butter.” Similarly, the expression that one “cannot live by bread alone” indicates that one needs more than simple, physical nourishment.


symbol of Christ’s body in Eucharist. [Christian Tradition: Luke 22:19]
See: Christ


Christianity a small loaf, piece of bread, or wafer of unleavened bread used in the Eucharist


As a food, bread is a fundamental part of most diets. In poverty bread is the filler, and in jail the prisoner receives bread and water to keep from starving. In Christianity, Christ is the “bread of life, ”and in popular jargon bread may refer to money. Cross-culturally in both physical and metaphysical references, bread is the basic sustenance of life. As a dream symbol it is rich in both meaning and message. The bread in your dreams could represent those positive and wonderful things that you have learned in your life’s journey. It could be symbolic of “good” and most basic things in your life that will yield positive benefits in the future. The bread in your dream could be spiritually symbolic; it could represent a profound communion or connection with others and with God. Consider the details of your dream before interpreting, but know that bread has positive universal symbolism and that this dream should bring with it a level of positive feelings and peace.