Living in Sin With Breads From Berlin

Go ahead, live sinfully by eating freshly baked, dark brown bread packed with vital nutrients.

In a post-Atkins America, many consumers still consider carbohydrates a dirty word and have an uncomfortable (at best) relationship with multi-grain cereals. For others, gluten-intolerance is a hard-hitting reality that requires real lifestyle shifts, as in the wonders of brown rice and quinoa. But, for many of us, the gluten-free everything fad is but another nutritionist trend. Bread-hate is a boon for the processed-foods industry, which harnesses whatever food-fear happens to be en vogue to churn out, and turn a pretty profit on, a dizzying array of packaged edibles.

Americans are seemingly petrified of eating real food and, at the same time, boast some of the highest levels of cardiac disease and obesity in the world. It goes without saying that something’s amiss in our gastronomic culture. As a whole, we are a nation for whom “first-world food scares,” and new-nutrition, trump sensual, traditional wisdom for nourishing our bodies.

There is a disarmingly easy way out: Go on and live in sin, consuming fresh-baked, dark-brown breads daily. All you have to lose are extra pounds, but eating that brown goodness will help you gain vital nutrients you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

This leads us to the dazzling variety of whole-grain, fresh-daily loaves in bakeries across Berlin, where I’m taking a spring live-work sabbatical. How do the Germans do it? Their rich, vast selections of bread are uniformly dense, weighty, and moist, with a crunchy crust and perfect crumb. This decadent Deutschland staple stimulates my palate, and the unrefined cereal grain, which preserves the plant’s bran and germ, is packed with nutrients.

Conversely, the white-flour milling process strips away everything but the wheat plant’s endosperm. Hello, simple starch! When you eat them, the body quickly metabolizes the resulting carbs into glucose, producing a sudden jolt of energy, followed by a craving for more and storage of unused glucose as fat. No wonder Americans are leery of the carbohydrates prevalent in our industrial diet, these breads leave us feeling tired, hungry, and overweight.

Until as recently as 100 years ago, traditional European diets relied on these unrefined grains, which kept intact the bran and germ. Bran is the hard, outer-layer of the wheat grain and it is replete with B-vitamins, as well as fibers that slow down the rate at which the body metabolizes food. The germ is the wheat seed’s innermost part, is protein-rich, and also contains Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids.

In Germany, breads are a traditional, celebrated aspect of their food culture and are taken seriously. In addition to using whole-grain flours, the method includes a slow-baking process in a steam-heated oven with a resulting bread that is nuttier, darker in color, and a splendid combination of firm and moist with a crackling crust. In a word, heaven.

In Berlin, a jaunt to my neighborhood “Backerei” leads me to delicious pumpkin seed-topped or hazelnut-laden breads. Just the sheer array of whole-grain baked goods within one block of my apartment inspires my appetite, but can be somewhat intimidating, given the succulent sensory overload and funny German names. Never fear, next time you’re visiting this cultural capital of the Western world, have heart that you can confidently order the choicest loaves in the bakery—just be sure to have the below complex-carb compendium in tow. Go forth, Americans, into the great, wide world of dark-brown breads!

Germany’s most-famous bread, pumpernickel is made with 100-percent rye. It’s rich, deep-mahogany in color, and its intensity makes it only for eaters who are brave of heart.

A traditional German staple, this mostly wheat (with a pinch of rye) bread evokes a rural nostalgia for the European countryside. Landbrot can be literally translated as farm bread.

Topped with browned sunflower seeds, sonnenblumenbrot brings a new meaning to toasted-nut bliss.

A whole-grain and rye blend, these everyday loaves are not uncommon on the tables of a typical German family.

Because this dough includes oats, rye, and wheat, Germans call it three-seed bread.

A multi-grain combo of wheat, rye, barley, oat and maize gives this loaf the name five-seed bread.

An easy English-language cognate, pretzels are a beloved German snack. These fresh-baked delights are everywhere you go, and what distinguishes them is their chewy, bagel-like texture and salty, dark exterior. One bite, and I am moved to speak the truth: “Dear Berlin, I love you.”

Image: jaybergerson, cloudsoup, yisris