Best bread in South Africa

Bake the best bread in South Africa for R5 a loaf. Bernard Preston must be off his rocker, I hear you thinking; that retails for about forty rand. If it’s too good to be true, then it simply cannot be done, full stop.

But it is true, and I have been baking it sporadically for thirty years, and daily for the last ten, so it is not all hubris and BS.

But yes there is a catch.

Panera bread loaf still in the pan.

I was first introduced to wheat by a farmer in the Bergville district by the name of Barry Sclanders some thirty years ago. A fine man, he convinced me there was a huge difference between what we today call 100% meal from our own mill, and the so-called wholegrain flour that we buy from the supermarket.

He was right, but I did not realise just how spot-on until more recently when I discovered that, by international agreement, millers can remove up to 40% of the bran and germ, and still call it wholemeal. It’s a big fat monumental lie.

So I inveigled a nephew into bringing me a very heavy mill from Germany, one that is still in daily use, having had no repairs or maintenance in all that time. And bought a 50kg bag of wheat from Barry.

What he didn’t warn me about was the weevil, but that is a story for another day; in short storing your wheat berries for two weeks in a deep-freeze kills all the bugs and their eggs.  

And so began a journey with baking that continues to this day; only recently I learned how much a teaspoon of lemon juice in the dough improves the texture of your loaf. Bread experiments are not only fun but eventually lead to your own unique loaf.

Barry alas is no more but I am still able to purchase 200kg of winter wheat every year in December from a Bergville farmer. It costs R4/kg, delivered at my door, though I will admit to throwing in a couple bottles of natural honey as a sweetener.

In 2020 we bought 500kg but the price has risen to R5,800 per ton.

Hawo wheat mill.

The very inferior supermarket ‘wholemeal’ costs nearly five times as much; I’ve been to the mill myself, but they refuse to divulge just how much of the bran and germ they extract. That no doubt is sold separately to the companies that manufacture supplements and the pig farmer. This National Panasonic bread maker has baked many thousands of loaves without a hiccough.

Bread maker.

To bake loaves like these there are three major expenses. The flour, the yeast, and the electricity, plus a few other items like salt and, if you really want to have the very best bread in SA, in the world I’d say, you have to add a tablespoon of hummus, two more of butternut soup and a scoop of sourdough starter.

400g of wheat cost me R1.60, the yeast R1.33 and the electricity if you have a bread-machine about a rand; a lot more in the regular oven. That comes to R4 to make a loaf weighing over a kilo; the standard in SA weighs 700g. If you add your own hummus and butternut soup you can add a little more to the bill.

Then the cost of the sourdough mixture for wonderful flavour and better digestion of the gluten is that of one cup of flour; add a tablespoon of raw honey and you have bread that tastes so good that it will take your breath away. It really is the very best in South Africa and it’s doubtful you will find better anywhere in the whole world.

Best bread in South Africa

Best bread in South Africa but there is a catch; you need a mill and know a farmer who grows the wheat, if you want it for R6 per loaf in 2021.

Real bread logo.

Interestingly the heart association endorses whole grains, like those used to make this bread, but even the best from the shops falls far short; it is refined and will certainly raise your blood glucose alarmingly if you are in the slightest insulin resistant as a great many South Africans are. And that is particularly worrying in these Covid times.

The refined starch as found in commercial bread is strongly associated with obesity and diabetes.

A stone mill costs about R6000 from Go Natural in Somerset West and watch Gumtree for a small oven; many start the journey but few are willing to commit five-minutes to have the very best bread in South Africa. At a saving of R30 a day, for a loaf that will certainly be inferior to yours, the machinery will be paid off in one year if you bake daily.

So where do you begin to have what the Brits are calling real bread? With a little dedicated oven and flour from a Drakensberg valley; if it takes your fancy then you start your own journey of discovery and greater wellness.

If it works for you, then you can start hunting for that wheat farmer and your own mill.


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