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More about early South American/Ecuadorian bread history

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Having continued on from the inquiry in this thread,

Ecuadorian bread history?

I have found a random assortment of other facts about early South American (European-style) bread, most, but not all of it about Ecuador and particularly Quito. (I doubt many people are interested in the minutiae of this subject, but to the degree anyone is they are probably to be found on this board. :) )

Here then (sans references) are my current findings. As I go on, I may well be tempted to assemble something more formal.

According to Humboldt, a Black slave of Fernando Cortez introduced wheat to New Spain, having found three grains of wheat in the rice that had been brought for the army's food.

In Quito, the Franciscan monastery kept (and may still keep) an earthen container in which Brother Jodoco Rixi of Ghent brought wheat to sow in the city. It bears an inscription (probably in Flemish) "Let he who drains me in drinking not forget the Lord."

In Chile, Marie d'Escobar, wife of Diego de Chaves brought a few grains of wheat to Lima, sometime after 1547.

The 18th century writer La Harpe said the bread in Lima was both tasty and white, and was made by Blacks for the bakers. There were three qualities: the criollo, very light, French-style bread and soft bread.

The work was so hard that masters would send disobedient slaves to work in the bakeries where they hardly slept, were poorly fed and would end up much weakened. Just the threat of this was apparently enough to impose obedience (according to La Harpe, the Greeks and Romans did the same thing.)

In Quito, about the same time, wheat bread was unusually common and very cheap, but would, says La Harpe, have been better if the Peruvians who made it had known how to knead it.

On December 24, 1790, the government offered a prize in Ambato to the first baker who would make well fermented and well baked bread. This may be one reason the city was long known for the excellence of its bread.

Already in 1802, an excellent, very white bread was being made in Riobamba. In 1892, an English traveler there said that his people "fancied the bread of the country."

In 1823 - about the same time Boussingault was in Quito -, the best bread in that province was being made in Ambato, with eggs which made it "like big cakes" and sold in Guayaquil. (Ambato's bread was still being sold there in 1875.) In San Miguel de la Chimba at that time the bread was made from potatoes and oats.

Flour then came from North America to Cartagena (Colombia) and was sent to Novita, costing 34 piasters the barrel. A four ounce roll cost a silver Real (corresponding to 2 French francs, 50 centimes an ounce at the time, the same price as meat)/ (Ecuador was then part of Gran Colombia; but wheat may have been cheaper in Quito, which grew its own).

In 1828, several types of bread were being brought to the Quito market, all in the forms of "little cakes". The price went down after noon, because of the "habit of only eating soft bread". This suggests that the bread was being made with a yeast-like substance (probably still chicha dregs), since bread made with sourdough typically lasts longer. (Note that all this was just before Ecuador's independence in 1830, which may among other things have affected production and consumption of bread.)

The bread in Guayaquil was then said to be of inferior quality, even though the flour was good. Ambato's bread continued to be known as excellent.

In 1835, a French writer found the bread in Quito "worthless", because it was mixed with a flour of peas, lentils and oats. (Note that today French flour often includes some lima bean flour.) Since no one else mentions this mixture, however, this traveler may either have eaten an unusual form of bread or the young country's turmoils might simply have impacted the cultivation of wheat, etc.

Around 1850, a French writer found European bread as made in South America unsatisfactory, despite the presence of some French bakers. In Quito, one of these (who made bread for the President) was so valued that he went unpunished after stabbing one of his servant women to death.

In 1878, locals in Quito preferred potatoes to wheat and both potatoes and wheat cost $1.60 for 100 lbs. But descendants of Europeans preferred wheat bread. "The bread is generally of very inferior quality, for several reasons. The grain is, for the most part, very poor, and not ground enough. The dough is kneaded very imperfectly and the bread is half baked."

In 1896, rolls of bread were being used as small change in Ecuador.

In the same year, bread in Venezuela was made by pounding the grain (corn, wheat, rye, or barley) in large mortars of hard wood or stone. The flour was cleaned with water, which brought the chaff to the surface, then mixed with water and ground to paste between two stones, molded into flat cakes, wrapped in leaves, and baked on flat stones heated by a fire built on them. (This may have been indigenous bread however, since the process mentions no leavening.)

Though most white bread seems to have been from wheat, one account from 1896 describes ring-shaped or flat bread made from yucca, with a yellow crust and a snow-white interior "spongy, translucent, like blown bubbles of bread".

Voila, for now. The overall picture is of a decline over time in the bread of Quito, at least. It does leave the suggestion too that some of the "white bread" eaten by travelers may have been indigenous (of corn, yucca, etc.) rather than of wheat.

Edited by chezjim (log)

Jim Chevallier


Austrian, yes; queen, no:

August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie came to France

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I'd add to this (since I've been investigating the history of bread in Ambato, where I live and have my bakery) that Ambato bread is generally considered to be superior for its finer texture and richer flavour, when compared to the breads of other cities. Speaking to the elderly bakers in the area reveals that Ambato was the first city to impose a fairly strict 3-rise process for wheat breads, which greatly improved their texture given the extreme altitude of the city. This rule continues to this day, which is why the bread here is still considered to be the best in the country.

Having done my own experiments with yeast-leavened breads here (and I live at probably the highest possible altitude in the city, roughly 10,000 feet), I can tell you that the processes that work well in Quito (two rises, increased quantities of yeast) either fall absolutely flat here or produce bread that is so bubbly as to have little substance and poor texture. Equally, the single and double-rise processes I learned in Canada (near sea level) produce horrible results. However, the addition of an egg to the dough, slightly less yeast, and a longer process in rising coupled with an extra rise and punching, produces fine-textured, evenly and properly rising breads that are a pleasure to bake and eat - and regardless of the flour mix I choose to use!

This makes sense given the general knowledge about altitude's effects on baked goods....


I've also got something to add about fine-textured indigenous white breads with chicha ferment leavening. These are generally made using a mixture of finely-ground white corn, yucca, and quinua flours (at least, according to my adopted abuela Delfina, who taught me her recipe and method) and when done properly have a flavour and texture on par with fine French wheat breads.

Edited by Panaderia Canadiense (log)

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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