Hagai Ben Yehuda comes from a long line of bread-makers, and has been engaged in the family business for most of his adult life. After attending a workshop for agricultural bakers in Brittany, he was inspired to learn about practices from the Fertile Crescent, where wheat was first cultivated. This led him to research the story of Israel’s wheat and develop a unique line of old-new products in his family’s kibbutz bakery. Bethan McKernan reports:
On his return home [from France], the baker began researching emmer, the “mother of wheat,” which was used for bread in biblical times and rediscovered growing wild near Mount Hermon, on the borders with Syria and Lebanon, in the 1940s. Other strains of intriguing colors, shapes and sizes included jaljuli, hourani, abu fashi, and dubiya samra—all grown locally for millennia, but by the 1960s replaced by imported common wheat, which has a much higher monetary yield.
Ben Yehuda got in touch with the Volcani Center, Israel’s agricultural research institute, to see if he could obtain some of these heirloom variety seeds, plant them, and find out what the bread would taste like.
“I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about agriculture,” he said. “I decided I should approach it like a winemaker. They know everything about the soil, the sun, the elevation. Being guided by the character of the wheat would make me a better baker.”
More about: Ancient Near East, Food, Israeli agriculture