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Introduction to Steamed Bread

Wheat was grown in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and Gansu and Henan Provinces in northern China more than 5000 years ago, as has been verified by radiocarbon dating (Dodson et al., 2013). Early Chinese characters found on “oracle bones” (tortoise shells or ox bones used as a form of divination), dating from the Shang Dynasty (1751–1122 BCE), provide written evidence of wheat being widely grown throughout Henan (Fan, 1982). Flour milling commenced during the Warring States period, 475–221 BCE (Chen, 1994, 1995) and became widespread. During this time, the text “Mozigenzhu” recording the work of the famous ancient philosopher Mozi contains a reference to “bing,” which is the common name of cooked wheaten food at that time (Wang, 1984; Zeng, 2002).

Flour-based foods developed further during the Han Dynasty (206–220 AD) and boiled noodles and sesame seed breads gained popularity. It is believed that steamed breads and buns were first produced during the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). As described in the work “Shi Wu Ji Yuan” written by a famous governor, Gao Chen, Prime Minister Zhuguo Lian, in a ceremony before war, ordered the use of meat-filled steamed buns to symbolize human heads (Li, 1998). An early monograph on agriculture, “Qi Min Yao Shu,” written during the 6th century, detailed methods of making more than 20 varieties of wheaten foods and indicated that fermented dough was used to make a steamed product, which was the earliest steamed bread (Wang, 1985).

It is believed that there were five stages during which significant improvements were made in dough fermentation know-how and application (Wang, 1985). There was a need to provide a “starter” for dough fermentation as there was no available source of “pure” yeast. Therefore residual fermentation products
from other fermented foods were initially introduced into the dough toprovide the necessary leavening action, flavors, and aromas. This ultimately led to the replacement of the traditional starters with residual dough from previous fermentations. The first stage (200 AD) was “rice wine fermentation”; the second stage (600 AD) was “sour rice syrup fermentation” as recorded in the book “Qi Min Yao Shu.” The third stage (1200 AD) was “sourdough fermentation”; the fourth stage (1300 AD) was “liquid sourdough plus alkali fermentation”; and the fifth stage (1500 AD) was “improved sourdough fermentation.” Sourdough fermentation, which appeared during the Song Dynasty (960–1276 AD), provided the basis for modern fermentation technology. The technology for making steamed bread is almost the same today as during the Yuan Dynasty (1280–1367 AD), when people knew how to use alkali to neutralize the acids produced during fermentation. The word “shixin mantou” (steamed bread without filling) first appeared during the early Qin Dynasty in the novel “Ru Lin Wai Shi” (Liu, 2005).

Refferences : Steamed Breads Ingredients, Processing and Quality. by : Sidi Huang and Diane Miskelly

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