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World Building Resources: Bread

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

It is pretty hard to write a story without food coming up SOMEWHERE in the narrative. It almost always, at least in the fantasy or gothic genre's, involves a tavern or an inn and the meal invariably features bread.

Most of the time, its simply called bread. But occasionally, it is described...the taste, texture, fragrance, sound and/or color. For example: "The hot, yeasty smell of the fresh black bread teased her senses and made her mouth water." This is just one of those little ways in which details could make for a great variation of a typical literary image. But these small details can make the scene much more vivid to the readers imagination.

What about incorporating ancient grains into your story instead of relying on the old standby, wheat? Here is a list of seven different ancient grains which could be used to describe bread or could be used in your story as creative food sources.

  1. Amaranthe- a tiny grain, which, when ground makes a really good substitute for wheat. Its high in iron, protein and calcium.

  2. Buckwheat- a great alternative to rice for porridge. When ground, it makes a nutty tasting batter for pancakes.

  3. Barley- almost as common as wheat in literature. Barley, however, has been cultivated for 10,000 years. Also nutty in taste.

  4. Ferro- and ancient strain of wheat. It is also known as Emmer. One of the first grains cultivated in the ancient middle eastern area of the Fertile Crescent, which is spanned modern day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, together with the Northern region of Kuwait and the Southeastern region of Turkey and the Western region of Iran. Ferro could quite possibly been the standard grain given to Roman Soldiers with their food ration.

  5. Kamut- An ancient Khorasan wheat variety. The grains are twice the size of modern wheat, with a higher concentration of proteins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals than modern wheat strains.

  6. Teff- It has been traditionally used in Ethiopia for centuries to make a very thin flatbread.

  7. Quinoa- Exceptionally high in protein, it can be boiled and cooked like rice. It can also be ground to use like flour. Due to a naturally occurring saponin that coats the seeds, it must be washed before consuming or it can cause gastric distress: stomach cramping and diarrhea. To use the quinoa to make flour, it must be washed, dried and roasted before it can be ground and used.

  8. Rye- Much more known but not utilized as much as wheat in the literary forum. Originally grown in Germanic areas, it is actually thought to have been the seeds of weeds in wheat and barley fields.

  9. Millet- Similar to Teff, but NOT the same. Millet has a creamy or fluffy texture when boiled and eaten as porridge. Millet is mild flavored, and often toasted before it is used. It tastes subtly like corn, but sweeter and nuttier once cooked. Its not suitable to make bread on its own, so needs to be mixed with other flours. Other wise the bread would be heavy, dense and bland.

  10. Spelt- In existence much longer than wheat, but can be used in all the same ways. Spelt has been cultivated since 5000 BC and was a staple grain in parts of Europe from the Bronze age through medieval times. It is also used sometimes in Bavaria and Belgium to brew beer and in Poland, it is used to distill Vodka.

If you wish to do some research and enrich your work with some greater or historical detail, look into these books:

Bread- A Global History

Bread: A slice of History

Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Cultures

We've curated these works and added them to the Visual Adjectives Book Store.


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