Once every week, my phone buzzes frantically. Not a work call, not an emergency, but a WhatsApp group selling bread. Yet, it feels no less than a competition, and only a prized few get their hands on a freshly-baked artisanal loaf. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis and the quantities are limited, as they are dished out of a baking unit in Cooke Town in Bengaluru. Priced between Rs 170 to Rs 240 compared to Rs 40 for a supermarket loaf, what is making some Bengaluru residents splurge and change their bread habits?
In 2015, Nitash Lalkaka of Patisserie Nitash started baking artisanal sourdough loaves. Crusty with air pockets, sourdough bread uses a live fermented starter which works as a replacement for commercial yeast. Tougher on the bite, it has a mild sour taste and uses no chemical bread improvers or preservatives. He continues to bake every day for regulars and announces baking plans on a group, which now has over 500 members.
Others send out bake order forms, announcements or surreptitious menus with pictures. Placing an order won’t lead you to a traditional bakery, but rather to a basement baking unit or a home kitchen, heavy with the scent of fresh-out-of-the-oven crumbly bread.
While craft bread itself isn’t new to Bengaluru, the city may be witnessing the start of a mini movement among bread enthusiasts. “While I wouldn’t call it a movement yet, it is certainly getting there,” says Pranav Ullal, who started Loafer and Co. in October 2018.
Sourdough and baguettes from Krumb Kraft
Many bakers have seen an increase in order volumes in the past year, along with a greater interest in sourdough bread from customers. It’s said to be more easily digestible, with a lower glycemic index that doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes the way normal refined flour bread does. “We have seen a nearly 100% increase in our orders. We went from doing 40 loaves a week to 250 a week this year,” says Samruddhi Nayak, who started Krumb Kraft in 2016. Dealing in all things sourdough, Samruddhi claims there has been a considerable increase in sales at the B2B level too.
Oven Spring, which began in 2016 as a culmination of Ponnanna MP’s self-taught breads in partnership with Pierre Gregoire, also clocks up to 300 loaves a week, up from the 100-150 it did last year.
Samruddhi Nayak of Krumb Kraft
Fad or not?
Whether it is the health benefits of natural bread without commercial yeast that makes it easily digestible or the texture and taste, sourdough is a clear winner among the varieties that home bakers have on offer. Sourdough bread is also available in whole wheat variants and those flavoured with everything from olives to chocolate.
For the bakers, the growing interest in the sourdough bread they produce isn’t just a fad.
“While the health angle can’t be dismissed, one of the reasons sourdough works here is because of the texture. It is similar to our Indian breads -- tough and chewy and in fact works well with curries,” says Ponnanna.
Pranav agrees, and says the bread has to taste good first, the health benefits come later.
Selvan Thandapani of Sour House says that they specialise in naturally fermented breads and other fermented products like kefir, a fermented milk drink. He believes the rise in the number of sourdough bread bakers in town is feeding the trend in its own way. Hotels are restaurants too have been introducing sourdough and other artisanal breads on their menus, such as Toast and Tonic and The Smoke Co.
Handmade in small batches often using locally-sourced grains, with as few as three ingredients, Bengaluru’s bread culture is growing. “The whole practice of making bread by hand and eliminating chemicals is gaining popularity,” says Anahita Girish of Loafer and Co. She first baked sourdough bread at Toast and Tonic before she took to it full time.
Drawbacks of the business
With choices aplenty and many new bakers, Nitash notes the rising interest in artisanal loaves is not be proportionate to the actual sales. Customers must also choose to spend four to six times the cost of an everyday loaf of bread.
“I may have 500 members on a WhatsApp group, but only as few as a 130 buy regularly. Some buy a loaf to try and then don’t reorder. On the other hand, if I do put up dessert on sale, it has more takers,” he says, explaining that bread itself isn’t a viable business option for a baker. “Besides, sourdough bread is a bit of an acquired taste and it can’t really take the place of staple food,” he adds.
And from a health perspective, enthusiasm for bread is often tied to changing diet trends, from whole wheat to gluten-free alternatives. “Bread has always taken a huge rap in the past for being unhealthy. And I hope that changes,” says Pranav, who uses millet flour and whole grains in his loaves, and recently introduced a whole wheat variant.
Breads from Krumb Kraft
In a nutshell
Despite the prices, the numbers are indicative of a growing new industry. Besides a pretty loaf to take home, bakers are also teaching their craft to those who want to bake at home. Krumb Kraft organises regular courses and Sour House has recently started workshops. “We do an ‘Introduction to Sourdough’ workshop every month with six participants and they’ve all been sold out so far,” says Selvan Thandapani.