Bakers Journal, April 2002 
By Rebecca Maxwell

Shasha Bread Co. Raises bread to a new level

Working toward the collective good

There’s an expression that says, “If you don’t like the way something is, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” I think this saying holds some truth for many of us. It’s easy to question the state of things around you without stopping to consider what can be done to change them. Its an attitude we all fall victim to at some point or another. However there are individuals in all different facets of life who choose to consider the options, to think about things differently in order to precipitate change. One such person is ShaSha Navazesh, an artisan baker located in Toronto. The owner of ShaSha Bread Co. produces a variety of all-organic, rustic sourdough breads (see pg.20)

Dissatisfied with the existing level of consumer awareness surrounding the quality of various breads in the marketplace, Navazesh hopes to educate the public about the health benefits attainable through well-produced, nutritious artisan bread.

For Navazesh, however simply producing such bread himself is not enough. While he is proud of his company’s product, and its place in the market, he is not territorial about that space. Its not a bigger piece of pie he seeks, but rather a bigger pie altogether.

Believing in the philosophy that the collective good is more important than the individual. Navazesh hopes to bring Ontario artisan bakers together to share ideas, recipes and techniques with the hope of increasing the availability of healthy bread on the market.

(Editorial)

To do he has established the “Artisan Baker’s Quality Alliance (ABQA).” Its goal is to build an “umbrella brand” for artisan breads. Navazesh hopes the brand will represent an image and promise to consumers, and will differentiate ABQA products from other bread products.

While only time will tell how successful the Alliance will become, the act of bringing industry members together can only be seen as a positive move. A movement towards shared information is a movement towards innovation and co-operation. The sharing of ideas, techniques, solutions, and even problems, will not only serve the bakers involved but consumers as well. Better products result not only in better health for consumers but also better sales for producers.

If you’re an artisan baker interested in raising the profile of your product, consider looking into what the ABQA has to offer, the founders of the organization see it as a means to enhance visibility and market growth while at the same time educate consumers. You may have something to gain and you more than likely have something to offer other artisan bakers as well. (By Rebecca Maxwell Editor)

Baker Shasha Navazesh knows what he wants. The owner and founder of Toronto’s ShaSha Bread Co. wants to produce the highest quality bread possible, raise consumer awareness about its health benefits, and share his recipes with rival bakers. Sound unbelievable? Not when he explains why.

Navazesh’s main goal is to make better bread for health-conscious Canadians. As the single most important food item in our diet, he believes the nutritional value of bread plays an integral role in the wellness of consumers, but in the market place full of discount items and loss leaders, Navazesh says the health benefits of superior bread still need to be explained to many consumers.

To this end, Navazesh is eager to work with other artisan bakers-and share his recipes if need be – to put more quality bread on the market. He believes artisan bakers not only have the opportunity to provide an incredible product, but also to form a relationship with their patrons by helping to educate them on their products.

Forming An Alliance

Consumers remain at the forefront of Navazesh’s work. He not only hopes to educate consumers of the health benefits of this type of bread, but also increase the availability of artisan breads.

To this end, Navazesh came up with the idea of baker’s alliance, intended to invoke the sharing of ideas and recipes as well as increase the product’s market share,

With the assistance of the provincial government, Navazesh has proposed the creation of an alliance of specialty bakers in Ontario that would carry the “Artisan Bakers Quality Alliance” seal. This ABQA seal would be standard, consistent and accurate label that would greatly reduce consumer confusion.

There is a growing demand for nutritious, preservative and additive-free, organic bread product,” Navazesh says. “Presently, there are only a few bakeries supplying the type of product. A baker’s alliance would help farmers, grain processors and retailers to take advantage of this growing market opportunity.”

Because some of the best specialty grains are already being grown and processed in Ontario, Navazesh believes a foundation exists to pave the way for the Ontario baking industry to become a leader in this market and compete with the U.S. companies. The alliance, he says, will also enhance the reputation of Ontario as an exporter of quality baked goods.

Following a study taken by the ministry of Agriculture Food Industry Competitiveness Branch, which showed the alliance to be a feasible undertaking, the ABQA held its first meeting in April 2000. Attendees decided that health would be the platform for the ABQA and that three elements were essential purity of ingredients, the Artisan baking technique and Goo Manufacturing Process (GMP).

Now in the works for approximately a year, Navazesh says the alliance has an interim board of directors and is poised to incorporate and begin a membership drive. To date, more than 20 companies have expressed interest in becoming members, he adds.

Looking down the road, Navazesh says he hopes the Alliance will help raise the standard of bread products on the market as well as the recognition of the artisan baker.

People will know their baker. They will want to discuss new products, gather nutritional information and plan meals with the help of the baker. The baker will become part of the process of nutrition and lifestyle that people will value very highly,” he speculates.

When families can enjoy the flavour, variety and new taste experiences, while having the healthiest products possible, we will have been successful in our efforts with the Baker’s Quality Alliance.”

Artisan Baker’s Quality Alliance

Artisan bakers are known to be passionate about their craft, ShaSha notes. The purpose of the ABQA is to raise the profile of artisan breads and educate consumers. Its goal is to build an “umbrella brand” for artisan breads, similar to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) for Ontario wines. The brand will represent an image and promise to consumers and will differentiate ABQA products from other bread products.

The Alliance’s core value is the health of consumers, with an emphasis on craftsmanship, ShaSha says. From a production point of view, that means:

  • Mixing individual ingredients (no bakery mixes)
  • No added chemicals, additives, bleach or oxidizing agents, or processing aids
  • Only mandatory vitamins and minerals in flour from approved sources
  • 25 to 50 per cent of the bread-making process must be manual ( can’t be fully automated)
  • Mechanized equipment is allowable, but the equipment must not drive or alter the recipe
  • Only sourdough technique or sponge method (half sourdough) allowed; no quick rising straight method fermentation
  • Must be HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) approved, and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) along with regular monitoring of water quality
  • Safe packaging with no use of gas or other shelf stabilizing aides

The founders see the organization as a means to enhance visibility and market

Growth, and to help inform and educate consumers and gain their trust. A logo will be created to identify and promote artisan-baked products, he notes. ABQA will work to build the brand so consumers will associate the logo with the quality and integrity of the products and the people behind them.

According to ShaSha, the ABQA will also benefit members by: providing a strong industry voice; creating consumer confidence by setting and monitoring standards; cooperating on activities such as purchasing, warehousing, marketing, distribution and e-commerce and communicating with the Canadian Wheat Board. The ABQA will also encourage research and development, share best practices, identify government funding, influence baking college curriculum to produce better-trained bakers and collaborate on advertising.

Bread Basics

Chef consultant, pastry chef and artisan baker, Iranian-born Navazesh is a well-traveled man who brought knowledge and experience about food and baking to Canada. His love for food and passion for baking led him to marry his knowledge and expertise with skills and techniques he learned in the culinary management program at Toronto’s George Brown College in 1990.

Now, Navazesh runs ShaSha Bread Co. and channels some of his profits –and a federal research grant-into unlocking the mysteries of bacteria cultures that are the foundations of his loaves. He raises bacteria and fungus into “sours” (sourdough starters or cultures used to ferment dough for loaves of: whole wheat bread (yeast free), all organic, stone-ground bread with sprouted rye, spelt and kamut bread, raisin spelt bread, all-organic, stone-ground, Ezekiel bread, all-organic, multigrain bread with organic sprouted rye, sprouted wheat bread with sprouted organic rye, and a chocolate rye loaf.

What is Sourdough?

Sourdough is a misnomer: “sour” refers to the “mother” or starter used to ferment the dough, but does not mean it tastes sharp or vinegary. It is a symbiotic culture of bacteria (lactobacilli) and airborne fungus (wild yeast) in which each element within the relationship provides something the other elements need.

Sourdough starter is made from water and grain flour, which creates the environment and food for these micro-organisms to perform their magic. How does this symbiotic interaction of airborne wild yeast and bacteria create this magic? Wild yeast metabolizes complex sugars and starches from carbohydrates. This produces the food that the bacteria and yeast need to survive and multiply.
Navazesh also produces a line of par-baked products, which includes an Italian style “Ciabatta”, and a number of dry products, including sesame rice sticks, Armenian Lavash, wheat-free flatbread and decorative bread bowls.
ShaSha bread is sold for between $3 and $5 at Toronto-area health-food stores, fine food stores, hotels, restaurants and grocery stores, including Loblaws, Dominion, Longo’s and Sobeys.

Nutrition

Unlike supermarket breads, Shasha bread contains no preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, oil, sugar or commercial yeast. Navazesh uses certified organic grains for sprouting, organic stone-ground flours, organic ancient sourdough starter, unbleached spring wheat flour, Dead Sea salt (for its high mineral content), carefully selected grains and seeds, organically grown raisins and filtered water.

A number of ingredients can be added to bread in addition to the basic ingredients to increase its nutritional value, Navazesh explains. For example, the right amount of sunflower seeds added to the bread mix can supply sufficient amounts of zinc, calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6. The use of sea salt in bread is another way to enrich its nutritional value, as it is a source of trace minerals, he notes. The addition of sprouted grains and seeds to bread also enhances its nutritional value dramatically.

Like many artisan baker, Navazesh will not use commercial yeast for quick-rising action. ShaSha bread ferments for six to 18 hours. According to Navazesh, this breaks down the protein into amino acids, greatly improving g the digestibility of the bread resulting in higher levels of lactic acid.

Lactic acid acts as a flavour agent and increases the nutritional value of the bread. Combining the long fermentation process with organic sprouted grains allows him to make a highly nutritional organic baked product, Navazesh adds.

Research

ShaSha Bread Co. is the only bakery in Canada that has received the National Council of Canada IRAP, 1999 (Industrial Research Assistance Program) grant – a federally sponsored program through the University of Guelph that provides the means for dedicated researchers to advance Canadian products. “We used the grant to research the bacteria culture (sourdough starter),” Navazesh notes.
Why research bacteria culture? “Instead of using commercially produced yeast, sourdough method baking relies on naturally occurring bacterial cultures that have been carefully developed to provide the fermentation of leavening bread,” Navazesh explains.
These cultures or bacteria-fungus replace commercial yeast. Sourdough cultures are natural, airborne, beneficial bacteria and fungus and are not commercially manufactured, he explains. As a result, many consumers inflicted with yeast intolerance can enjoy the bread.