The crust-free loaf: Is it the best thing since sliced bread?

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To the distaste of traditionalists, one of Britain's biggest bread producers has created the "invisible crust" loaf by making its harder exterior disappear in a secret baking process. The end result is designed to look as palatable to children as it does underdone to the trained adult eye.

Hovis launched the loaf after its research showed 45 per cent of bread was wasted in discarding the crusts. That, it says, more than makes up for the fact that its 99p loaf costs 25 per cent more than the British average.

Yesterday the new loaf had a mixed reception: nutritionists broadly welcomed the launch but traditionalists in the baking trade were less than keen.

The National Association of Master Bakers, which represents the traditional loaf-maker versus the Federation of Bakers, the umbrella organisation for industrial producers, said the new Hovis was an "accountant's" loaf.

David Smith, the chief executive of the NAMB, said: "It is a loaf inspired by accountants and marketing people. Would I buy it? No."

The British Dietetic Association welcomed the innovation if it caused children to eat more bread, which it said was a superior source of calories. Ideally, they would be eating four slices in their daily packed lunch, although the BDA stressed that a crustless loaf was no better or worse nutritionally. Sue Baic, a spokeswoman for the BDA, said: "It is good because it will encourage kids who are fussy eaters to eat more bread, which gives them proteins, vitamins, minerals carbohydrates and fibre.

"It is a low-fat part of a packed lunch which often has too many crisps and sweets. The whole-grain version is really useful because 90 per cent of kids do not get enough whole-grains and some don't get any at all. A lack of this in the diet is linked to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

"But at 99p per loaf it is more expensive than the UK average of 75p so you could just buy a cheaper loaf and cut the crusts off. It's not suitable for everybody; you are certainly paying for the convenience."

Mr Smith, of the Master Bakers, was unconvinced that children took exception to crusts because of their taste, as suggested by Hovis. Its researchers claimed a third were simply fussy and 19 per cent did not like the taste.

"I prefer a bread that is properly fermented and baked and which has a proper crust which is where much of the flavour is," he said. "The crust occurs with caramelisation of the sugars, hence the browning."

He also said Hovis was "dumbing down" the tastes of children by "pandering" to their quibbles. But there was "no such thing as bad bread", he added. "If I was a single mum with five children to feed, then a white sliced loaf for 60p would be just the job."

The NAMB claims that there is a return to traditional breads, partly inspired by British tastes for continental breads such as focaccia and ciabatta. Mr Smith said: "These new launches are nothing new. It is a question of whether it catches on and, more significantly, for how long."