Good food has a good story.
The better the food, the better the story.
There might be exceptions, but I don’t know of any.
In the average grocery store, the most unusual, extraordinary, inspiring story is the story of Ezekiel bread. Like many such stories, this one starts in California in the 60’s.
Food for Life, the company that produces Ezekiel bread, says on their website:
“It was 1964, and our grandfather, Max Torres, worked at a local, neighborhood natural foods store. He started to become more aware of his body and his health, and very passionate about understanding the intricacies of food.”
Max Torres also read scripture, and read it carefully, as a living text that contained lessons for his daily life. In a lesser-known book of the Hebrew Bible, he discovered a bread recipe.
Food for Life’s website doesn’t exactly explain how Max first baked the bread, but it offers the following:
Ezekiel 4:9 products are crafted in the likeness of the Holy Scripture verse Ezekiel 4:9 to ensure unrivaled honest nutrition and pure, delicious flavors.
“Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils and millet, and spelt and put them in one vessel…” Ezekiel 4:9
Somehow, Max Torres, employee at a natural foods store, was inspired to bake a recipe from scripture. Fifty years later, this recipe is the basis of an international business. It’s also one of the best products you’ll find in any grocery store today.
From ancient Jerusalem to Southern California
The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, may Peace be upon him, is one of the later books of the Hebrew Bible. Modern scholars believe he lived 500-600 years before the birth of Jesus, may Peace be upon him.
I don’t know the significance of Ezekiel in Jewish tradition, may God’s peace be upon him.
I do know of many Christians who have pondered the Book of Ezekiel, particularly on its mystical aspects. For example, William Blake did a number of paintings depicting the strange creatures that were revealed to the prophet. Others have focused on the detailed symbolic actions that God commanded Ezekiel to perform, which the book records in detail.
Max Torres focused on the bread recipe.
For me, among all the inscrutable, otherworldly elements of the Book of Ezekiel, I would venture to say that the story of the bread recipe is the strangest part.
God commands Ezekiel, “Go, shut thyself within thine house.” (3:24) and then gives the prophet, may Peace be upon him, a detailed set of unusual commands:
- Using household items, make a small representation of the city of Jerusalem (4:1) as well as an army besieging the city (4:2-4:3)
- Lie down on his left side for 390 days (4:4-4:5) then his right side for 40 days (4:6)
- Bake bread according to a specific recipe, and eat only that bread for the entire 430-day period of lying down (4:9)
- Eat meat occasionally during this time, and also drink water (4:10-4:11)
In a moment of inspiration, Max Torres decided to bake that bread.
Here, we come to a gap in the story.
If it was simply a matter of trying the bread recipe, Max could not have been the first. Indeed, many people must have tried it before.
But Max did something different: he sprouted the grains first.
This wasn’t random.
Max could only have come to this idea by pondering the recipe deeply, during a period of study and introspection. Food for Life’s website explains:
“He began to study how foods, when paired with an understanding of one’s own body, can truly uplift, relieve and fulfill one with strength and energy.”
Sprouts were a thing in the natural foods scene in southern California in the 60’s. In particular, East Asian immigrants and their families had introduced sprouted beans to the culinary vocabulary.
Max probably knew the benefits of sprouted grains, and this led him to try making the Ezekiel 4:9 bread recipe with sprouts.
The genius of an ordinary man
I’m in awe of this story.
I’m not in awe because Max Torres was some uniquely gifted genius. Indeed, the Food for Life website says the opposite, that Max’s story “probably began a little something like yours.”
Max Torres was a regular person – but Ezekiel bread is a straight up miracle.
Food for Life’s tagline says as much:
Among other benefits, sprouted grains have a lower glycemic index, a more alkaline pH, and higher availability of minerals. Sprouting also creates A, C, and B-complex vitamins, and breaks down phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors.
However, Food for Life’s number one claim about Ezekiel bread is always this:
Source of Complete Protein – Rated 84.3% as efficient as the highest source of protein (comparable to that of milk or eggs)
Somehow, when the six grains in Ezekiel bread are combined and sprouted, they create an amino acid profile similar to milk or egg protein.
I have personally verified this claim, not in a lab, but in my kitchen.
Time travel by baking bread
I first noticed Ezekiel bread while I was in college. It was in the freezer section of natural foods stores in Boston. I never purchased it. I wasn’t into frozen bread.
At the time, I made my own sourdough, several times a week. I explored European style wheat and rye loaves, and Ethiopian style teff flatbreads, known in Amharic and Somali as injera, and fermented rice and lentil pancakes, known as daal across South Asia.
I ground my own flour from whole grains, using a hand crank mill. This took 3-5 hours per week, and gave me ample time to ponder the countless generations of ordinary people, mostly women, who made flour by hand.
Later, I bought an electric mill.
By any method, baking sourdough bread is a long process, requiring many steps over a period of at least 24-72 hours.
Each time I baked, I studied and explored the subtle sweetness, rich aromas, and complex flavors of that particular batch of bread. Every slight variation in the process created a unique effect.
I began to see that deep knowledge of bread was common, especially among ordinary people, until very recently.
In my mind, I journeyed across the pre-modern world. I dined with the peasants of medieval Germany and France, highlands of Ethiopia, the Ganges plain and the Deccan plateau of India. I helped with their kitchen chores. Wherever I traveled, I noticed that my hosts made bread, and broke bread, together, among their families, villages, communities. They worked and ate in groups, laughing, gossiping, sharing.
Few of my college classmates helped me to bake bread. I understood, in that time, this modern phenomenon of loneliness.
And when I visited a grocery store, it seemed empty. As though nothing on the shelves contained any nourishment.
Nothing had a story.
A Visit to SoCal
About 6 months after I left college, I visited friends in southern California. It seemed a little ridiculous to bring my own bread from Massachusetts.
I remembered Ezekiel bread.
The morning after I arrived in San Diego, I called Food for Life’s customer service line. A friendly woman informed me that most major supermarkets in southern California carried their bread, fresh. She also gave me a few suggestions for how to preserve the bread longer than the suggested 5 day shelf life. I told her it wouldn’t last that long, and thanked her.
During that trip, I lived on vegetables, butter, and Ezekiel bread.
Learning how to bake Ezekiel bread
When I returned to Massachusetts, I decided to make Ezekiel bread.
I started with the ingredients on the ingredients on the package:
- 1 cup wheat
- 1 cup spelt
- 1 cup millet
- 1 cup barley
- 1 cup lentils
- 1 cup soybeans
I mixed the grains and legumes, and sprouted them over a period of a few days. My flour mill couldn’t handle moist sprouted grain, so I tried a food processor, and I proceeded to shred the plastic spindle. Still, I got far enough that I had a chunky paste to put in the oven.
The bread – my own homemade Ezekiel bread – was like an omelette, or a souffle. It had the texture of cooked eggs.
The flavor was sprouted grain, slightly sweet, earthy. It came out far too wet, with chunks of soybeans and other grains that weren’t ground up before the food processor was destroyed.
I liked it, but I didn’t really share it with anyone.
If I made it 40 or 50 times more, I’m sure it would improve.
The imperative to build a business
As he developed the recipe, Torres must have shared his early attempts at baking Ezekiel bread with friends and family.
Maybe he failed a few times. But eventually, people must have liked it. A lot.
The story could have ended there.
Instead, Max built a business that changed the food landscape of this country.
Today we shop for food. Almost everyone buys their bread.
For me, in most stores, there’s only one kind of bread worth buying: Ezekiel bread. I don’t bother with anything else. It’s not worth it. I would rather just not eat bread.
Good food has a story.
You can look for stories in the supermarket, but we know how that usually works out.
Ezekiel bread is a jewel in the modern food desert, one that nourishes millions of people every day. Max Torres’ story should inspire us.
We can write ourselves into a better story.
These days, perhaps half of my own meals include Ezekiel bread. I’m grateful for every bite.
I miss making bread. I long for it, but I tell myself I don’t have time. Maybe that’s an excuse, but maybe it’s true. The blessing, the baraka of time is fast departing from this world.
In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite recipes for Ezekiel bread. All of them involve frying the bread in butter. Ezekiel bread is highly absorbent, and I usually use 2-3 tbsp of butter per slice.
The butter is important. Butterfat is amazingly good for the brain. The brain prefers the short & medium-chain fatty acids in butter for energy.
The difference between energy from butterfat, versus energy from carbohydrates, is like the difference between the steady blue flame of an oil burner, versus a crackling wood fire, throwing sparks and sending up smoke.
If you take one action after reading this post, try a slice of Ezekiel bread fried in butter. Grass fed butter is best. Your brain will thank you.
Food for Life produces 5 or 6 versions of Ezekiel bread. My favorites are sesame, for the savory recipes, and cinnamon raisin, for the sweet recipes.
Bread & butter fried
- 1 slice Ezekiel bread
- 2 large pats of butter (1-1.5 tbsp each)
Melt 1 pat of butter in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Fry bread on one side until butter is absorbed (1-2 min), or until golden brown, as preferred. Flip bread and place 2nd face on other pat of butter. Fry until done. For breakfast, I suggest cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread. Great plain, for open faced PB&J, PB & honey, tuna melt, or with raw organic sauerkraut.
Pesto grilled cheese
- 2 slices fried bread
- Sliced cheese
Lightly fry 2 slices bread, as above. Spread pesto on one slice of bread, then make a sandwich with cheese slices and continue frying. Flip as necessary. Be careful not to burn the bread. When cheese is soft and slightly melted, remove from heat and serve.
Egg in the hole
- 1 slice lightly fried Ezekiel bread
- 1 egg
- Salt & pepper to taste
Cut a piece out of the center of the slice of fried bread, and continue frying both pieces. Crack an egg into the hole in the center of the slice of bread, and cook until egg is done. Flip when necessary.
Bread & butter
- Loaf of Ezekiel bread
- Stick of butter
- Pocket knife
This is the Spartan version, my go-to instant meal while traveling. Place slices of butter on bread and eat. If it’s warm, the butter should be soft enough to spread.
- Ezekiel bread
- Butter for frying
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup milk
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- Maple syrup, whipped cream, other toppings
Beat eggs, milk, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl, then pour mixture into a deep platter. Soak slices of bread in egg mixture on both sides, then fry in a skillet until cooked but moist. Serve with maple syrup, whipped cream, or other toppings.
- 2 slices fried Ezekiel bread
- ⅓ lb ground beef
- Sliced tomato
- Sliced onion
- Sauerkraut, mayonnaise, ketchup, other toppings
Cook burger patties as desired. Assemble sandwich. Repeat.
Where to buy Ezekiel bread
Food for Life is based in Corona, about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles. They bake their breads there, and ship around the country. In addition to Ezekiel bread, they make all sorts of other bakery products. There’s a Food for Life UK as well.
You can find Ezekiel bread in the freezer section of pretty much every natural foods store. If you’re in southern California, you can find it in the bread section of just about every supermarket. Here’s Food for Life’s store locator.