The first time we had Tuscan bread we were a bit surprised to find it had absolutely no salt. Many visitors to Italy encounter the same issue when a basket of beautiful, inviting bread is placed on their tables. Tuscan bread is baked to perfection, with a beautiful golden crust and smells wonderful. Cracking the bread makes such a pleasing crunching sound that your taste buds begin to salivate. With both the appearance and sound of the bread being torn apart, it can be a bit jarring, eating what basically taste like raw flour. I mentioned in a previous post, “eating in Italy”, bread is used more as a vehicle for sauce rather than being eaten on its own.
What is the origin of this salt-less bread which the Florentines take so much pride in? The locals swear by this bread and you will find it in every restaurant you visit. We love tasting new flavors from around the world so we were curious as to the story surrounding this unique bread. Depending on who you ask, you will find variations on the story of how it was first created.
A language teacher of ours recanted one version of its origins that involved the medieval rivalry between Pisa and Florence. During the middle ages these two cities fought many battles and legend has it that in an effort to win one of these skirmishes, all salt shipments to Florence were blocked by Pisa through their ports. Thus, Tuscan bread was born.
Another story I’ve encountered has to do with the economic limitations of the common people. Any history buffs out there know that salt was a very valuable commodity before modern-day refrigeration. This lends credence to the theory that Tuscan bread was created due to peasants being unable to afford salt. It would not be the first peasant dish created because of financial constraints, Ribollita would be another example of this. This stew, believed to date back to middle ages, is said to have been created from table scraps, when the servants gathered up food-soaked bread trenchers from their lords’ banquets and boiled them for their own dinners. Necessity and ingenuity are synoymous with Italian culture
Whatever origin story you choose to believe, Tuscan bread is unique and should be tried at least once. It can appear tasteless to the over saturated western palette but don’t cheat yourself out of a unique experience. Like all Italian food, there is immense pride taken in this time-honored tradition. Try not to offend the bakers by asking why the bread taste so bland, lol.