If you lined up all the Grissini a typical Piedmontese inhabitant consumes in a lifetime, you would nearly reach 10 km (based on a consumption of 1-2 30 cm long Grissini every day for 80 years)! This long, crunchy breadstick is suitable for every daytime: to eat along with a few olives and chips for Aperitivo, served at the Restaurant when waiting for the food, just as a snack or even dipped in a Cafè Latte in the morning. It was the torinese baker Antonio Brunero who invented the Grissini in 1679. The doctor of the court gave him the task to invent something to nourish the young duke Vittorio Amedeo di Savoia whose health was too delicate to digest the white soft part of the bread. Consequently, Antonio Brunero invented the thin, long breadstick.
Why is a thin breadstick easier to digest than a slice of bread with crust and soft part? When eating bread, a fairly large portion is digested already in the mouth. Our body is not able to absorb starch until it has been rendered soluble, which is done by the action of saliva: it converts complex starch molecules first into dextrin and subsequently into maltose. The Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov demonstrated that chewing fresh moist bread produces much less saliva than chewing dry bread which causes saliva to flow in large quantities. Eating stale bread, bread crust, crisp bread or grissini requires fairly prolonged mastication with plenty of saliva, while soft bread is usually swallowed quickly with no or a very low production of digestive juice. In addition to this, during cooking the bread in the oven, the starch on the surface is exposed to strong and direct heat, which already transforms the starch on this part of the bread in a substance that is easier to digest.
Thanks to this easy digestibility and a long shelf life, the grissini met with big success. The Sabaudic king Carlo Felice ate grissini in his loge even during theatres at the Teatro Regio, not caring about the continuous sound he made while chewing the Grissini. Napoleon was such a huge fan of the grissini that he established a courier service Turin – Paris almost exclusively for the Grissini which he called “les petits bâtons de Turin” (the small sticks of Turin).
The name Grissini comes from Ghërsa, a long, traditional piedmontese bread. The oldest version of the grissini is the 40 – 80 cm long Rubatà, which in piedmontese dialect means rolled. It was characterized by its uneven, gnarled surface due to rolling up with the hands. Then, there is also the Grissino stirato, a more recent invention. It is different from the Rubatà in that it is not rolled out but is made by pulling both ends of a portion of elastic dough to the length of the forearm. The result is a crumblier and crunchier texture. This way of manufacturing allowed also mechanical production from the XVIII century on.
A traditional Grissino is not for vegans! The dough contains flour, water, lard, yeast, salt and a bit of malt. After mixing these ingredients, the dough is flattened out in a rectangular, about 20 cm wide and very long shape and, sprinkled with some olive oil. It is left to raise for at least two hours. Then, the baker cuts off small strips which he places in a tray with semolina flour. From there, the strips are taken delicately on both ends and then pulled to a long, regular shape and placed one next to each other on a baking sheet. The whole Grissino should have the same thickness. After being baked in a very hot oven for about 15 minutes, the result is a crunchy, crumbly Grissino. You can buy them in every bakery in Piedmont, where they put the Grissini in a long paper bag. While carrying them home, the temptation to have a nibble is big. Just by thinking of it, one’s mouth is watering which, as we now know, will ultimately help to digest the grissino…