Thursday, February 4, 2016

Living on Manna Bread by Shelley Houser

This is a guest post by my friend Shelley Houser of, in which she tries to survive a day on leavened Manna bread as Hebrews had to do in the desert for 40 years. This is an abridged version, so go to her web site for more details or email her at


Leavened Manna Bread Experiment:

I baked 6 loaves of the leavened manna, per the recipe.  Each loaf was approximately 7 1/4 inch long.

1.5 C whole wheat flour
2 + 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 C warm water
2 Tablespoons honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C olive oil (have 1 to 1 1/4 C available)

I multiplied each ingredient's amount by 6, and proceeded with one large batch. When the time came for shaping each loaf, I put the dough on the scale, and divided the dough into 6 equal masses. I then proceeded with the final rising and baking of the 6 loaves.

My husband and I picked a loaf each, and I put each loaf in a separate bag, with our names on them, so we would not get them mixed up.

The children of Israel had flocks with them in the wilderness. Exodus 12:38 says that when they left Egypt, they had "very much cattle". Near the end of the time in the wilderness, Exodus 32:1-26 says the children of Gad and the children of Reuben wanted some land on the wilderness-side of the Jordan, because it looked good for their cattle.

Since they would have had some milk from the cattle, we added milk in to the daily ration. Assuming there would have been at least a little green foliage in the wilderness for the cattle, we added a very small amount of fresh salad.  

For the experiment, we started eating rather late in the day, because the children of Israel would have had to gather the manna, grind it, and prepare it. We ate breakfast at about 9:30 am. We decided to eat when we felt hungry, and not on any particular time schedule, as is our normal routine. We found that we were very comfortably full on the breakfast amount described above. I did not feel hungry again until 12:30 pm. My husband did not eat again until 1 pm.

We ate until we were comfortably full for lunch. We were not hungry, particularly, the rest of the evening. At approximately 8:30, we decided to eat a supper before we got ready to go to bed. My husband was too full after eating his 4 slices, and I gave up eating the rest of my 3 slices, eating only 2.5 slices of the bread, with the rest of the salad and milk.

Adult Male's Results:
  1. For breakfast, he had 4 slices of toast with butter, and 8-ounces of whole milk.
  2. For lunch, he had 4 slices of toast with butter, and 1/3 C total of fresh coriander leaves, peeled cucumber, and tomato dices, and 8-ounces of whole milk.
  3. For supper, he had 4 slices of toast with butter, and 1/3 C total of fresh coriander leaves, peeled cucumber, and tomato dices, -and 8-ounces of whole milk.
Total left from his loaf: 1.25 inches

Amount of loaf consumed: (7.25 inches - 1.25 inches)/7.25 inches x 100% = 82.76% consumed.  

Total estimated calories for the day:
  1. Loaf = .8276 x 2691 estimated calories per loaf = 2,227 KCal
  2. Butter = 1 teaspoon per slice x 12 slices x 1 Tablespoons/3 teaspoons x 100 Kcal/ Tablespoons = 400 KCal
  3. Milk = 3 cups x 150 KCal/cup = 450 KCal
  4. salad = negligible calories = 0 Kcal
Total for Adult Male: 3077 Kcal.  

Adult Female's Results:
  1. For breakfast, she had 3 slices of toast with butter, and 8-ounces of whole milk.
  2. For lunch, she had 3 slices of toast with butter, and 1/3 C total of fresh coriander leaves, peeled cucumber, and tomato dices, and 8-ounces of whole milk.
  3. For supper, she had 2.5 slices of toast with butter, and 1/3 C total of fresh coriander leaves, peeled cucumber, and tomato dices, and 8-ounces of whole milk.
Total left from her loaf: 3 1/8 inches 

Amount consumed from her loaf: (7.25 inches - 3.125 inches)/ 7.25 inches x 100% = 56.90% consumed.

Total estimated calories for the day:
  1. Loaf:  = .5690 x 2691 estimated calories per loaf = 1531 KCal
  2. Butter = 1 teaspoon per slice x 8.5 slices x 1 Tablespoon/3 teaspoons x 100 Kcal/ Tablespoon = 284 Kcal
  3. Milk = 3 Cups x 150 KCal/cup = 450 KCal
  4. salad = neglible calories = 0 Kcal
Total for Adult Female:  2,265 KCal

There was plenty of food in the daily ration for both the adult male and the adult female. There was some left over from each person's daily bread. The scaled amount of bread that was left over makes us want to try using the definition of an omer as being "the amount of grain that can be held in one person's cupped hands". Since hands are generally scaled to a person's overall body size, that definition of an omer would have a scaling effect in the resulting daily ration of food.  

I used the same amount of flour for each loaf. This makes me want to try using the amount of flour that would be generated from each person's hands full of wheat berries as basis for the amount of flour to use,  to see if we all end up using the same percentage of our own hand's-sized loaf.

[Aleksandr Sigalov]: These leftovers are perhaps what Torah is talking about in Exodus 16:19-20. They tried to keep the leftovers, but as the verses state it started to stink and breed worms.

[Shelley Houser]: The picture below show a full loaf, and what was left from the trial. I am showing the end of the loaves to show they are lined up with the ends of the rulers. In the photo, there is a bit of parallax, and it looks like the loaves are not lined up with the end of the rulers.

Unleavened Manna Bread Experiment:

I made six individual batches of the manna recipe below, with soft white wheat flour.

1.75 C (1 3/4) Cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 C olive oil (with another approx. 1/4 C for kneading)
2 Tablespoons honey
4-5 Tablespoons water (to dough consistency)

I then chose a preparation method for each separate batch. Because our family prefers the shallow oil pan-fried method the best, I prepared 3 batches that way. I then prepared one batch by baking thin wafers in the oven, one batch in little round cookies baked in the oven, and one batch I deep-fat fried. Each batch was kept separate from the other batches during mixing, preparation, and cooling.

I then assembled 6 individual "day packs" in this way:

I got 6 small, closable bags labeled with the preparation method. For batch one, I tared a platter, and put the entire batch on the platter. I recorded the weight, and divided the mass by 6. I then weighed out as closely as I could the desired number of grams that would be allocated to each of the six labeled bags. I got to roughly +/- 2 gram accuracy in the equality of each subdivision. Some of the pieces of the bread were larger than the others, and some were not easily divided, such as the round cookies. The number of the round cookies was not divisible by six, so 3 packs got 4 cookies, and 3 packs got only 3 cookies.

I continued this process, until I had divided out equally all six of the batches into 24 smaller, labeled bags. (3 batches of pan-fried bread in 6 bags, 1 batch of baked thin wafers in 6 bags, 1 batch of baked cookies in 6 bags, 1 batch of deep-fat fried wafers in 6 bags.)

I then separated out the individual bags into larger, gallon-sized closable bags, labeled either as a person's daily ration, or a generic "day 1", or "day 2" label.

So, then, one daily packet was a mixture of 4 different types of the unleavened bread preparations.

I didn't weigh the contents of all the packets, but the three I have left here have these masses:

Pack 1: (My daily test pack, before I ate anything)  368 g
Pack 2:  354 g
Pack 3:  358 g

My husband and I tried eating the unleavened manna from our daily packs for one day.  My husband started eating his breakfast at 6:30 am, because he had to get to work early this morning.  I started eating my breakfast at about 8:30 am this morning, because the unleavened bread takes less time to prepare than the leavened manna, and the children of Israel would possibly have been able to eat breakfast earlier, if they decided to eat unleavened bread for the morning meal.

We did not specify what type of bread was to be eaten at any particular time, or have set meal times. We just ate what we wanted, when we felt hungry. Today's test did not include any milk or extra butter, for when the cows would not be giving milk. We did each eat 1/3 Cup total of a salad, composed of fresh cilantro leaves, peeled cucumber dices, and tomato dices, with the supper meal.

The results:

Adult male:

My husband ate the most for breakfast. He got hungry again at approx. 11:30 am. He had a smaller lunch than breakfast. He then ate more in quantity at 4:00 pm. He ate the salad at 5:00 pm when he arrived home from work. This day's ration seemed skimpy to him, and he is worried he will run out of bread before the end of the day. He did not feel as satisfied with the unleavened bread as with the leavened bread and milk test yesterday.

Leftovers: I did not measure his exact starting weight, but I will use the 368 g from my pack for his starting weight. He had 118 g left over. There were two higher-fat items (pan-fried, and deep-fat fried), and two lower-fat items (baked wafers and baked cookies). My husband ate all of the pan-fried wafers, which is is favorite preparation method.  He ate about 1/3 of his baked items, and almost none of his deep-fat fried items.

Total estimated calories is a bit difficult to figure, since there are differing amounts of fat in each batch. I will estimate an additional 2 Tablespoons of fat got absorbed into the pan-fried wafers (per full batch), compared to either of the baked items, and an additional 3 Tablespoons of fat got absorbed into the deep-fat fried wafers (per full batch). This is based on how much oil I needed to add to the pan when frying the wafers, and how much more greasy the deep-fat fried wafers tasted then the pan-fried ones.

Total estimated calories:

For the unprepared batch:  1803 Kcal
Base calories of what he ate:  ((368g total - 118 g left)/368 g total) x 1803 KCal = 1,224.8 Kcal
Additional calories from frying:
(368 g total - 118 g left) = 250 g consumed.

3/6 of his total available ration was pan fried, and all of that was consumed. This also corresponds to 1/2 of a total batch, so I will add an extra 1 Tablespoon of oil for this amount.  Or: 1/2 batch x 100 % consumed x 2 Tablespoons/batch = 1 Tablespoon oil extra.

1/6 of his total available ration was deep-fat fried. I estimate he only at 1/6 of his deep-fat fried portion. Therefore: 1/6 of total ration x 1/6 of deep fat fried ration consumed x 3 Tablespoons oil/batch of deep fat fried =  0.08 Tablespoons oil added for the deep-fat fried portion.

Total extra oil consumed from base batch:  1.08 Tablespoons.  Kcal = 119 Kcal /Tablespoon x 1.08 Tablespoons = 129 KCal added from fat in the preparation.

Total estimated Kcal consumed for the day:
1224.8 base + 129 extra oil + 0 for salad = 1,354 Kcal.

Adult female:

I ate approximately equal amounts for breakfast, snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and supper. I had my breakfast at 8:30 am, but I got hungry earlier in the day than yesterday, and had to have a snack at about 10:30 am, which is unusual for me. I then had my lunch at about 12:30 pm, and a snack at 3:00 pm. This afternoon snack is also unusual for me. I then had my supper at 5:00 pm, with the salad. I have less leftover today than I had yesterday. I feel that I ate until I was full, but I got hungry again faster than I normally do.

Leftovers: I had 102 g of food leftover. This means I ate more than my husband did today! That is unusual. However, over the past two days, he ate more calories than I did, so that probably figured in to the situation.

I ate 100% of the baked items, and 95% of the deep-fat fried items. I ate about half? of the pan-fried items.

Here is an estimate of my calories consumed:

Percent of ration consumed:  (368 g - 102 g)/368 g x 100% = 72.3% of daily ration consumed.
Base amount: (368 g total - 102 g leftover)/368 g total x 1803 Kcal = 1,303 Kcal consumed from base batch preparation.

Additional oil consumed (estimate):

1/6 of total ration x 0.95 consumed x 3 Tablespoons/total ration = 0.48 Tablespoons added for the deep-fat fried portion I ate 1/6 of total ration x 0.5 consumed x 2 Tablespoons/total ration = 0.17 Tablespoons added for the pan-fried portion I ate 0.48T + 0.17T = 0.65 T Oil consumed x 119 Kcal/Tbs = 77.4 Kcal extra consumed from oil in preparation method.

Total calories estimated consumed:

1,303 + 77.4 = 0 for salad = 1,308 Kcal

The similar value in calories consumed between my husband and I today is actually quite surprising to me.  (1354 Kcal for him vrs. 1308 Kcal for me).

Both of us felt like we were skimping a bit in what we were eating, although I did eat until I was full. I added extra snack times in for myself, when I got hungry in-between normal meal times. I think there was a psychological component in today's test, though, that was not there in the leavened manna test.

My husband and I have never been on a strict diet before, so we are not used to measuring out daily portions and only eating that amount. With the leavened manna test, he did not see his loaf during the day. I prepared his meals, and brought his plate to him.  So, he could not see the loaf diminishing. I saw I had plenty of loaf left, and did not feel that I needed to limit my consumption during the day to make it last.

However, with the unleavened manna test, I gave my husband his daily pack, and he went to work. He was in charge of when and how much he ate. He reported back that as he saw the amount decrease in the bag, he began to worry he would not have enough to last through the day, and so limited his consumption from what he would have done, had he felt there were more starting material. I also experienced this feeling, and did not eat an additional snack in the middle of the afternoon, to save more for the end of the day. This is a new experience for us, since we have both always had plenty of food to eat. (Praise God).

So, our total calories for both of us probably would have been closer to the 1803 for the total batch. Also, if we had added the 3 glasses of milk that we added during the leavened manna test, that would have added another 450 calories, to be a total of around 1750 Kcal.

After living on the manna for 2 days, I have lost 1.5 pounds.

There seems to be leavened bread in every society. Since it is so much more work, and takes extra time to prepare compared to unleavened bread, there must be a good reason for it. After the previous test of leavened bread, and the current test of unleavened bread, we think it may have to do with how satisfying the leavened bread is compared to the unleavened bread for the same amount of flour used. On the current unleavened bread test, we both needed to eat more frequently, and ate less than we probably would have, because we got closer to consuming our daily portion allotted amount.

The amount of unleavened bread made from a man's sized omer (1 US C), was sufficient to get us through the day, even without supplementing with milk or butter.  However, since we only consumed about 1300 Kcal, we probably could not sustain that over a long period of time.

Additional tests of perhaps a 1-week test of the unleavened manna would be in order, to test long-term viability of this amount of food, and preparation method.

In the photo, I am showing a day's portion on the the bottom. The plate in the top left is what I had left over. The green plate on the top right is what my husband had left over. On the bottom platter, the preparation methods are: (Clockwise) Top left (more brown pile, about 11:00): deep fat fried wafers. At approx. 1:00-3:00, the pan fried wafers. At bottom of platter, at approx. 6:00 is the baked cookies. At approximately 8:00, is the baked wafers.)

The leftovers are arranged in the same order, so you can see what portion of the ration each of us ate.

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