The labels on whole-wheat bread can be perplexing. We set out to clear up the confusion and find the best sandwich bread made with 100 percent whole-wheat flour.
Published Feb. 1, 2017. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 11: Ballpark Classics
Whole-wheat bread has a flavor and nutrient profile many times more complex than that of white bread. But wander the bakery aisle of your local supermarket and you’ll find multitudes of “whole-wheat” breads that list refined flour—regular white flour used to make white bread—as their primary ingredient. What’s the deal?
White flour and whole-wheat flour are both made from wheat, but that’s where the similarities end. The kernel is the wheat seed’s edible portion and consists of three parts: germ, bran, and endosperm. White flour is made by isolating and grinding only the starchy endosperm. In contrast, whole-wheat flour is made by grinding all three parts of the kernel. Because it includes the bran and germ, whole-wheat flour contains proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that refined flour lacks. But there’s more to the story.
“Whole wheat” isn’t a term strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In fact, as long as some whole-wheat flour is included, a bread can be called “whole wheat” even when the main ingredient is white flour. But “100 percent whole wheat” is a regulated term, and it is what you should seek out if you want bread with no white flour. But once you’ve bypassed the imitators, you will still find dozens of authentic 100 percent whole-wheat products on supermarket shelves. Which should you choose?
To find out, we purchased seven widely available varieties of 100 percent whole-wheat bread and ran a series of blind taste tests. Our tasters sampled them plain, in ham and cheese sandwiches, and as buttered toast. All were acceptable, but our tasters did have a preference for those with cleaner, deeper flavors. We also liked a touch of sugar. Three of the five lower-rated products had 1.9 grams or less per serving (the last-place bread was an outlier and had the most sugar of all the breads due to the inclusion of reconstituted potato), and tasters thought the whole-grain flavors in these samples were a bit too forceful. Our top two breads had 3.5 grams of sugar per 50-gram serving and balanced the savory wheaty, toasty, nutty flavors with a satisfying hint of sweetness.
Tasters downgraded products for the mildly sour, bitter, or chemical notes that are all too common in store-bought bread. These unwelcome flavors can come from the host of stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives found in most supermarket bread (every bread we tasted had at least some of these additives) or from the wheat itself: Whole-wheat flour is a bit bitter on its own, and it’s much more prone to spoilage than white flour.
Even the worst breads we tasted—those with minor off-flavors—were passable; what really made...
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