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White Sandwich Bread
Which slice is best?
Published Apr. 1, 2006. Appears in Cook's Country April/May 2006, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 7: Chicken Kyiv
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What You Need To Know
With all the hype about artisanal bread, the sliced stuff in the plastic bags doesn’t get much attention these days, but it should. Many families still go through a loaf or two of sandwich bread every week. So why not buy the best? We gathered eight leading brands of white sandwich bread, in country styles with larger slices whenever possible, and held a blind tasting.
For our first test, tasters sampled the bread plain. Because some of the breads are not available in large slices, we cut the samples into pieces so tasters would focus on taste and texture, not size. Tasters weren’t fooled. They gave top marks to the hearty texture of the two brands that have larger-than-usual slices—1 1/2 ounces each versus 1 ounce for the competition.
Tasters detected big flavor differences, too. Our top-rated brands were deemed the “sweetest” breads in the lineup. There were many complaints about “sour” and “off” notes in the lower-rated brands. It turns out that some of these brands contain vinegar (often added to increase shelf life). Lower-rated breads also contain almost twice as many ingredients as our top-rated breads, with many more additives and preservatives, which may also explain the unpleasant aftertaste.
We then asked tasters to try the breads in grilled cheese sandwiches. Though volunteers for this tasting were plentiful, clear winners were not—all the breads were pretty good. In short, once you slather your bread with butter and load it up with cheese, it gets very hard to tell one brand from another.
For our final test, we prepared simple croutons seasoned only with olive oil and salt. The same two brands that won the plain tasting swept this one. Croutons made from these loaves were consistently ranked as crunchier than the other brands.
Everything We Tested
"This is what I expect from sandwich bread," wrote one taster of our top-rated brand. Others agreed, praising its "perfect structure" and "subtle sweetness."
Tasters deemed this top-rated bread "well balanced," "likeable," and "flavorful (for white bread!)," with a "familiar" taste that was "not overly sweet—just enough."
This upscale version of the bread many of us grew up with was panned as "rather dry and cardboard-like," with a "blah" flavor and "slightly sour aftertaste."
Described as "classic packaged American white bread," this "squishy" bread had a "strong sour flavor" and a "texture like cotton candy" that turned off tasters.
There were few fans of this bread, which was described as "tasteless," "too soft," and "borderline gummy."
"Who calls this fluff ‘bread’?" asked one taster of this "really soft and spongy" bread with "nonexistent" flavor. More "like eating air" than bread, said another.
Tasters found this "plasterboard sample" to be so "coarse and dry" that it would be "great for exfoliating your feet"; otherwise, a "waste of flour."
This "gutless" bread was deemed "ridiculously soft and bland," with a "plasticky" flavor that "tastes like additives."
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