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Why Are We Still Eating White Bread?

Why Are We Still Eating White Bread?

Here is a question for the gluten-tolerant of the group: Are you white or wheat? Actually this question could use some diversification. Maybe we could ask, “Are you white or spelt, amaranth, rye, or any other whole grain?” We are, of course, speaking of bread here. About a half century ago the vast majority of Americans ate white bread on a regular basis, and wheat bread was considered vastly inferior and undesirable.

While Americans have developed an appreciation for the nutritional aspects of wheat and whole grain breads, along with a budding appreciation for some of the flavors and textures that come along with unbleached, unwhite bread, we are still a nation of white bread eaters. According to the Whole Grains Council, only about 60% of Americans eat a whole-grain food (not just bread) at least once in two weeks.

Why is this? Maybe we don’t care enough about fiber intake and nutrition (this is, after all, the same nation that is largely subsisting off of energy drinks) or maybe, just maybe, there is something about the flavor of white bread that is far more alluring than anything wheat has to offer. Talk to a French baker, and they will likely tell you that a finely ground white flour is far superior to your spelt flour or mixed grain flour. Research recently conducted at the Flavor Research and Education Center at the University of Minnesota revealed that white bread crust gave off chemicals that smell like corn chips, potatoes, caramel, and flowers, while the whole wheat produced malty, earthy, cucumber, fatty smells. Manufacturers of whole-grain items and breads know this all to well, as they are inclined to add salt and sugar to whole-grain items to mask some off flavors inherent in whole-grain foods. This does the trick, but also packs on more sodium and calories in the process.

So despite the advances made in artisan bread movement and the proliferation of whole-grain items in grocery stores, American taste buds are still partial to the flavors of white bread and white flour. Where do you stand on the white/wheat divide? Have you developed a love/tolerance for wheat and whole-grain products? Do you still prefer white to wheat?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

95 comments

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7:11AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

11:33PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

I've pretty much yet to meet a bread I didn't like, but I do agree with the French bakers; there's nothing like a beautiful fresh white bread.

5:44PM PST on Jan 22, 2013

There are two points on this subject, needing thought.

First, when buying flour, why do most consumers, immediately, reach for the 'bleached' flour, instead of the unbleached?
Bleached flour is chemically treated, so it lasts longer on the shelf, making greater profits for the company, selling it.
Unbleached flour, actually, makes for better bread and yeast raised products. Personally, I don't notice much in a difference in color. This is my flour of choice for all purposes.

Second, there is one reason and one reason only, most people prefer white bread.
It is a habit. Their taste buds have not learned to appreciate breads with more taste, and a better taste, I might add.
Besides, the fact, that many breads that are labeled 'wheat', does not make them 'true' wheat breads. The label must say 100% wheat, and that is a different story, altogether.

The best method of improving your taste buds, is to buy cracked wheat bread or bread labeled wheat, with 'some' pure wheat flour. This is a way to start your new adventure.

11:32AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

I love pretty much every kind of bread I have had. White bread is delicious, but I do often make an effort to at least have the white wheat variety that has at least some whole grains in it, but still seems to be white bread to me. There are certain recipes that just aren't quite right without white bread. Then again, I do love multigrain bread for many other purposes.

10:48PM PST on Jan 20, 2013

I have never eaten white bread. When I was growing up my mother made all the bread our family ate because she believed white bread wasn't 'natural'. Of course we can buy whole grain breads these days, but because I wasn't exposed to it, I never developed a taste for white bread, thankfully!

12:29AM PST on Jan 20, 2013

My husband doesn't like white bread, he can taste the yeast. I don't like it because it lacks flavor, and my son won't eat it because he tastes the bleach and chemicals.

So, we eat whole or multigrain, with no corn syrup, little to no sugar, and natural products. I really need to grind my own stuff and bake my own bread.

12:04AM PST on Jan 19, 2013

I am not, I make myself black sour rye bread and people like them so much that they want to buy it. It's the healthiest gread ever.

6:06PM PST on Jan 18, 2013

In France,Portugal,Spain,Italy and Greece, white bread is the preferred choice and most specialists usually suggest that the Mediterranean Diet as the healthiest around,so at times you see why nutrition findings can be quite confusing.

11:10AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

In my very humble opinion; "white" bread, in and of itself, is nothing but a garbage food. Do your own research and then make your decision. If you are going to have bread in your diet, go for "whole" grains and "high" fiber and "organic" if you can find it. Don :-))

6:06AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

It's just a matter of tradition.

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