With 22.5 ingredients on average, do you know what’s in your bread?

April 26, 2015
Bread + Products

Bread at the grocery store is full of ingredients that make it softer, prettier and live longer on the shelf.


What’s in Bread?

Whether you love it or avoid it, bread is a diet staple around the world. However, the majority of bread in US grocery stores includes many ingredients manufacturers include to keep its softness and extend its shelf life.


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What’s making up the ingredient count?  Analysis of over 2600 sliced and unsliced bread loaf products for sale in US grocery shows this breakdown across ingredients:


% of Breads Containing Ingredient Types

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(Note: Does not include buns, rolls, or sweet/dessert breads; just White, Wheat, Multigrain, Sourdough, French, Italian, Pumpernickel, Rye and related combinations of unsliced and sliced loaves)

Sugar, Syrup, and Honey

While sugar is a common and necessary ingredients in bread, the types of sugar used are not uniform.  Across the same 2600+ breads, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the most popular ingredients, occasionally even used in the same product.  Honey rarely shows up by itself, but instead is an addition to offer flavors like “honey white” and “honey wheat.”


Sugar Naming Breakdown

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Flour: What’s in a name?  Enriched, Unbleached and Unbromated

Like sugar, flour is a common and necessary ingredient to bread.  However, today adjectives like enriched, unbleached, and unbromated often precede the ingredient.


What do the adjectives mean?

  • Enriched: Flour with nutrients such as Iron and B Vitamins added back to match the nutritional state of the unrefined product
  • Unbleached: Flour without any whitening agents added to it
  • Unbromated: Flour without Potassium Bromate

How prevalent are the adjectives in the grocery aisle?

  • 58% of the breads claim enriched flour
  • 29% of the breads use unbleached flour; 99% of the time unbleached is used with enriched
  • 4% of the breads use unbromated flour

Dough needs Conditioners?

A dough conditioner is a food additive that strengthens or improves the loaf volume and crumb structure.  Common examples include:

  • Ammonium Chloride
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Azodicarbonamide
  • Calcium Salts including Calcium Iodate, Calcium Peroxide, etc.
  • Diacetyl Tartaric Acide Ester of Mono- and Diglyceride (DATEM)
  • Enzymes
  • L-cysteine Hydrochloride
  • Monoglycerides and Diglycerides


Less processed dough conditioners include sprouted or malted grain flours, soy, milk, wheat germ, potatoes, gluten, yeast and extra kneading.

The dough conditioners are used alone and in combination, and each shows up across the breads for sale in the following way:


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In breads, preservatives act to prevent the growth of micro-organisms and inhibit mold.  The preservatives either increase the acidity of the bread or directly interact with the micro-organisms.  While vinegar and naturally fermented wheat flour can act as natural preservatives, the two most common are Calcium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate.

  • Calcium Propionate shows up in 54% of the breads
  • Potassium Sorbate shows up in 2% of the breads


In bread, emulsifiers provide dough stability, improve loaf volume and crumb structure, and maintain softness.

The two  most common emulsifiers used in bread are Lecithin and Sodium and Calcium stearoyl-2 lactylate.

  • Lecithin shows up in 48% of the breads
  • Sodium and Calcium steadily-2 lactylate shows up 44% of the breads


Food dyes are used to make bread appear fresher and more appealing.

  • Caramel coloring shows up in 9% of the breads
  • Other dyes like Yellow #5 show up in 1% of the breads


Foodwise Bottomline

1. Bread has a lot of Ingredients to Avoid

Some of the food additives found in bread are ones the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others suggests consumers avoid.  These include:

  • Azodicarbonamide
  • Caramel Coloring
  • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
  • Potassium Bromate

2. Read the Label, Seek out Smaller Batch Options

Most of the brands with 5 ingredients or less are Organic or Sprouted.  In this list there are few nationally recognized brands.  As with yogurt, it is always good to read the label of your bread and if it contains any of the four ingredients above, try to find other options.

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