“Multigrain” is a vague term in the bread industry. It’s printed on bread bags holding everything from downy off-white loaves to dense and wheaty walnut-colored ones. Unlike with the term “whole wheat,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to set parameters about what constitutes a multigrain product; in fact, the matter is under review as we go to press. A grain is defined merely as wheat or any other cultivated cereal crop used as food. Some manufacturers stick a number on their breads (“7-grain,” “15-grain”). If you’re having trouble naming 15 grains—no worries, we were, too—think of such things as barley, triticale, buckwheat, amaranth, and brown rice. With such a range, we set off to define what we expect from multigrain bread and which brand offers the best flavor and texture.
We bought seven top-selling multigrain breads, each containing from 10 to 15 different types of grains, and invited 21 editors and cooks from America’s Test Kitchen to taste them plain and toasted with butter. A strong preference for heartier loaves emerged. Tasters praised “substantial” and “wholesome” slices with naturally “sweet, wheaty” flavor. We checked the labels and found the key: In general, we liked brands with more whole-wheat and less white flour, and if white flour was high on the ingredient list (listed by weight), other grains must be, too, to achieve the wholesome texture tasters preferred. (All but one of the loaves we tested include some white flour.) Along the way, we noticed that some products counted wheat twice and one product included nuts and seeds as two of its “12 grains”; while nuts and seeds may be healthy, the FDA doesn’t classify them as grains, so this label is misleading. Only four products had grain counts that matched their labels.
In addition to grains, every multigrain bread we tested included some combination of nuts and seeds (and sometimes whole wheat berries). The more the better, according to our tasters. To compare, we carefully picked through a slice of our winning loaf and the last-place finisher, plucking out every seed or nut we found. The winning brand had 4 1/2 times more by weight than the losing brand. We also preferred larger, denser slices of bread; the slices ranged from 37 to 45 grams, and heavier slices rated higher.
Heftier slices combined with more whole grains also spelled success in our final challenge: the tuna test. To see how the breads would hold up until lunchtime, we made tuna salad sandwiches with slices from each loaf and put them in an insulated lunch cooler with ice packs. When we unpacked the sandwiches four hours later, we found that our top-ranked breads held up fine. But slices from loaves that contained the most white flour, as well as those that weighed the least, were soggy.
Our winning brand starts with whole-wheat flour and then adds lots of whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It passed the tuna salad test with flying colors, remaining springy and fresh despite the mayonnaise-laden filling. We wanted our multigrain bread sturdy, nutty, wheaty, and wholesome, and our winning brand delivered on all counts. In sum, we recommend all of the products (three with reservations). That’s in strong contrast to our white sandwich bread tasting, in which we recommended only two of the eight supermarket loaves we tasted.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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