100% Whole-Wheat Bread
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.
How We Tested
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 a good bread stand out was its texture. Lower-rated products were airy, thin, and flimsy. They looked nice on the plate but became mush in the mouth. They weren’t resilient enough to bear the weight of a sandwich or dense enough to absorb butter without getting soggy. Our tasters favored moist, springy, chewy breads that were hearty enough to stand up to deli meats and butter.
To get to the heart of this distinction, we used scales and calipers to calculate the density of each bread by weighing and measuring three slices of each and averaging our results. Our winner was at least 18 percent more dense (and our runner-up was 45 percent more dense) than the five lowest-rated products. We could see the difference, too. The bottom five breads were more traditional supermarket loaves, with square slices and wide, airy crumbs. In contrast, the top two breads featured wide, rectangular slices and dense, narrow crumbs.
Ultimately, Arnold Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat Bread emerged the winner. With a full wheaty flavor, no discernible off-notes, and a dense, springy texture that welcomed and stood up to butter and sandwich fillings, this wider loaf was our top choice. This bread also has small flecks of bulgur on the crust and in the crumb, which deepened the whole-grain flavors and added a pleasant crunch to each bite.
Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers tasted seven widely available varieties of 100 percent whole-wheat bread. We conducted three blind taste tests: plain bread, ham and cheese sandwiches, and buttered toast. We obtained nutritional information from product labels. The average density of each bread was calculated by weighing and measuring three slices of each.