From Me to TLT Readers: A Question About Bread

by Bettina Elias Siegel on October 26, 2010

OK, so here’s a tiny kid-and-food question that’s been bugging me for a while.

Almost every supermarket brand of 100% whole wheat bread that I’ve come across contains the preservative calcium propionate, mono and diglycerides, and a bunch of other things I can’t pronounce.  As a result, that sort of bread is nice and soft (i.e., kid-friendly) and stays “fresh” for a disturbingly long period of time.

Yet when I’ve purchased all-natural brands — like the Whole Foods 100% whole wheat — the bread is tough and dry even on the day of purchase, and it just goes downhill from there.  It also spoils quickly (lacking all the unpronounceable chemicals), so then I have to freeze it, which only makes the texture worse, unless its being served toasted.

Now I can already hear some readers (and I’m thinking especially of those uber-mom/cooks like Bri (of Red, Round or Green), Waverly (Peace and Love in the Kitchen) and Christina (Spoonfed)) politely expressing shock that I’m not baking up my own lovely, whole grain loaves on a weekly basis.   But in my world, guys, that’s just not happening.

So, just curious — what do you buy?  Keep in mind, I’m not not talking here about the sort of crusty, artisanal loaves I might serve at dinner or for a more special meal.  Just a relatively soft, kid-friendly sliced bread to have on hand for PBJ’s and other lunchbox sandwiches.  Your thoughts?

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne @JollyTomato October 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Great question! I’ll be watching this space for some good ideas. Mostly we get bread from the local bakery and then freeze it (sliced) but that’s not a perfect solution because you always need to defrost or toast it.

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NotCinderell October 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

OK, Bettina, I know this isn’t the answer you were looking for, but I’ve started baking my own whole-wheat challah for Shabbos, and it’s easier than you think. If you want my recipe, I’ll share. I use half whole-wheat flour and half unbleached white flour.

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Bri October 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Ha ha ha! I’m literally giggling as I read this post. Yes, I do bake my own bread frequently, but believe me, there are definitely store-bought loaves crossing our threshold more than occasionally! We try to find Nature’s Pride breads when we can, and we store them in the refrigerator (because I have found that they spoil a bit more quickly than the average store-bought bread). My kids like it, we like it, and it’s supposedly preservative-free…though now that you mention it, I can’t wait to get home and double-check the ingredients list just to be sure!

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Amy October 26, 2010 at 3:25 pm

This is a great question. I live outside of Portland, Ore., and love a great bread called Dave’s Killer Bread. It’s a sliced sandwich bread that’s made locally and doesn’t have all that junk in it. The bummer is that it is nearly $4/loaf, and they are those shorter, wider loaves. Like all things, it seems that the highly processed stuff wins on price. I’ll be curious to keep checking back and see other responses. In the meantime, I am trying my hand at baking a loaf or two on my own to see if it’s something I could realistically fit into my busy life!

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Christina @ Spoonfed October 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Oh my, you just made me snort my coffee. I have never in my life baked bread beyond the quick kind (think pumpkin, zucchini and whatnot). We are real-food, whole-food eaters, but that doesn’t mean we make everything ourselves. Far from it. So rest assured, ain’t no bread-baking happening in my world, either.

But, to answer the Q: We buy most of our bread from a small bakery co-op that uses only local, organic ingredients. We also always keep Ezekiel organic sprouted-grain bread on hand, usually the sesame variety (http://www.foodforlife.com/). In both cases, we do tend to toast before using it for sandwiches, unless it’s super-fresh. But we’re all fine with that (it actually tastes really good that way), and it’s unfortunately the price to pay for bread without preservatives and emulsifiers.

Signed: Chris, most definitely not an uber-mom or uber-anything

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L October 26, 2010 at 4:29 pm

We buy Trader Joe’s multi-grain fiber bread. It has 6g of fiber per slice and is quite soft, with only natural ingredients. Our now 5-year-old has been eating it for her peanut butter toast for about 2 years now.

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L October 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Oh….and I should add…we store it in the fridge. Actually, I buy about 5 loaves at a time and keep them in the freezer.

I switched to this bread after buying Ezekiel sprouted grain breads for a year or so. In our area, the Ezekiel bread prices were going up and up to nearly $6 per loaf when I switched. The Trader Joe’s bread has a comparable nutrition profile for $2.99 a loaf.

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Renee October 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm

This is a great question. I’ve tried the Ezekiel sprouted grain bread, but even I (the most whole-grain loving member of my family) found it to be tough and not so tasty that I wanted more.

Because of my daughter’s nut allergy, I’ve also had trouble finding anything that is both healthy and kid-friendly.

I’ll have to see if I can find the Nature’s Pride or Trader Joe’s some time soon.

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mara October 26, 2010 at 5:27 pm

while I often buy the same supermarket bread you are talking about – while at least checking for the ones without HFCS and with higher levels of fiber, when I’m not feeling so lazy, i’ll make a special stop at Stone Mill – they have some great breads that my kids really like and they are very happy to give kids samples so you know your kids will eat it before buying a whole loaf. so this is only helpful to inner loopers in Houston but I’m definitely not making my own and even I reject some of the healthier whole food ones.

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Louise Goldberg October 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Just to play devil’s advocate–why are you worried about calcium propionate? And how do you know that your local bakery is not adding ‘chemicals’/preservatives to their bread too? (There are plenty of baking ‘chemicals’ that are used in commercial bakeries that are completely harmless–that also occur naturally in foods). Do you consciously avoid other foods that contain calcium propionate? Dried milk powder, some cheeses, even beer! Let’s make sure to use science to back up our decisions. If you have an article on the harmful effects of Ca Propionate–I mean, a journal article from a well-conceived scientific study, please share as I’d love to be better informed. If not, I’d say worry more about some other products and bravo for getting the 100% whole wheat bread because you are doing better than most of the population. I’m not trying to be a jerk–I’m just saying let’s keep things in perspective or you’ll make yourself crazy (been there, done that, sometimes still do that!).

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LiTi October 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I bake bread frequently. And eat it. And I buy bread, and my kids eat it. Because my whole wheat fresh baked bread is not yummy enough for them, so they eat the store bought whole wheat that has just the right texture. And not that they are happy about it. Ever since they were old enough for play dates, white bread and American cheese (that never enter my house) are the top gourmet treat on their list :(
And i second Louise in asking what is the data about all the chemicals added to the food we buy?
When i bake Chala (white flour, eggs, butter….) everyone eats it.

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Shira October 26, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I also bake bread quite frequently (challah almost every week – but that always disappears before monday rolls around).

For sandwiches my kids are stuck with Whole Foods brand, that’s been in the fridge. sorry kids.

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bettina elias siegel October 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Wow. LOVE that so many TLT readers took the time to respond to what I feared was a silly question! (Now I’m wondering what other life issues I can ask you all to solve for me. Career advice? Stock tips?)

Many great suggestions, and I’m relieved that not all of you are baking every week. I would have to slink away in shame.

And in response to Louise (who is a registered dietitian), I stand corrected! I rather ignorantly thought, if I can barely pronounce it, I should probably avoid it, but if you say that calcium propionate is A-OK, that’s good enough for me. Certainly not giving up beer any time soon! :-)

Thanks, all, for the input!

Bettina

PS to NotCinderell – I actually would love your whole wheat challah recipe. We almost always buy a loaf each Shabbat and then – guess what? — kids are eating challah many days after that, to the exclusion of healthier bread. So if you have the time, please send using the Contact tab or my email address if you already have it. Many thanks!

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Christina @ Spoonfed October 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm

I’d advise anyone who’s concerned about preservatives and other food additives to do his/her own research. (You might also research oxidized cholesterol in powdered milk.)

As a journalist and simply as an eater, I’ve researched these issues extensively over the years, and that’s informed the way we eat today. There will always be disagreements over what’s healthful and what’s dangerous, but the only way to arrive at a place that makes sense for you, personally, is to educate yourself and not assume anything.

Just because something has been approved by the FDA or the USDA, just because it’s widely used, just because it’s sold in stores, just because smart people tell us it’s safe — none of that automatically means it’s good for us.

Think about how much we now know about school food. If we’d just kept listening to experts and officials telling us this stuff was healthy for kids, we wouldn’t all be involved in the movement to change things. The same applies to the food we eat in our homes every day.

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NotCinderell October 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

You know, I think I’ve modified the recipe enough that I don’t have to worry about copyright violations. My version is less fussy than the original recipe, too, but it makes an awesome challah. Note that I don’t proof the yeast. I find that with so much honey in the recipe, it’s really not necessary.

Whole-wheat challah
Makes 2 loaves or 12 rolls.

2 T yeast (equivalent to 2 packets, though if you’re making challah every week, it pays to buy yeast in bulk)
1 T salt
3 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
4 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur.)
4 eggs (divided)
1/2 c honey
1/3 c vegetable oil, canola oil, or extra-light olive oil
1 3/4 c warm water
sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Combine yeast, salt, and flour and stir to combine. Add 3 eggs, honey, oil and water. Stir to combine. Knead until everything comes together (the dough makes a definite transition from a sticky batter to a stretchy dough. It takes about 2-3 minutes of kneading). Leave to rise for about an hour until doubled, punch down, form into rolls, braided loaves (I’ve made as many as six small challahs with this recipe. You can also make loaves in bread pans), or whatever form you like. (To do rolls, cut the dough into 12 sections, roll each section into a snake about a foot long, and twist until it doubles up into a circular shape. You can also roll it out and tie it in a knot) Brush with remaining egg and sprinkle with seeds if desired. Allow to rise for another 1/2 hour or so, then bake for about 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves.

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Shira October 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Could you confirm what type of yeast you are using, you say packets so I”m thinking it’s either active dry or rapid rise?

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NotCinderell November 1, 2010 at 8:28 am

I’m using dry, but rapid rise would work, too.

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LiTi October 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm

one more thing about bread – bread is good fresh. bread should be eaten the day it is baked. see how they do it in Europe.

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Bri October 27, 2010 at 8:21 am

One more thing (actually, two more): When I got home last night I realized I’d forgotten we’re trying a new brand this week: Barowsky’s Organic. Nothing nasty in it whatsoever, and perfect for the kids’ sandwiches. So there’s another possibility if you can get it.
Second, the honey-whole wheat bread recipe on my blog is nice and soft and great for sandwiches; and so is the veggie bread recipe. My kids love both. So if you ever DO get the yen for baking your own… :-)

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Jamie October 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

Great question. I didn’t realize it was one of my own till you posted. We just stopped eating bread.
I keep the WF brand in the fridge for toast with eggs but other than that, I just stopped making sandwiches. For all the reasons you listed.
Probably not helpful, but…

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Chic Mummy October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

When i read posts like this, I am so glad i live in Australia -hey, no disrespect meant, though :). We buy our bread from a bakery chain (fresh baked each day) and it lasts a good 3-4 days while still being soft and light (it might even last longer than that, but it is always finished by then!!). My toddlers love it, even though it is entirely wholemeal and multigrain. No preservatives, no nasties (except for a very small amount of soybean oil and soyflour) AND cheaper than the supermarket multigrain bread.

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Viki October 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

I buy bread from a local bread bakery. Usually 9 grain. Not soft and squishy. DH and I Love it. I buy Italian bread the day we will eat it.

I have a story. I have an allergy kid. I used to bake bread once a week for her because the soy in store bought bread was causing a reaction…So I was Lovingly baking a half Whole wheat half white loaf for her sandwiches for school the whold 3rd grade school year.
Long story short…she was eating the inside of the sandwich and tossing the bread.
I of course didn’t find this out until May. I don’t bake much bread now.

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Jamie October 27, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I’ve been thinking more about this (believe it or not, I do work for a living. I don’t just troll TLT all day…only kinda) more and for me this comes up. The Wellness Bitch posted the other day about “just getting by”…those times that we “make do”. When we gave up bread for the reasons Bettina listed, it forced me into not just getting by. I couldn’t pack a sandwich. So I had to get creative with lunches (which led us to Bento Boxes) and other forms of carbohydrates. Sometimes, bread is one of those things I think we rely on as a crutch of getting by (of course, beautiful artisan bread is excluded).

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Karen October 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Bettina, just a comment on what to do with massive amounts of leftover challah. I’ll put together a Challah Souffle, or French Toast Casserole, or whatever you want to call it. You’ll need 10 eggs (!!), a lot of challah, 8 oz cream cheese (I use neufchatel so I don’t choke while telling others this recipe), 1 stick of butter, 1/4 cup real maple syrup and some milk (don’t remember how much – I’ll check back if you want the details!). You chop up the challah, put it in a large casserole. Put the cream cheese, butter and maple syrup in a food processer and blend. Mix the eggs & milk, pour over the challah, top the casserole with the cheese/butter blend and then pop that thing into the fridge overnight. Bake it the next morning at 350 and it will be delicious. I make this and then cut up portions to freeze for eating the rest of the week. Yum.

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bettina elias siegel October 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

Karen:

I do a similar thing sometimes (although hadn’t thought of cleverly cutting up and freezing.) I also sometimes do a savory version, with onions, mushrooms, cheese, etc. Quite yummy! – Bettina

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Karen October 29, 2010 at 10:37 am

OOH, I need to try a savory version. Yum.

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bettina elias siegel October 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm

It’s really good as a stand-alone brunch dish or it could be a side dish at dinner.

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NotCinderell October 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I also use leftover challah to make stuffing. (My stuffing recipe does involve rendered chicken fat, though)

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skreader October 29, 2010 at 1:30 am

We use a bread-machine.

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Kim November 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Bettina, it sounds like the bread you tried from WF was the kind baked in their regional bakery so likely was not baked the same day you bought it. I buy their in-store baked breads almost exclusively which are pulled off the shelf if not sold at the end of the day. They have a honey wheat variety that your kids would probably like. I can get thru most of a loaf by myself (eating 2 slices per day) before the bread starts to taste stale. I just keep it on a part of my counter far away from my stove, though in the dog days of summer I admit that I have to move it to the refrigerator after a couple of days or it will mold. When it starts tasting stale, I freeze it. Before freezing, I sometimes cut it into cubes for croutons or grind it in the food processor for bread crumbs (spread the crumbs out on a baking sheet and allow to dry out before freezing).

The other nice thing about WF’s baked in-store bread is that they list the ingredients on the price label. You won’t see any chemicals listed. If you aren’t sure which of their breads were baked in-store the same day, ask a staff member. They’ll show you where they’re displayed (usually next to or at the front of the counter). Actually, they’re the loaves sold whole but WF staff will happily slice loaves for you. If you don’t mind slicing a loaf yourself as needed, that’s another way to keep the bread fresher longer.

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bettina elias siegel November 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Kim: Very good idea. I’ll try the WF honey wheat that is baked on site. Thank you! – Bettina

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bettina elias siegel November 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Kim: Very good idea. I’ll try the WF honey wheat that is baked on site. Thank you! – Bettina

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