Bread: Know Your Label Lingo
Today, the range of breads at stores can be daunting. Not only has there been a resurgence of interest in traditional bread-baking methods (giving us everything from French baguettes and Italian focaccia to Swedish rye and German pumpernickel), but more stores are reintroducing in-store bakeries and baking fresh bread on-site, and manufacturers are developing breads to appeal to special diets. Here are a few of the most common labels and what they mean (either from a legal perspective or just plain marketing).
“Whole Wheat” & “Whole Grain”
Whole-wheat bread is baked using whole-wheat flour, which is made by grinding the entire wheat kernel — the bran, germ, and endosperm — instead of just the endosperm that is used to make white flour. Similarly, whole-grain bread is made with whole-grain flours (typically rye, barley, buckwheat, or oatmeal). People tend to seek these breads out for their high fiber content, rich and varied flavors and textures, more minimal processing and overall nutritional profile.
Breads labelled “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain” need to be made with just that: only whole wheat or whole grain. Breads labelled simply “whole wheat” or “whole grain” are made with a mix of whole wheat or other whole grain flour and white flour (tip: whichever one is listed first on the ingredient list is the one the bread contains the most of).
“Light” / “Lite”
To be legally labelled “light” or “lite,” any processed food product, including bread, must contain at least a third fewer calories or 50 percent less fat than the traditional or common version of that food. Gone are the days when bread could simply be sliced super thin and labeled “light.”
There is no legal definition for “low carb” on food products. Low-carb breads are typically made by replacing wheat flour with soy or wheat protein, adding extra fiber with more bran, and/or adding nuts and other high-fat foods. In short, more protein and fat is added to replace the carbohydrates. If exact ingredients, amount of processing, or amount of calories are important to you, be sure to check the label for specifics.
This is a relatively new category of bread. Almost all bread is made with some wheat flour, which contains gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten causes severe symptoms in people with celiac disease; other people choose to avoid gluten for other diet and health reasons. Gluten-free bread is made with flours from nuts, starches and grains other than those that contain gluten; re-creating the texture of wheat bread without gluten is difficult, and gluten-free versions tend to be heavy and/or have a sandy texture.
Organic bread is made with ingredients that are themselves certified organic, most importantly grains grown without conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The farm is inspected by USDA-approved agents to make sure the rules are being followed.
For bread to be labelled “organic” in the United States it must contain 95 percent organically grown ingredients; if the label says “contains organic ingredients,” a minimum 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic.
While not a legal label, most stores consider breads baked that day, or sometimes within a 24-hour window, to be “fresh baked” or “freshly baked.” Many times these breads will have fewer or no preservatives in them. For that same reason, they don’t tend to keep as long as packaged breads.
If buying fresh-baked bread is important to you, be sure to seek out stores that bake their loaves on the premises, rather than trucking them in from central bakeries. That way you can ask exactly when the bread was baked (some stores even write it on a sign in the bakery section).
This label has no legally binding or verifiable meaning. Many stores will use “artisan bread” to highlight breads made in smaller batches, shaped by hand or even baked in wood-fired ovens. Other stores use it to draw attention to specialty breads, such as foccacia, walnut bread, or baguettes.
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