We Tried 9 Popular Types of Bread and This Is the Best
Once upon a time—as early as the fifth century B.C.E.—white bread was the realm of the rich. It was deemed more refined in every sense, from the aristocracy who could afford to buy it to the additional processing that the flour required to remove the bran and germ to achieve the snowy purity beneath a golden crust. When industrial milling techniques were introduced in the 1870s, even more refinement led to brighter and whiter flours, and a distaste for sour doughs rose with a preference for sweeter breads. Pan-baking, with its ability to capture steam, then led to taller, softer, and puffier breads. Breads that channeled the high rise and buoyant and deflatable nature of hot air balloons. Breads like the one and only original Wonder Bread, which launched in 1921 and changed white bread for the masses forever.
But then something happened.
In the 1960s, a wellness counter-culture emerged and along with it, a newfound disdain for anything commercial and industrialized. The new emphasis was on artisan, rustic—anything that felt or sounded special. The gorgeous, fluffy white bread that was once such a paragon of goodness, touted for the enrichment of its flour as a healthier choice, became a pariah. Phrases like "milquetoast" came into public consciousness, denoting having little substance, breaking down easily to stronger influence; "white-bread" became a derogatory slang term meaning plain, boring, middle-class, average, nondescript. All of these negative words became undeservedly associated with the most American of breads.
White bread can be inflammatory and is public enemy #1 in the war on gluten. It typically lacks protein and fiber, which are important nutrients. But it is low in fat while being indulgently rich in flavor and nostalgia both. And there's a reason we still say something is the "best thing since sliced bread," a phenomenon only introduced with the advent of commercial-baked Wonder.
So let's rediscover why. Let's catch up with how white bread has risen in quality as well as height with an intensive taste test of the top national brands, with slices taken from the center (the best part!) of the loaf, eaten fresh and plain, then again toasted to the exact middle setting and dry. Let's maybe fall in love with white bread all over again, perhaps even harder than we did in the first place.
Here are our rankings of nine popular store-bought white bread loaves, listed from worst to best ranked solely on taste.
And for more, check out these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Sara Lee White Bread
Ah, Sara Lee. Formerly a doyenne of the sweet goods trade since 1949, now a subsidiary of Bimbo Bakeries, this brand got into bread only recently, in 2001. You would think, then, that they'd skew sweeter due to their own origins, or at least take their cue from the white bread heavy-hitters because they've had decades to scope out the competition. Unfortunately, their white sandwich bread does neither.
Round-topped with no split to ease the monotony of a dry, darker-baked top crust, there's little opportunity for fragrance to break through. There's a slight tang of vinegar to the nose if you sniff hard, but it's unmistakable in your first bite. It definitely skews more acid than sweet, and finishes with a hint of maltiness. It claims to be smooth, but the interior of the loaf has noticeably big air bubbles, which was unexpected given the smooth feeling—not to be confused with taste—of the top crust. This discernibly different and easily separated top crust didn't offer much in terms of structural protection, either; this bread smushes into nothing with a hint of pressure and disintegrates at the mere hint of moisture. Tomatoes will best it without trying.
Toasted, it emerges hard and brittle, prone to messiness, and darker than all of the others tested. This is suspected to be due to the noticeably acidic nature in an already not-sweet bread. It got a little burnt tasting despite not coming even close to burning, likely related to the hint of malt detected in the soft slice. In all, this is an unappealing, sour bread that doesn't taste like much and won't take well to you trying to change that.
Dave's Killer White Bread Done Right
I really wanted to love this. Dave's Killer Bread is an organic brand with an incredible story, and this recipe makes the bold claim of being a "soft and smooth artisan-style loaf" while using five super grains and unbleached flour. At only 110 calories and two grams of fiber per serving, which is unheard of in the other test subjects, it sounded like a miracle. But would it deliver? Well, as a whole-grain bread, perhaps, and only on the lower end of the scale. However, as a white bread, it does not.
Through the double bags, you can see that it's not scored through the top of the uniform, white-bread dark crust, which is speckled with flour but in a size and pattern that is jarringly reminiscent of mold spores. Once you open it, you can detect sea salt and brine. Reach in and you find it's noticeably damp, nearly hinting at sogginess, which explains why the loaf is collapsed in the center. In contrast, the crust is noticeably dry and harder, the bottom being very stiff. Together, this makes the bread texture transition very apparent and therefore, the bite is not smooth, especially because the whole grains are visibly swirled into the dough amid plentiful air pockets. The flavor proffers a sour note with an overbaked feel, which the nuttiness contributes to.
Having started out darker, it's no surprise that it toasts up the darkest of the bunch, with a hard outer shatter that isn't terribly messy. This bread gets even nuttier as additional heat brings out the natural oils in the whole grains, but leaves a weird aftertaste. So again, as a whole-grain bread, it's fine but not great—not hearty or thick-cut enough to handle becoming a big sandwich nor nutty enough to be too interesting—but as a white bread, its rougher texture and wetness make it stand out in the lineup like a sore thumb.
Sara Lee Artesano Bakery Bread
This bread is squat, heavy, thick-sliced, and with fistfuls of floury snowflakes thrown over it before being packaged in a lovely matte bag. With a presentation like this, I expected to like this a lot more. Unfortunately, this was as disappointing as its entry-level contender, and perhaps even more so; it was so anticlimactic from first inhale to last bite.
I assumed there would be a richer, sweeter aroma to what seemed like it might be denser bread, but the scent was just that of a manufactured, not bakery, crust, like what you'd get with a bag that had been opened a couple of times already. Then, just as you think there's nothing there to smell, it hits you: a whiff of vinegar. This is less apparent when you take out a slice, which is coolly moist to the touch and spongy and dense inside, then dry and dark with a pronouncedly harder side and bottom crusts on the outside. Those flour accents further emphasize how dry the crust was; the flour can't even be rubbed into this impermeable shell. Even less appealing is the bottom crust, which offers a noticeable texture change and is straight-up bitter. All of the crusts taste a little burnt and leave a lingering harshness; it was an effort to try each side. The interior starts off a little sour to the tongue, cool and soft in the mouth, before quickly getting soggy. Before it does, you get a hint of sourdough at the end, with a shadow of malt after it's gone.
Toasting improves the bread dramatically, though. This second part to the test and this bread's smoother nature—a technicality—are the only reasons it bumps Dave's Killer Bread down beneath it. When heated, the offensive crust suddenly takes on a bakery bread flavor with a rich, earthy crunch. Despite the thickness of the slice, it dehydrates very nicely through the middle, and thanks to the stronger gluten bonds, it isn't very crumbly. Sure, the white part fades into total neutrality, but so does the sourness as a trade-off, letting the crust become the most interesting part of the slice.
Sunbeam Enriched Old-Fashioned
In comes a sleeper in a bright-yellow bag that just smacks of old-timeyness, particularly with its iconic illustration by Ellen Segner that hasn't changed since the 1940s. One of those brands you don't think about unless you were raised on it, Sunbeam is actually manufactured by Flowers Bakeries, LLC, the same giant that now owns Wonder Bread. However, that's where the similarities end.
This round-top bread is one of the lighter bakes, with no obvious aroma as you open the bag. The slices are bright white in the middle, with plenty of air pockets and visible gluten bonds, creating a visual effect not unlike a very, very bleached sponge. The top crust is dry while somehow being all give, and the bottom is innocuous, blending into the slightly buttery impression of the bread—a slightly richer flavor than found in others that were tasted. It's very, very soft and cool without being moist, but will absolutely get soggy fast in a sandwich.
As toast, it retains its bounciness for a soft initial impact but then becomes exceptionally crumbly toast. The hint of richness gives it a cracker-like taste, particularly because it becomes such dry toast, and quickly. It browns up evenly throughout with no effort, and in this form, is incredibly easy to scarf down. However, anything with such low nutritional value typically is simple to devour en masse. With no calcium and higher sodium than its competitors, plus the marginally higher fat content, it feels like nothing but a warm memory once the last bite is gone.
Wonder Bread may have been number one once, but this comeback kid now falls firmly in the middle of the pack—not an unimpressive feat for a bread that hasn't changed in 100 years that's competing head-to-head with more craft-style white breads. This score, particularly by one who was raised on competing regional brand Home Pride, just goes to show that the bread of millions of childhoods is objectively decent on its own, beyond the enhancements of nostalgia. No "wonder" folks cheered when it—and Twinkies—were saved by Flowers Bakeries when the brands faced bankruptcy and dissolution.
That said, this round-top loaf is another delicate one, easily squashed into oblivion. It's a couple of shades browner than the Sunbeam, but unlike the other darker bakes, there's no sense of overdone-ness to it. Upon opening the bag, it smells immediately sweet and you can detect a little bit of the toastiness from the soft bottom crust. The top crust is dry and fortunately, easily peeled off as it's not particularly tasty. However, it's airy and again, soft. In fact, this bread is so immensely soft as a whole that simply cutting it squishes the edges irrevocably; you could almost seal the edges like a dumpling (… or an Uncrustables?). But because it's so insubstantial, you do need to smush it together and ball it up to get a bite with any kind of density, despite being a thicker cut than Sunbeam. Similarly, it's a poor choice for wet fillings. But with its smooth texture and sweet aftertaste, it's generally … nice.
Out of the toaster, it's crispy and golden and gets even sweeter. The exterior gets very crunchy and very, very dry all the way through. It's exactly the crumbly toast you expect—messy, with just enough sugar and yeastiness to make melted butter contrast well, and an innocuous enough character to fade into the background.
Arnold Country White
This is where the white breads really start differentiating themselves. Before this, they may be good, but from here on out are the greats. Arnold—a Bimbo brand also marketed as Orowheat in some parts of the country—has all over its label that this thick-sliced, wide-pan bread is now made with a "new, improved recipe." The nutrition label starts out well with only 12 ingredients, but more calories and sodium and more than twice the fat of its closest-looking competitor, Pepperidge Farm's Farmhouse version, makes it a matter of preference over health.
It doesn't emit much of a fragrance, even with the double-bag packaging that usually helps breads give off a stronger first impression upon opening. What you do get, though, is a saltier, savory hint on the nose with a sweet finish. This carries through to the taste. It offers a clean, classic, sweet white bread flavor in basically a denser, tightly crumbed package—the same as if you were to squish two slices of Wonder Bread into a block, but not too hard. It's springy to tear and has a soft crust, which is baked to a pleasant middle-range brown except where a subtle golden split reveals itself. Unlike with the more basic white breads, the crust pieces are the better parts of the slice for a deeper sweetness.
When toasted, it develops a lovely yeastiness that finishes sweet and creamy. The density of the bread also keeps the inside chewy and the crumbs to a minimum. However, this also means that you should toast it longer or on a higher setting than you're accustomed to if you're looking for drier toast.
Pepperidge Farm White Sandwich
With its white plastic overwrap designed to look like deli paper, small loaf size, and thin, tiny child-sized slices, this Pepperidge Farm option didn't give me high hopes. Its packaging, branding, and marketing (unimpressive claims of "light and mild") seemed overly twee and fussy, like English finger sandwiches when what you want is American ham and cheese. So what a pleasant surprise it was when this simply named bread blew past the competition.
There's not much of a scent to it, but traces of a sweet maltiness can be observed with attention. It's drier to the touch and not as squishy as other light whites, but incredibly silky with a raw dough sweetness, even through the crust. This top crust claims to be square—an obvious lure to diagonal slicers—but it isn't, really, with a couple of bumps on what is still a rounded top. However, shape is easily forgiven with crusts as smooth as these. The bottom feels coarser to the touch, but in the mouth, it all blends together not even in harmony, but in pitch-perfect melody. Yet, marshmallow-like, there's a resistant bite that belies the slighter volume of the loaf and skinny slices.
It turns into a hard toast, though, due to how thin the slices are; all traces of sponginess are browned away. What remains is the hint of sugar, now accented by a butteriness and a little of a grainy element. It's in this form that you get back into the British feeling of this bread, all crisp sensibility in texture and portion.
Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted White
There's a benefit to watching and waiting, and sometimes, that means perfection. Nature's Own's two-year delayed response Sara Lee's Artesano line absolutely nails the game. This loaf is squat like Sara's but a wee bit taller; thicker sliced and heavier with the same amount of calories and more protein; snowflaked with flour, too, but with a lighter touch; and more aesthetically pleasing with a wide, light golden split that makes you think of butter.
As soon as you open the bag, you're greeted by a sweet aroma that recalls milk bread or an errant whiff of a brioche loaf. Once you grab a slice, you realize that the similarity goes beyond scent and into things like the moisture and density of the bread, the width of the pieces, and a bouncy elasticity as it slowly re-inflates when gently poked. The impenetrably thick, smooth crumb of the bread is punctuated by some air bubbles, breaking up the decadent toothsomeness of it. There's absolutely no need to wad this bread up—one piece will get you far, immediately satisfying yet simultaneously addicting. Additionally, it's rich and creamy even through the medium-thick crusts, which just meld together to your taste buds. The use of a rounded, shallow bottom pan helps to keep these crusts smooth; the majority of the outer layer is top crust even down the sides. The bottom crust is even a little buttery, which does a lot to help you forget all about the marginally dry texture, if we're nitpicking.
All of these factors, though, make this bread a fantastic bun but terrible toast if you prefer a traditional dry version. Toasting it to mid-range darkness doesn't change its character much, outside of adding a subtle caramel twist. It remains chewy, doughy, and the same level of sweet, rendering the outside crunch nothing more than cosmetic. You could hypothetically toast it longer to dry it out, but who really wants super thick, very dry toast? Plus, the thickness of the slices may make it a risk for getting stuck in a conventional basic toaster. It's best to eat this option straight or lightly baked and call it a delicious day.
Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty White
The smoothest of the bunch, this is the closest to the Platonic ideal of what white bread could and should be. It was an immensely close call, but this contender from the Farm's Farmhouse line won by the tiniest, most technical of margins: It toasted up more like a traditional white toast.
But before we get to that, let's talk about how this 12-ingredient extra-wide pan, "slow-baked and thick-sliced" since 1937 bread performed fresh. Through the double bag, you can see an attractive, wide split top through the center of the lighter-baked loaf, a light yellow cutting through the finely flour-dusted golden top crust. Once those bag's seals are broken, you're immediately greeted by a sweet, yeasty aroma tinged with fake butter—not movie theater-fake, but more like a mild spread. The slices are very moist to the touch, and a bright, bright white with a tight, heavy crumb. However, this initial feeling is deceiving; it can be pressed into nothing with barely any pressure as all of the structural integrity is in the crust. In spite of the crust acting as the shape-keeper, like its simple sandwich version, it blends into the bread seamlessly, silkily, as if it weren't there at all. The hardness of the bottom that was noticeable to the fingers wasn't at all to the mouth; it was just nicely chewy and hefty. Flavorwise, it delivers on its olfactory promises: sweetly doughy right off the bat, with a rich, buttery finish.
Where it edged out Nature's Own, as mentioned, was in the toast test. Although it doesn't get significantly darker and the toasting remains on the surface due to the density of the bread, this outer layer does get even more sweet on the tongue when laid flat against it due to the caramelization of the sugar in this recipe—which is admittedly higher than, say, Arnold's. It retains its chew toward the center of the slice, even while the outside is a lovely crisp that crumbles minimally.
In a stunning last-minute upset, the Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty White edges out Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted White at the eleventh hour with a superior toasting capability and noticeable chemical change with this toasting. Yes, the Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted bowled me over with its creamy sweetness, cumulus cloud puffiness, and blended-in crust, but in the spirit of pure objectivity, its ultra-thick slices, inability to toast to nostalgia, and squatter shape puts it closer in the realm of a roll than traditional white bread. Therefore, due to sheer technicalities of what defines "soft white bread" and "white bread toast," the Farmhouse version is simply closer to what is expected from a white bread than Perfectly Crafted.
However, you can't go wrong with either. Whether you choose to channel grilled cheese, PBJ, ham sandwich, or just buttered bread vibes, these will have you falling in love with "plain" white bread all over again. Crusts and all.