What’s Better: Bread vs. Cake vs. Muffin vs. Cupcake?

What’s Better: Bread vs. Cake vs. Muffin vs. Cupcake?

Posted on: Bread, Pastries

By Lucy Yanckello, Ph.D.

Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen subscription box for sourdough breads, fresh pastas, and artisanal pastries.


Sweet breads, cake, muffins, and cupcakes are all delicious treats that take some finesse to make right. But what is the difference between bread and cake, or muffins and cupcakes? It may be hard to pinpoint the differences between these baked goods based on their ingredients alone, and instead one needs to consider the method by which these ingredients are combined. 

What’s the difference between bread vs. cake?  Is cake considered a sweet bread? Do cake and bread have the same ingredients?

When most people think of bread they think of everyday staples like white, wheat and rye, whereas cakes are thought of as a treat for special occasions, and served as dessert. You may be inclined to think that bread is savory and cake is sweet, but is the distinction really so simple? In order to better understand the differences between cake and bread, it is important to understand the categories of each, and where the ambiguity exists. 

Traditional breads are leavened with yeast – these include what we typically think of when bread comes to mind, whites, wheats, and ryes. Base ingredients in traditional breads include flour, active dry yeast, water, and a pinch of salt or sugar. Quick breads on the other hand are more similar to cakes in that they use a leavening agent such as baking sodas – these include banana breads and zucchini breads. These base ingredients for quick breads and cakes are the same – flour, leavening agent, eggs, fat, and a liquid – despite the addition of sugar in cake. 

Cake is a kind of quick bread, but is much lighter in texture, always sweet, and often frosted or decorated. And although the definition of quick breads muddies the water in terms of the differences between cake and bread, traditional bread and cake are very different. The primary difference between bread and cake is that yeast is used as the leavening agent, but other ingredients including sugar, eggs, milk, and fat also lead to differences in texture between the two. Another way cakes differ from bread is that solid fat is creamed with the sugar, creating a much softer texture than bread. 

What’s the difference between a muffin and bread? Which is healthier, bread or muffins?

Although muffins are considered to be bread, they fall under the quick bread category and utilize baking soda as a leavening agent rather than yeast. The term muffin typically refers to an individual sized quick bread, and can be sweet or savory. In terms of health, depending on the recipe used, bread will likely provide more protein and less fat content than muffins, but won’t satisfy a sweet craving. 

What’s the difference between a muffin and cake? What’s healthier, cake or muffin? Are muffins just small cakes?

The term muffin typically refers to an individual sized quick bread, and can be sweet or savory. However, muffins are a different type of quick bread than cake, as muffins have melted (or liquid) fat instead of creaming the solid fat and sugar together, as in cakes. This creates a more moist texture. Muffins and cake are very similar in ingredients, but muffins will have less fat content and sugar than cake due to a lack of frosting, and the use of liquid oils that are usually plant based instead of solid fats (such as butter), that are usually animal based and higher in saturated fats. 

What’s the difference between a cupcake and cake? Which is healthier, cake or cupcakes? Are cupcakes just small cakes?

The main difference between a cake and cupcake is the size. Cupcakes are much smaller, and meant to be consumed by one person whereas cakes are large and meant to be consumed by a group. Any cake can be turned into a cupcake by adjusting the ratio of ingredients, which is why they can be thought of as mini-cakes. Cupcakes and cakes both use baking soda as a leavening agent and the creaming method, where solid fat is creamed with sugar to create the flavor and texture known of both. 

What’s the difference between a cupcake and a muffin? Which is healthier, muffins or cupcakes?

The difference between cupcakes and muffins comes down to their mixing method and the composition of the batter. Cupcakes are beaten for a longer time, and generally have more sugar and fat than muffins, along with the fact that solid fat is used instead of liquid fat. Muffins are mixed by combining the “wet” and “dry” ingredients after they have been combined in separate bowls, and are more likely to include less sugar, more fruit and whole grains, and can be savory. As there is less fat, more fruits and whole grains, and less sugar in muffins, they are likely a healthier treat than a cupcake. 

Where can I buy bread and treats fresh online?

At Wildgrain, we specialize in making high-quality, fresh baked goods that are delivered directly to your door. Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen delivery subscription service for breads, pastries, and fresh pastas. Some of our popular baked goods include sourdough bread, croissants, bagels, english muffins, and brownies. Learn more about Wildgrain and our artisanal baking and cooking methods.


About the Author

Lucy Yanckello received her Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. She currently works as a medical writer and enjoys being able to help people better understand nutrition and science.


This content is for informational use only and does not replace professional nutrition and/or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not a substitute for and should not be relied upon for specific nutrition and/or medical recommendations. Please talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns.