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Best Bread: French vs. Italian vs. German vs. American vs. British Bread

By Lucy Yanckello, Ph.D.

What are popular German breads?

In Germany, bread plays an important role in all three meals throughout the day. Whole grain, nutrient dense breads are the most popular German breads. A few German breads that fit the highly nutritious and satiating profile but do not skimp on flavor include Vollkornbrot and Pumpernickel. 

Vollkornbrot is made from whole grains, such as rye, spelt, or barley, and seeds, such as sunflower, flax, or pumpkin. In Germany, Vollkornbrot bread must be over 90% whole grain, which increases the amount of fiber in the bread. Higher fiber intake has a multitude of health benefits, including reducing risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Those without the time to make this German whole grain bread at home are in luck. The leading brand in Germany, Mestemacher, is widely available in U.S. grocery stores. Mestemacher brand Vollkornbrot is baked in a special way to preserve freshness without preservatives, stabilizers, or additives. Additionally, those with gluten intolerance can enjoy this brand as most Mestemacher varieties are wheat free. 

Pumpernickel bread is a popular German bread made from rye grain and a rye sourdough starter that has a variety of health benefits. Pumpernickel bread helps reduce blood sugar levels due to the high fiber and low carbohydrate content of the rye flour used to make pumpernickel. Additionally, pumpernickel is a great substitute for white bread for those trying to lose weight - pumpernickel contains only 12.4 grams of carbohydrates per slice compared to 15.5 grams per slice of white bread. Similar to Vollkornbrot, pumpernickel is high in fiber and will keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Interestingly, opting to leave the crust on your pumpernickel sandwich may be the healthiest option - a German study found that the use of a sourdough starter that contains rye flour, just like the one used in pumpernickel bread, produces antioxidants in the crust during the bread baking process!

What are popular Italian breads?

Bread is a staple in Italian diets. It is a rarity in Italian culture to have a meal without an accompanying piece of bread. Italian bread differs from German bread because Italian bread has a much more open structure and is made from predominantly white flour. The prevalence of white flour in Italian breads dates back to Roman times when white flour was reserved for wealthier citizens and dark grains were given to those considered to be low-income. Unlike most countries that classify their flour based on gluten content, Italy classifies its flour based on grain size after it is ground. Two of the most popular Italian breads are ciabatta and focaccia.

Ciabatta bread was developed as a response to the French baguette, which was gaining popularity in Italy. Ciabatta has a similarly crunchy exterior to a baguette, but with a more open structured interior because ciabatta dough has a higher water content than baguette dough. Focaccia is another popular Italian open structured bread. Focaccia is a flat pan-shaped dough that was a precursor to pizza. 

Ciabatta and focaccia are made with “strong flour,” or flour ground from hard wheat kernels. This “strong flour” has a high protein content that creates an open structure when baked, for which both ciabatta and focaccia are known. The high protein content also means that ciabatta and focaccia have a high content of gluten, which is the protein in flour. As a result, ciabatta and focaccia breads should be avoided for people with gluten intolerances and allergies. Ciabatta and focaccia also include olive oil in their recipes. Olive oil has known benefits such as reducing inflammation and protection against heart disease due to its high concentration of good fats (e.g. monounsaturated fatty acids) and antioxidants. 

Many breads made in Italy are regional and in the US are only available at specialty bakeries or delis. Ciabatta and focaccia, though, have become so popular that most grocery stores in the US stock them regularly on their shelves. At Wildgrain, we make artisan ciabatta delivered directly to your door.

What are popular French breads?

Bread plays an important role in the history of France. Prior to the French Revolution, wheat flours were preserved for the rich and bran flours were given to those considered low-income. To this day, bread is so popular in France that French President Emmanual Macron requested the French baguette be recognized as one of the world's cultural treasures on UNESCO's list of “intangible heritage.” The baguette is the quintessential example of French bread, known for its light airy structure and distinctive crunch. In fact, by law in France, baguettes may contain only wheat flour, yeast, water, and salt, and they may not contain preservatives or additives. 

Another popular bread in France is pain de campagne, a sourdough bread. Sourdough bread has health benefits not afforded by traditional yeast bread due to the longer fermentation process. This allows for higher nutrient and vitamin content. Pain de campagne (sourdough bread) is also low in gluten content, so it may be a good option for those with gluten sensitivities.

What are popular British breads?

Bread was so important in England during the medieval times that it informed the words lord and lady (from the Anglo-Saxon “loaf-guardian,” or hlafward) and lady (“loaf-maker,” or hlaefdige). In England in 1956, laws were introduced stating that all flour, other than whole grain, had to be fortified with minimum amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin B1, and nicotinic acid. The US has similar regulations, but Britain has more limitations on additives in bread than in the US. 

Popular breads in Britain include muffins (known as English Muffins in the US) and crumpets. Muffins and crumpets are both soft breads with open structures, perfect for a tea time snack or breakfast. 

In the UK, muffins and crumpets are typically made with bread flour, referred to as “strong flour” in the UK. Bread flour has a high protein and gluten content, allowing for a soft, chewy texture that is essential for crumpets and muffins. The higher protein content of bread flour that is used in muffins and crumpets is also an easy way to sneak some extra protein into your diet. Compared to all purpose flour, bread flour has around 3 more grams of protein per cup. However, due to the high gluten content in bread flour, it should be avoided by those who have a gluten sensitivity.

What are popular American breads?

Store bought, sliced white bread is similar in its association with the US as apple pie. In the US, Wonderbread was the first nationally distributed, sliced bread. Prior to this, bread was made at home, often in unsanitary conditions, so this “processed” and “factory made” white sliced bread was highly sought after. It wasn’t until World War II that white bread started to be made with enriched flour to prevent wartime malnutrition. American white bread is fluffy and sweet, without the nutritional benefits of many of the European breads discussed previously.

How is American bread different vs European bread? Is American bread sweeter than European bread?

The biggest difference between American breads versus European breads is the quality of the ingredients used in each bread. Standard, store-bought American bread contains many preservatives and fillers that are banned in European countries. Unfortunately, the preservatives and fillers found in American breads have been found to be detrimental to human health, which is why we do not use these ingredients at Wildgrain.

Another unnecessary ingredient found in bread in America, but not in European bread, is sugar. Sugar is often added to packaged bread in the US to preserve freshness, create a soft texture, and add sweetness. As a result, American bread is sweeter than European bread.

Looking for Italian breads, German breads, French breads, or British breads in the US?

In Europe, it is still common to buy bread at a traditional, artisanal local bakery rather than in a supermarket. Unfortunately finding high quality, healthy bread in the US is difficult. Local bakeries are often expensive, and in most grocery stores, there often are not options for breads from Italy, Germany, France, or Britain like the ones discussed above. 

At Wildgrain, we are the first bake-from-frozen delivery subscription service for artisanal, specialty breads in the US. We use slow-fermentation to bake nutritious, European-style breads including English Muffins and Slow Fermented Olive Oil Ciabatta. We also never add sugar to our bread recipes, unlike many supermarket breads in the US. Want to experience the health and taste benefits of a European bakery in your home? Learn more about Wildgrain, our artisanal baking methods, and our subscription delivery services available in the U.S.

 

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.

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