The shelves of bread at my local grocery store are a dazzling display of nut, seed, and grain diversity. Just a handful of producers offer more than 20 kinds of wheat breads in flavors like Honey Chia, Oatnut, and Quinoa. Some are thin-sliced and some are "long loaf," and they can sport anywhere from just a few grains to a whopping 24.
It's a lot to take in.
Of course, at the core of this seemingly endless array is the standby that pleases both health-minded adults and picky toddlers alike: plain ol' wheat bread.
Familiar, versatile, goes-with-anything plain wheat bread might not have the nutty bells and whistles of some of the other varieties on the shelf, but it's a blank canvas we can all appreciate.
I couldn't help but wonder which brand made the tastiest loaves, so I decided to put them to the test. I examined dozens of labels and narrowed down the list to hold a blind taste (only considering versions that were as close to plain whole wheat as possible). In the end there was one very clear winner — and a decent back-up option, should you need one.
A Quick Note on Whole-Wheat Bread Ingredients
Whole-wheat bread is on track to surpass white bread in nationwide sales, thanks to an ever-increasing awareness of its health benefits. Because whole-wheat flour uses the whole grain (brand, germ, and endosperm), it has more fiber and nutrients than refined white flour. Although lately, some food scientists have argued that the amount of fiber in whole-wheat bread is negligible, it's worth noting that many whole-wheat breads tend to have other nutritious nuts, seeds and grains added, and even a little extra nutrition is better than none.
But keep in mind whole wheat isn't the same as 100 percent whole grain, which means the bread is made only with whole-grain flour. By the same token, multigrain doesn't always mean whole grain either — it just means more than one grain was used. The key is to check the ingredient list. If you want the benefits of whole-grain bread, the first ingredient should specify a whole-grain flour, otherwise the bread could be mostly made from white flour.
While you're studying the ingredients list, keep an eye out for added sugar. All store-bought wheat breads have some form of sweetener added, but brown sugar, molasses, and honey are preferable to high fructose corn syrup. And if you're watching your sugar intake, it's best if the sweetener isn't one of the first three ingredients.
What else to keep in mind? Additives and preservatives. They're inevitable with store-bought bread, as the loaves are made on an industrial scale and expected to stay fresh for at least a week. But some manufacturers are more heavy-handed than others. Plus, some additives are problematic. The preservatives BHA and BHT and dough conditioners potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide are considered safe by the USDA but are banned in countries like the U.K. and Japan.
My New Go-To Whole-Wheat Bread
Dave's Killer Bread Organic 100% Whole Wheat, $5.89 at Target
Whole-wheat berries give this loaf a heartier texture than I expected, but it is still plenty moist (I know, everyone hates that word. Sorry, but it really is necessary when describing bread!). It has a deep whole-wheat flavor that gains even more sweetness once it was toasted.
The ingredient list is clean, too, although sugar is third on the list here. And it turns out, this brand in general is a favorite of Kitchn editors. They love the White Bread Done Right and the 21 Whole Grains and Seeds. Actually, they say they've never had a disappointing loaf from Dave's Killer Bread. And we all love the brand's social mission: Employing ex-cons and helping other companies to do the same.
If you like smooth, soft wheat bread with absolutely no lumps or bumps, this is the best of the bunch (and definitely a kid favorite). It's richly wheat-y with a balanced sweetness, plus it's exceptionally moist (sorry!) and tender. It toasts up crispy yet chewy, with enough structure to stand up to toppings. Bonus: Sugar is listed fourth, so it might be a better option over the Dave's Killer Bread if you're worried about sugar.
Or go the DIY route: How To Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Do you have a favorite whole-wheat bread? Tell us about it in the comments below.