/ Food & Drink

Real bread versus the other stuff

It’s Real Bread Maker Week – we’re joined by Real Bread Campaign’s coordinator Chris Young who shares his thoughts about our daily bread. Do you enjoy real bread or are you happy to settle for a supermarket loaf?

How would you like to see the future unfold: a time in which all loaves are made in enormous out-of-town factories employing relatively few people where they produce more and more additive-laced, fluffy loaves that people squeeze like toilet rolls in the supermarket?

Or would you rather see a growing multitude of small, independent bakeries owned and run by members of your local community baking delicious, genuinely fresh, genuinely good value real bread? Would you rather support payouts for shareholders or more jobs per loaf?

The state of ‘bread’ in Britain

There was a time when all loaves came fresh from our own ovens, or from neighbourhood bakeries that gave skilled employment to tens of thousands of people within our local communities. It was a time of baking bread with nothing but natural ingredients, time, skill and passion.

Now, between 95% and 97% of the loaves we buy are made by just a handful of industrial baking operators and the supermarkets themselves.

Often these are laced with artificial additives, made using higher levels of yeast than traditional baking and methods that don’t allow the dough to ‘ripen’ in its own time. It’s possible that one or more of these contribute to the problems some people report after eating industrial loaves.

So what can I do?

Well, at the Real Bread Campaign, we reckon a good start would be to know what you’re buying. Is that crusty, nice-smelling supermarket in-store bakery baguette all it appears?

Was it in fact part-baked elsewhere using a cocktail of processing aids or other artificial additives, then finished off in the shop’s ‘loaf tanning salon’? Was that ‘wholemeal’ factory loaf made with only whole grain wheat flour, or is there barley, soya, and added wheat protein in there too?

And we say support your local independent bakery! If you’re lucky enough to have one near you, pop in, have a chat and pick up a delicious loaf. For the sake of more local jobs per loaf, we believe it’s worth paying an honest price for an honest crust. And to see if it’s what we call Real Bread, look for The Loaf Mark!

Roll up your sleeves

Another way to make sure you and your family get the best is to bake your own bread at home. Whether by hand or by bringing an unloved bread machine back into use, home baking allows you to take control of exactly what does – and doesn’t – go in the food you and your kids (if you have them) enjoy. Home-baked real bread: now that’s true good value!

What do you think about mass-produced supermarket loaves? Do you bake your own bread or support your local independent bakery?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young – all opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?


One of the problems with most bread is the high salt content and this has featured in another Which? Conversation. Most of us should be eating less salt to avoid increasing our blood pressure.

It is the sodium in sodium chloride (table salt) that causes the problem and various products (Lo Salt is the best known brand) containing mainly potassium chloride have been on the market for years to help us decrease our sodium intake. I do not understand why bakeries do not use these products, which are cheap and could be of benefit to anyone wanting to avoid the need to take pills for blood pressure control.

Until ingredient and nutritional data labelling on bakery products improves , the consumer has no way of making an informed choice.

Most “nice” looking bread has no information associated with it at all !

Absolutely. That would be slightly more useful than knowing the nutritional content of 100 grams of English Mustard.

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 May 2012

I’d rather have no bread than eat supermarket cardboard. I’m lucky I’ve got an excellent, long-established deli-bakery near me and their bread is a treat each time and not too expensive either. I must say that I don’t know anything about the ingredients, however. I’m hoping that because I eat bread in small quantities I’m not slowly getting poisoned.

When I lived in Haarlem, at the end of my street there were at least 3 different bakeries. You could choose from the ace selection there or go to the out of town (Albert Heijn) and buy cardboard.

Similarly in Duesseldorf, cardboard from the supermarkets yet fantastic selections from multiple bakeries throughout the city.

I prefer real bread, but if there aren’t many local bakeries around how can we not go to the supermarket?

Sawdust [cellulose,cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, etc.] is widely used as a ‘filler’ for bread.
Mixed with flour, it bulks it out but cannot be digested by us and has no nutritional value.
This form of cellulose is waste & thus far cheaper than flour.

I buy my bread from the local bakery in my village, I wouldn’t even feed mass produced bread to animals.

When holidaying in Croatia the bakers there would trim loaves to the size you wanted, so if you just wanted a bit rather than a massive loaf you could. Wish they did the same here.

Marc says:
11 May 2012

I think that the Chorleywood Bread Process of 1961 has a lot to answer for:

Thanks for the link, Marc. What the Chorleywood Bread Process allowed us to do was to use UK wheat to produce a consistent product that was cheap and most people were happy with, and still are. Apart from using yeast it must be the biggest advance in bread making.

We may want ‘real’ bread but not everyone does. And look how many people prefer drink mass produced characterless lager rather than real beer.

I bake my own bread now and it surprised me just how easy it really is. I often use my Kenwood Chef to knead the dough so it doesn’t even take much skill to make – just a bit of planning on a Friday evening to give the dough time to rise before I bake it not long before bedtime. That way I have fresh bread for the weekend and know exactly what goes into it. I often make an extra loaf, slice it and freeze it so I can take it out one slice at a time as I want it through the week when I haven’t got the time to bake it fresh. As I’m careful about the flour and yeast I buy I know exactly what is in my bread too.

Robint says:
16 May 2012

Agreed, we consumers really need to know what we are being sold as food – and then make an informed choice – no contest.

FYI a friend of mine worked for RHM some years ago and told me that there was no real difference in the standard white sliced loaf and the so called wholemeal one except for a caramel colouring agent and the abiltity to charge more

But to be fair he did say that the industry produced a perfectly reasonable long lasting product at a budget price appreciated by millions of consumers daily

So called real breads dont last long before going stale. A french baguette goes off within hours – but it is lovely.

Up to you

A wholemeal loaf should be baked using flour made from whole grain. A brown loaf could be coloured using caramel, molasses or other materials. Many years ago I bought a brown loaf that was white in parts. We really do need proper labelling so that the consumer knows what they are buying.

Much of the bread we buy contains anti-staling agents, added for our convenience and to help avoid waste.

Jumbo says:
13 June 2012

I have found that most bread contains vinegar, and it tastes horrible. Warburtons seeded seems to be o.k. so I buy that. I used to bake my own but couldn’t find a good flour.
Any ideas anyone?

Hi Jumbo, I use Waitrose very strong Canadian flour which has consistently made good bread for me. I haven’t had much success at all with Allinson’s, but have used Dove’s Farm and Marriages which are both good but a bit more expensive. Hope you get back to making your own bread – good luck!

John Levey says:
25 January 2018

Try using the flours produced by the small millers. a couple to try are Wessex Mill who produce a large range of different flours and stocked by many farm shops and garden centres. They even print the farms where the grain comes from. Another is Matthews Cotswold flour who also produce a large variety of flours. Matthews flour is available from Amazon. These flours may cost more than supermarket products but are worth every penny.

alan says:
24 July 2012

I have been eating Kingsmill 50/50 and yesterday, towards the end of the loaf, I could smell a solvent/chemical odour. I was eating the slice with a tin of fish and thought the smell was coming from there. However, further scrutiny confirmed it was from the bread. Because I’d already eaten a slice, I slightly panicked and telephoned Kingsmill who immediately knew the problem. They said it was because the loaf was getting stale and that there was nothing to worry about. However, I have not experienced that before with the previous loaves. The point is:what was in the bread to make it smell like that? I’ve now gone off it and am considering buying a breadmaker.

I usually bake my own bread to my own recipe without salt (I found food tastes better without any salt at all) The only salt I now consume is in the tiny amount of processed food I eat – But I do like Warburtons Seeded Loaf – eat about one loaf in two or three months.

Anne says:
6 October 2012

Cannot get decent bread anywhere. The bread, both wholemeal and white, is:

a} Insubstantial
b] Like foam or cloud
c] “Unreal” in texture and taste.
d] Pasty – one bite sticks to roof of mouth like god knows what.
e] Horrible in every way!

Where can I get proper bread??

fran says:
6 February 2014

What is that horrible chemical smell that emits from these supermarket breads? You can smell it as you walk up the bread aisle. This couldn’t be healthy! I eat a lot of bread and I now have to find other types of rolls or breads tht don’t smell. I now buy older bread which is cheaper and does not have that smell.

When we smell something we are detecting volatile chemicals released into the atmosphere. All bread, whether traditional or mass produced, contains a cocktail of chemicals.

I suspect that you have a heightened sensitivity to whatever you are smelling. You can test this by getting someone else to see if they can detect the same smell. If most people could detect a horrible chemical smell, bread would not be one of our most popular foods.

Most people like the smell of baking and freshly baked bread, just like they enjoy the smell of freshly roasted and ground coffee.

I find the smell of many perfumes overpowering and unpleasant, whether these are cheap perfumes added to washing detergents or expensive cosmetics. I am an asthmatic and sometimes these scents cause me breathing difficulties.

The chemical composition of bread changes with time, which is one reason the smell can change.

Keith says:
30 July 2015

A lot of people make their own bread these days. Some use a machine and others, as I do, make it entirely by hand. At the end of the day, providing you don’t buy that really cheap sliced cotton wool, it is no dearer than buying from the supermarket baker. We always had ‘real bread’ when I was a boy. One of my daily errands was to go up to the bakers shop at the top of our street and bring back a fresh baked bloomer. By the time I got home – just a few minutes away – at least one corner of the loaf had had it’s crust picked away. My treat for going! My favourite flour is Canadian extra strong white with a mix of Canadian whole meal. I use the French method of kneading and it turns out fantastic. As we don’t eat a lot of bread because of diet, I bake two small loaves a week. When they have cooled, I cut them and freeze 4 slices per food bag, withdrawing them only when we need them. That way they are always fresh.

Yes, it is easier to buy from the grocer or Supermarket, but it is far more healthier to bake your own, adding only the necessary amounts of yeast, sugar and salt required for the recipe. Who knows what else goes into industrial bread?

Read about l,estiene in bread to make it last longer, Human hair!

I’ve recently opened packs of Kingsmill 50/50 rolls to find a strong chemical smell and even taste. This has happened on more than one occasion. It’s almost an acetone smell. Highly unpleasant. I can’t imagine that it’s harmless either. I have long been thinking about baking my own and this has just about persuaded me.

Fran has made a similar post above. At least with packaged goods, the retailer has to declare what is in them, whereas that’s not the case with bread from a bakery and similar goods. It’s not that simple, unfortunately, and chemical changes can occur during baking or storage.

An unpleasant smell does not mean that something is harmful. I hate the taste of some cheeses and find the smell of cabbage unpleasant. Best of luck with the home-made bread. I might join you.

We bake most of the bread we eat, using a bread maker. But I make our own recipes, as in my view if you use the ones supplied with the machine, what comes out at the end is not all that different from shop-bought bread. We all prefer a much denser, chewier loaf than the standard type produced by the bread maker. So in the wholemeal bread I make I use part Allinson’s wholemeal wheat, but also a high proportion of Dove’s rye flour. This means the loaf ends up quite heavy and dense, much more like Continental rye bread. It gets cut in quite thin slices. I also sometimes make real continental rye bread, but not in the bread maker.

I also make a special loaf for breakfast that has a lot of oat bran and oat germ in it, plus seeds. It’s lovely, though I say it myself.

But I do also love M&S’s Ciabatta. I bake it until it has a really good crust on it, and eaten hot it seems as good as anything you could want. I can’t make successful ciabatta; I’ve tried lots of times. I know in theory exactly how it should be done; it just never works for me.