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6 Supermarket Bread Myths

There are a lot of assumptions, rumours, and often-quoted statements about supermarkets and their breads. Some are true, others are not.

Here are 6 myths about supermarket breads.*

Image: not a supermarket loaf. I made it.

MYTH #1: supermarket breads are full of sugar

Certainly, some savoury/plain breads do contain added sugar. However, it's rarer than is commonly believed. In fact, some major brands promote their loaves as No Added Sugar.
Obviously, sweet buns and breads have added sugar
Why do many mass-produced breads taste sweet? Because wheat is made up of a lot of starch, and starch is a complex sugar. During fermentation starches are broken into simple sugars. Industrial loaves have a lot of starch quickly broken down by added enzymes. So, they often have a sweet taste. 

MYTH #2: supermarket sourdough loaves aren’t real sourdough
This partly depends how you define sourdough (as of writing in 2021, there no regulations in Australia about labelling sourdough).
However, more and more supermarkets buy in bread/dough frozen from large-scale bakeries. Many of these add yeast (check the ingredient label) to assist consistency during manufacturing. But apart from that they follow a full sourdough process.
Other large bakeries make a genuine sourdough process with no added yeast and wholesale to the supermarkets. The packaging may or may not reflect who made it. 
But some industrial bakeries do just add sourdough [powder] for flavour (can you even taste it?). If the bread (and ingredient list) looks identical to their regular loaves, you be the judge.

MYTH #3: sourdough can only be handmade in small bakeries
Following from the above myth, sourdough can be made anywhere from one-loaf-at-home to any imaginable scale of industrial plant bakery.
The sourdough process can be scaled: more flour, bigger mixers, bigger benches, and bigger ovens. Often, some or all the process will be automated with machinery mimicking human hands.
However some large bakeries still have teams of people hand-shaping the dough or hand-scoring the loaves before baking. The bread is almost indistinguishable from a home-made or small bakery hand-made loaf. Sometimes the loaves are better due to daily practice, quality control, temperature control, and speciality premium equipment. 

MYTH #4: vinegar is added for sour flavour
Actually, vinegar is added by bakeries as a natural mould inhibitor or preservative. It preserves the bread by lowering the pH (increasing the acidity).
Interestingly, cultured wheat flour is now common on ingredient labels, and this is also a preservative.

MYTH #5: dark rye bread is made from all rye flour
Love dark rye bread? Have a look at the ingredient label. You may be surprised to see wheat/wheaten flour is often higher on the list than rye flour/meal. It’s common for caramel colour (liquefied burnt sugar) or malt powder/trumalt (roasted barley flour) to be added for the dark colour. These are natural ingredients but give the unhelpful impression rye is a dark brown/black colour.

MYTH #6: white bread has no fibre or nutrition
Manufactures (and flour mills) are often required to add vitamins and minerals  to the dough. Many add fibre as an additional promotional factor. Fibre from, for example, wheat, barley, oats, chia seeds and more is used. However, it’s often not noticeable when eating the bread.
Vitamins and minerals are used to fortify the bread. Many of these are naturally present in the grain (commonly wheat), however the refined flour and quick dough fermentation means most are removed or unable to be absorbed by the body.   

BONUS MYTH: handmade and homemade marketing/labelling
My personal soapbox moment here… why can bakeries/food manufacturers include "handmade" or "homemade" on their packaging when it comes from an industrial facility where the closest hand is the maintenance person fixing the machine and the closest home is several kilometres away in the nearest residential zone.

If you have a specific question about a product, I’d be glad to see if I can offer any insight. 

*Please note, I’m writing from Australia; other places across the world may vary.
None of this is intended as health advice. Individual loaves may vary from bakery to bakery.
I’ve not given brand names as their products may change over time. Much of this also comes from my personal observations and industry knowledge. Often, I am not at liberty to disclose exact practices at different bakeries/factories.