Bread is a weekly grocery list staple. And while many of us are opting for wholemeal, dark rye, flatbread or an artisan sourdough loaf, you only have to look at the packaged bread aisle of the supermarket to see that sliced white bread is still a firm favourite.
Generations of Aussie kids have been raised on white bread and Vegemite sandwiches. A slice of white bread is the perfect vehicle for a snag off the barbie. And it'd be a crime to make fairy bread using anything else. But are some sliced whites better than others?
We test 30 supermarket sliced white breads (24 regular, six gluten-free) from brands including Abbott's Village Bakery, Helga's, Mighty Soft, Tip Top and Wonder White to see which loaf rises above the rest for both nutrition and taste.
Five of the 30 breads in our review achieved an overall score of 75% or more, meaning they delivered on both nutrition and taste in our expert panel blind taste test.
Interestingly, the top scoring bread we tested – Wonder Wholegrain White Smooth Wholegrain (78%) – contains wholegrains, but for all intents and purposes is a sliced white bread like all the others we tested. This is good news for parents who are keen for their kids to eat more wholegrains, but tired of their sandwiches being rejected for having 'bits' in them.
And the top scoring gluten-free breads are two of the cheapest in that category. Aldi's Has No Gluten Free Sliced White Bread (77%) and Coles Gluten Free White Bread (77%) cost $0.80 and $0.90 per 100g, respectively – almost half the price of some other gluten free breads we tested.
Wonder Wholegrain White Smooth Wholegrain
- Overall score: 78%
- Price per 100g: $0.49
- % Australian ingredients (minimum): 90%
Experts say: Good overall appearance with even browning. Soft, springy crumb. Aeration evenly distributed across the loaf. Delicate sweet ferment aroma. Good flavour, tastes more wholemeal.
Wonder Active Low GI + Protein
- Overall score: 77%
- Price per 100g: $0.50
- % Australian ingredients (minimum): 80%
Experts say: Evenly browned all over. Pleasant, subtle ferment aroma. Good texture and even crumb with some large air holes in internal crumb. A good family loaf.
Tip Top The One White Sandwich
- Overall score: 75%
- Price per 100g: $0.49
- % Australian ingredients (minimum): 90%
Experts say: Loaf is baked well and kept its shape. Uniform crumb with an even distribution of holes. Even, soft texture. Good overall appearance.
Coles Gluten Free White Bread
- Overall score: 77%
- Price per 100g: $0.90
- % Australian ingredients (minimum): 63%
Experts say: This bread is the closest to regular white bread. Good shape, evenly browned. Springy, open texture and distribution of air holes. Sweet, floury aftertaste with some grit.
White bread may pale (ahem) in comparison with other types of bread when it comes to nutrition, but if sliced white is your preference – or it's all you can get your kids to eat – you can make healthier choices within the category by considering:
Diets high in sodium are associated with higher blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and bread can make a significant contribution to our salt intake.
A certain amount of salt is needed in bread production to help it rise and develop texture. But the amount used can vary depending on the type of bread and the manufacturer.
To help lower the Australian population's salt intake, the government's Food & Health Dialogue in 2010 collaborated with the bread industry to reformulate defined bread products (including sliced loaf breads) to meet a sodium content target of 400mg per 100g or less by the end of 2013.
Four of the breads we tested don't meet this target:
- Bakers Delight White Block Loaf
- Buttercup Country Split White
- Country Life Gluten Free & Dairy Free White
- Tip Top Sunblest Soft White Sandwich
A high-fibre diet not only helps keep us regular, but it also plays a role in protecting us from heart disease and even some cancers. So when choosing a bread, the higher the fibre content the better.
According to the Food Standards Code, a product is considered a "source of" fibre if it contains at least 2g of dietary fibre per serve, a "good source" if it contains at least 4g per serve, and an "excellent source" if a serve contains at least 7g.
By this definition, some of the white breads we tested wouldn't even be considered a source of fibre. But others are good fibre sources, and one – the Coles Gluten Free White Bread – is an excellent source.
Claims you don't need to worry about
Some front-of-pack nutrient claims can be useful when deciding which bread to buy, but other claims on the pack may be less helpful.
'Made from unbleached flour'
In the past, flour bleaching agents were used for aesthetic reasons to achieve whiter loaves of bread. But bread flour in Australia hasn't been bleached for at least the past 10 years. Despite this, many of the products we tested specify in the ingredients list that their wheat flour is 'unbleached'.
'No artificial preservatives'
This claim frequently appears on bread packs. But only one of the 30 products we tested has a synthetic preservative in its ingredients list (Buttercup Country Split White contains preservative 282, calcium propionate).
'No added sugar'
It's a widely held belief that white sliced bread contains added sugar. This may be the case in other countries, but – apart from sweet breads such as brioche – the small amount of sugar in Australian breads is usually the type that occurs naturally in other ingredients or is produced by the yeast during the fermentation process. The exceptions are the six gluten-free breads, along with Baker's Life White Sandwich (Aldi), which all have sugar added.
All the breads we tested (except the Aldi, Coles and Woolworths brand gluten-free breads) are 'low sugar'. This means they contain no more than 5g sugar per 100g, according to the Food Standards Code.
We test packaged, sliced white breads that are available nationally through at least one of the major supermarket chains. Where there is the option, we choose sandwich sliced. We don't include fresh-baked bread from in-house bakeries, sourdough or brioche. Price is based on the price of a loaf in Sydney stores (not on special) in July 2019. We tested a total of 30 products, 24 regular breads and six gluten-free.
Our experts taste the bread samples 'blind' (without knowing the brands) in a randomised order, which is different for each expert. Regular breads and gluten-free breads are tested separately.
Experts independently judge all breads, scoring each sample for flavour and aroma, texture and appearance. The CHOICE score is made up of taste 70% (50% flavour, 20% texture, 20% aroma and 10% presentation) and nutrition 30% (based on the Health Star Rating, calculated from the details in the nutrition information panel and converted to a percentage). We recommend products with a CHOICE score of 75% or more.
Our expert judges (left to right) Michele Walsh, Ian Huntley, Brigid Treloar
Brigid Treloar has been a freelance food consultant for over 30 years. The author of eight cookbooks, she also contributes to newspapers and magazines, reviews restaurants, and judges cookery and recipe competitions, including the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) Fine Food Professional Bakery Competition. Brigid has presented specialist cooking classes in Sydney, around Australia and overseas, and often appears on TV and radio. She also advises many of Australia's food companies on product and recipe development, and provides recipes and cooking information for company websites.
Ian Huntley is a pastry chef by trade and has been in the industry for 35 years. Ian studied confectionery, cake decorating and bread making in the UK before moving to Australia in the mid 1980s. After five years of working in two of Sydney's top hotels, The InterContinental and The Regent, he started his wholesale patisserie business, supplying desserts and pastries to airlines, department stores, hospitals, restaurants and coffee shops. Today Ian is the chair of judges for the RAS Professional Bakery competition and chief assessor for patisserie for a leading French culinary school.
Michele Walsh has worked in the baking industry for more than 30 years, starting as an apprentice and now working as a tertiary-educated professional in the vocational education and training sector, where she delivers training to apprentices and non-apprentices in retail baking and patisserie. She has more than 15 years' experience in judging, including the RAS Professional Bakery and WorldSkills trades competitions.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.