Why Reading Food Labels Matters

reading food labels“Oh, this is SO going to be a blog post,” I told Jeff after a discussion about the loaf of Franz bread he bought at Costco. That was not a brand I would ever consider buying, so I was shocked to see it sitting on the counter when I got home.

“We needed something,” he said. (You may remember that he’s been baking bread lately from whole-wheat flour ground in our own mini stone mill (similar model), but that been difficult to do with the kitchen remodel).

“Why didn’t you get Dave’s [Killer] bread?” I asked.

“Sugar’s the third and fourth ingredient on every variety. On this bread it’s the last ingredient.”

Hold the Sugar

It’s true that Dave’s Killer Bread has a lot of added sugar. It’s the one thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending it. We had been buying the thin-sliced Dave’s bread at Costco ever since they stopped carrying my favorite brand, Silver Hills Bakery (which has very little sugar added).

I considered that I was wrong about Franz, until I read the ingredient list. The first ingredient was “enriched unbleached wheat flour,” which is essentially code for “white flour.” Sugar was the fifth and seventh ingredient on the list, followed by a bunch of ingredients I do not want to see in my bread, like vegetable oil, xanthan gum and  dough conditioner.

Bread 1

What Bread Should Be

Bread, at its essence, is flour, water, salt and yeast, which happens to also be the title of the excellent book by Ken Forkish, who has a bakery in Portland that we have yet to make a pilgrimage to. I bought Jeff the book after an animated conversation at a culinary conference in LA with a Portland dietitian who also has a bread-baking husband. She said Ken’s book transformed her husband’s baking, so I whipped out my phone and ordered it from Amazon toute suite. It also transformed Jeff’s bread baking, I’m happy to note.

Anyway, I am not a fan of bread with a lot of chemically ingredients added, so I showed Jeff the ingredient list, eyebrows raised. “What?” he said. “I must have grabbed the wrong loaf.”

I believe him because, bless him, he has the unfortunate habit of picking up one item and reading the label but then actually grabbing a different item and putting it in the cart (usually it’s a duplicate of the item he scrutinized, but sometimes he accidentally grabs a different, similar item).

Bread 2

Lessons Learned

The moral of this little story is twofold. One, make sure you are putting the correct item in your cart. Two, know what to look for on a food label, specifically in the ingredients list and the nutrition facts box. Yes, this bread has 3 grams of sugar (whereas many Dave’s varieties have 5 grams) per slice, but Silver Hills only has 1 gram. The Franz bread also only has 1 gram of fiber, which is not good.

I advise ignoring all other information on the bag/box/package, because it’s just marketing. Yes, “made with Northwest Grown & Milled Ingredients” sounds good, but when you’re getting essentially white flour bread with a bunch of stuff thrown in it, who cares?

In the interest of research, I had a slice of the Franz bread, toasted, yesterday, mostly as a vehicle for peanut butter. Indeed, it was exactly the type of bread I don’t like to eat. Overly soft and lacking in character. Oh, and too sweet!