The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Amount of sugar and other sweeteners in recipes

Dupain's picture

Amount of sugar and other sweeteners in recipes

I am totally new to this forum but have been baking white bread for a few years. Now I am keen to try whole wheat and other varieties. However, on checking out some recipes I am stunned to see the large amount of sugar, syrup, honey and other sweeteners they call for. Is there a good technical reason for this or is it just that the American palate has become accustomed to sweetness in bread? My favorite white flour breas recipes only use enough sugar to get the yeast going. Usually very small amounts. After reading "In Defense of Food" we are attempting to reduce by large proportions the amount of refined and processed products we eat.

pmccool's picture

You can make whole grain breads without any sweeteners at all.  Beyond personal tastes and preferences, there isn't a technical requirement for adding sweeteners.  The yeast doesn't require the additional sugar; it finds plenty to live on in the flour.  

Some people don't care for the bitterness or "grassy" flavor that is associated with red wheats, so they add sugar in some form to offset that.  Others find the flavor quite agreeable.  I'd say add as little, or as much, as suits your dietary objectives and tastes.  And then, enjoy!


LindyD's picture

First, welcome to TFL.

Toss the sugar.  You don't need to add it to the yeast.   Yeast is perfectly capable of metabolizing the natural simple sugars in the flour without adding processed sugar.

The recipes you noted seem to be enriched breads, some breakfast breads.

You can make great bread using only flour, water, salt and yeast.  You can substitute your own levain (once you create one) for commercial yeast.

Check out the blogs here, read through the Handbook, and think about  buying a good book on baking artisan breads.

Above all, enjoy the adventure.


merkri's picture

As others have pointed out, you don't really need any added sugar.

However, as someone who regularly adds honey to their bread, I should note that it does have a few benefits:

First, I do notice more yeast activity when the honey is added, which can help.

Second, honey--which is very hygroscopic--keeps the bread moister after it's done baking.

Finally, depending on the type of honey, it can add a nice flavor (aside from the sweetness per se) and color. Buckwheat honey, for example, makes a great dark rye, and has a distinct spicy quality to it akin to cinnamon or clove.

joem6112's picture

Seems to me, that when I add honey to bread dough, the loaves take on a darker crust.

Soundman's picture

Hello Dupain, and welcome to TFL!

A long time ago, when I started baking bread with a bread machine, all the recipes seemed to add sugar or honey, butter, eggs, lots of stuff you don't need to bake great tasting bread. That said, some people like the flavor of their bread better with these enrichments.

I would recommend starting lean, i.e. flour, water, yeast (or levain), salt, the canonical baguette ingredients. There is so much flavor you can develop from the flours you use, and by extending fermentation time, etc., that it makes more sense to me to explore these avenues first. If you find the flavor lacking in a lean recipe you can always add enrichments to try to get flavors that suit you better.

Show us your wares!


Marjoke's picture

Hello Dupain,


I'm dutch and baking our daily bread for almost three years by now. When I started working with foreign recipes I was surprised by the amount of sugar in some American bread recipes. Because I was to insecure to change those recipes I baked breads that were much to sweet to my taste.

Now, having more experience I almost never use sugar in bread dough except in sweet doughs. I like the pure taste of bread that only exists of flour, yeast, water and salt.The amount of varieties in taste just by using only those four ingredients still surprises me.

It's just as David 'says': the quality of the flour and the fermentation gives you so much flavour that you don't need any enrichment. Unless you just like to use them of course.




Dupain's picture

Thanks to everyone who commented on this and the kind welcomes. I am so gratified to discover that my analytical chemists instincts were correct. There is no technical reason for the sugars. It can make a difference to texture, flavour and appearance it seems, but that is all.

And a question. Many years ago I recieved a copy of Beard on Bread (Thats James Beard) and have been making his Cuban bread for over twenty years. My kids thought that it was the bread benchmark until they started traveling and discovered the world of bread and how wonderfully vast it is. My question; are there any folks out there who still use this book as a reliable reference? Or have we somehow moved on?

pmccool's picture

I just picked up an old paperback copy of Beard on Bread at a thrift store for 69 cents last weekend.  It's interesting to read his comments (the man didn't care for sourdough!) about the various breads and to see how similar they are to one another.  For an individual with his reputation, it's astonishing to see how limited his worldview of bread was.  

Context, of course, is everything.  The book was written by an American in a time when European-style breads were viewed as novelties, or even exotics.  It's good that he was, at least, looking abroad when much of the populace was content to pick up a loaf of fluff-o bread at the local supermarket.  Still, seen from today's perspective, it is somewhere between amazing and saddening to see how far from the mark so many of the recipes fall.

Note that I'm not saying you can't make good breads from this book; many have and many still do.  And I'm not slamming Mr. Beard.  Without his contributions, contextually limited though they may be, our present climate of healthy interest in good bread might still be some years off.