The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

OIL or NO OIL in bread

larginski's picture

OIL or NO OIL in bread

I have been making what I think is some very flavorful bread recently. A few years ago I discovered a local mill and have been playing with their organic wheat and rye flours. The other week my mother-in-law, a great baker herself was enjoying the bread and she asked what oil I used. When she learned that this bread was only flour, water and salt she was puzzled. Why would I make a bread without any fat? She learned to bake in the 40's and used pork fat.

That raised a good discussion, why would I use oil. I had always thought the fat was used to add some flavour to breads made from processed flours where the taste of the wheat was processed out of it.  The bread i have made is moist, flavourful but does tend to dry out a bit faster than bread made with oil/fat.

Having learned the great flavour of wheat are not possible in the grocery store, bleached flours I wondered if that is the primary reason for its inclusion in recipes. Fat is flavour?

I love this site and the shared knowledge of the community of bakers.

Comments welcomed. 

JL  - Gatineau, Quebec

Rosalie's picture

One function of the fat, as you have discovered, is to keep the bread from drying out too quickly.  When I visited France a number of years ago, I fell in love with the baguettes.  I would buy one each day.  But my husband wasn't interested in sharing it with me, and I couldn't get through the whole thing in one day.  It was too dry the next day, because, as you know, French baguettes have no fat.

Fat is not essential for flavor (you mother-in-law enjoyed the bread anyway).  But it does help to keep the bread soft longer.


clazar123's picture

My bread keeps for a long time and stays soft a long time. A few tablespoons of oil per loaf is a great tradeoff, in my book.

KYHeirloomer's picture

The vast majority of breads, throughout the world, contain only four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. So I'm surprised that your MIL thought they had to contain fat.

More than likely she learned one method, back in the day, and just got "sot in her ways," as we say down here.

Amendments and enrichments serve all sorts of purposes. But it's rare that fat is used for additional flavor. Mostly, as other have said, it's used to retain moisture and softness in a bread that's likely to sit around for more than a day or two.


KYHeirloomer's picture

Having learned the great flavour of wheat are not possible in the grocery store, bleached flours.....

Just curious how and where you learned that? It's not quite the case. Many a great tasting loaf has been baked using bleached flour from the grocery store.

In general, the bleaching process causes a loss of nutrient value, not necessarily flavor. The one possible exception is the effect bleaching has on beta-carotene. B-C does contribute to aroma and flavor, it's true. But the difference in taste is subtle at best, and it's doubtful most people could tell the difference unless they were taste-testing two loaves side by side.

There's no question, though, that if you're interested in drawing out the maximum flavor the wheat is capable of (and if you're not, why bother with artisan techniques at all?) that unbleached flour is the way to go. But your comment overstates the case.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and when I do it is on the bowl or my hands.  I recently made a bread that included oil and it didn't stick at all to the bowl.  So one could say that adding oil to the bread sometimes helps it not stick to the bowl. :) 

gcook17's picture

Adding fat makes the bread softer/more tender (see Hamelman's discussion of the affects of ingrediants).  The difference in the softness of the crumb between a normal baguette and sandwich bread is due to the fat in the sandwich bread.

larginski's picture

Thanks for the responses. I think there is some truth to the "that is what I have always done" arguement.  Interestingly, my mother in law comes from a time when supplies had to last the winter etc and I wondered why she felt bread had to have oil in it when perfectly flavorfull bread could be had without any. Her mother made bread every other day and any dry bread found its way into other recipes.

The flavour discussion comes into play when you decide which Fat/Oil to use. Butter versus Lard. Vegitable vs Olive oil etc. Everyone has their preference. I do find it noticable but perhaps because I am looking more closely. Not everyone pays as much attention to the bread as the bakers do.

The not sticking to the bowl is very noticable and sure makes for easy clean up. I do know that in the mechanized bakeries, oil is essential to the dough not sticking the the rollers and other machine parts. Wonder what that food safe oil spray is that the machines are lubricated with. Time lost cleaning up the sticky doughed up machine is of importance.

I will stick to my no oil for now but not because oil/fat is bad but because I have been loving the bread as is. I thank you all.

What am i doing this weekend? Likely just loafing around again!

richawatt's picture

using fat or any type of shortening in a wheat bread will soften the crumb.  It actually "shortens" the gluten strands and makes it less chewy and softer.  That is why it is called shortening.  As far as the moistness aspect.  The oil will make the bread seem to be moister longer because oil is liquid at room temperature and does not evaporate.  If you were to use butter it will have a much better mouth feel and not feel greasy, butter is solid at room  temp and melts when you eat it.  However, I believe that bread is best when it is just flour water and salt.  If you can get into sour doughs, you will find that they will stay moist for days.  I just place my sourdoughs cut side down on the cutting board and they stay nice for a while. 

hanseata's picture

on the type of bread you bake, Larginski.

European breads, like baguette, German farmers' bread etc. are often "lean" doughs, made without any addition of fat (or sweetener). They have a crisper crust than sandwich loaves or other breads made with oil or butter. Those "enriched" breads have a semi-soft crust and, also, a denser crumb.

In some breads a neutral tasting fat, like canola oil, is added only for its properties (softening the dough), in other breads specialty oils, like butter, extra virgin olive, pumpkin seed or walnut oil, contribute to the taste much more.

For my little bakery I bake lean and enriched breads and they all taste good - fat or no fat.



pjaj's picture

I first tried baking my own bread some 30 years ago, and the results were not very encouraging - house bricks anyone? However all the recipes I had in those days included fat of some kind (butter / lard / marg) so I got into the habit of adding some to most of my subsequent loaves unless I was following a specific recipe that didn't call for it.

Currently I'm using a "glug" of sunflower oil, which is pretty tasteless.

I believe it has two functions. It helps the bread to release from the pan and the loaves seem to stay fresh for quite a while - they are still good for toast at 5-6 days old.

However, when I omit the oil, it doesn't seem to have too much of a deleterious effect, so maybe it is unnecessary. I think it's mostly a matter of preference and habit.

In "Whole Grain Breads" Peter Reinhart (p129) claims that "The function of fats and oil is mainly to soften and slow down staling. ... it also may help trap carbon dioxide by strengthening the walls of gas cells in the crumb and thus make a taller, airier loaf."

ghazi's picture

I have to say some of the tastiest breads I made always have no fat, seems the simple always reins supreme.

It is a good thought though I always think should I or shouldn't I put some fat, always feel more "clean " when I don't

Also, I find the addition of pre ferments tenderize dough and keep bread a little longer. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong


ghazi's picture

i have a thing with bread where I feel butter or oil added to the baked dough just feels right.

I guess you could link it to the chefs use of "rock" salt just at the end to give a fuller flavor because heat hasn't been involved

BetsyMePoocho's picture

Hey Folks,

Very interesting discussion,,,,, but my question is how could Focaccia possibly be made without olive oil in the dough and a liberal drizzle in the dimpled dough topped with minced Rosemary prior to baking?  Then dipped into a saucer of, again, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.

My guess is that it is up to the "type" of dough and the use it is destined for...... Hamburger / hot dog buns, cafeteria gooey rolls, Wonder bread....  All not my favorite, but I have to have some.....