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Get a Rise Out of Whole Wheat Bread


Everyone loves the smell of fresh-baked bread coming out of the oven. Warm to the touch, light and airy in your mouth, you could eat the whole loaf right on the spot. But have you ever tried to swap your usual refined white flour for whole wheat flour? The kitchen timer rings and the smell is there, but your bread turns out dense and hard. What happened? We know that whole grains are nutritionally superior to refined grains, but baking with them can be challenging. Read on to learn more about baking with whole grains and how to get better results in your own kitchen.

White Vs. Whole Wheat Flour

White and wheat flour both begin as grain from a wheat plant. Wheat grain has three components: the bran (~14.5% of the grain), germ (~ 2.5%) and endosperm (~83%).1 The bran contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. The germ contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.2 The endosperm contains gluten, an important protein structure for baking found in wheat, barley, and rye.

In white flour, the bran and germ are removed and only the endosperm remains. At the end of processing, some lost nutrients are replaced through enrichment. Whole wheat flour uses the entire grain, including the bran and germ for complete whole grain nutrition.

The Science Behind Gluten

The two main proteins in gluten are called glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin and gliadin assist with elasticity and extensibility of bread and are essential for baking. Elasticity refers to dough’s ability to bounce back once stretched and extensibility refers to dough’s ability to stretch.3 Gluten forms when a liquid (usually water) is added to flour and then mixed or kneaded. During leavening, yeast consumes the sugars and releases carbon dioxide. Gluten then traps the carbon dioxide that is released, causing the dough to rise.4 This gives bread the light, airy texture, adds flavor and helps baked goods stay moist.

Kneading or mixing the dough is an important step to making a delicious loaf of bread but needs to be done for the right amount of time. An undermixed dough will not have the elasticity and extensibility to shape the bread and capture the carbon dioxide during fermentation, resulting in a dense bread. An overmixed dough will be stiff and hard to stretch, resulting in a tough, chewy, and dense bread.

Whole wheat flour has slightly higher levels of gluten, but still results in a denser bread. Why is that? The bran in whole wheat flour weakens the gluten strands by cutting into them and disrupting the gluten matrix. This decreases the overall extensibility and elasticity of the dough so that it cannot hold onto as much carbon dioxide – resulting in a denser bread.

How Experts Bake with Whole Wheat

Pepperidge Farm bakers use food science know-how and generations of experience to make baked goods with different textures and tastes. Commercially baked bread made with whole wheat flour may use additional gluten and dough conditioners to strengthen the bread throughout the process. Food scientists test and retest their recipes to make sure their baked goods have the right taste and texture for consumers.

Tips for Baking with Whole Wheat at Home:

  1. You can substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour 1:1, but you will need to adjust the mixing time AND the water content of the recipe, most likely increasing both.
  2. Add vital gluten to bread recipes to strengthen the dough. You will likely need to make the same water and mixing adjustments noted above.
  3. Try white whole wheat flour, which is nutritionally and functionally the same as “regular” whole wheat.5 You will still need to adjust mixing times and water content, but this wheat variety is less bitter.

Before you roll up your sleeves and start baking, consider the adjustments you need to make for whole wheat baked goods. And remember – it’s not a big deal if you don’t get it perfect the first time. At the end of the day, that’s what the experts are here for!

  1. Wheat Foods Council Accessed March 2020
  2. What is a Whole Grain? Accessed June 2018
  3. Gliadins from wheat grain: an overview, from primary structure to nanostructures of aggregates Accessed December 2020
  4. What is Gluten? Accessed June 2018
  5. WHOLE WHITE WHEAT FAQ Accessed June 2018

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