Firstly, how is bread made?
The main ingredients of plain bread are flour, yeast, salt and water. Vegetable fat and vinegar are also added to, respectively, give the final product its texture and as a natural preservative.
The flour is what determines whether the final product is whole-wheat, or white. Although the flour used for bread typically comes from wheat, other types of starchy plants can be used, such as corn, buckwheat, or oats. The wheat is harvested and then more or less processed/refined, to end up being ground into flour (this is an incredibly brief summary of what actually happens).
A grain of wheat has 3 main layers, the Bran (which is used as a coat), and endosperm and the germ (which is where the plant sprouts). 100% whole wheat flour derives from ground wheat grains that haven’t been refined or touched. White flour derives from ground wheat grains from which the bran and the germ have been stripped. As observable below, the brain and germ are more nutrient-dense than the endosperm, hence the statement ”whole-grain bread is better than white bread.”
What makes some bread brown-colored but others white?
The endosperm is generally cream-coloured, whereas the germ is darker in colour. That mainly explains why 100% whole wheat is brown(ish) and white bread is not. In all-purpose blanched flour, benzoyl peroxide is used to give it its characteristic whiter color. Non-blanched all-purpose white flour is also available for purchase at grocery stores if you desire to avoid using treated flour. It is more of a cream colour.
I heard white flour is enriched in Canada. Wouldn’t that make brown and white bread the same quality?
There is a large variety of flour that can be bought at grocery stores if baking your own bread interests you. In Canada, it is mandatory to enrich all-purpose white flour, whether blanched or non-blanched, with vitamins B1, B2, B3, B9 (folic acid) and iron. Some companies also add vitamins B6, pantothenic acid (previously known as vitamin B5), magnesium and calcium, but is not compulsory.
In this case, does that make white bread just as good for you as whole wheat? Not quite. 100% whole wheat bread still contains more nutrients, and more fibre. I personally also prefer to eat nutrients that are already present in the grain than added thereafter.
Can I make bread that is half white and whole wheat?
Yes, depending on which flour you use to make it. This is why it is important to look at the labels of what you’re buying, since everything is supposed to be indicated truthfully, by law. In breads and flour, the indication ”whole grain” means at least 95% of the grain is present in the flour. The government allows the removal of the 5%, which represents the germ, to extend shelf life. In fact, the germ is what causes flour to become rance. However, integral whole wheat flour is available in grocery stores. The term integral means that it is truly 100% of the grain that has been used to make the flour. Beware of its very short shelf-life.
A relatively recent Canadian law dictates to indicate the percentage of whole wheat in a flour.
”Multigrain” or ”organic” certifications do not necessarily reflect whole grains.
So, which one is healthier: white or whole wheat?
Based on the studies of the nutrition benefits of eating enough fibre, vitamins, minerals, as well as phytonutrients (click here to find out what those are), whole wheat is easily the better option. It is important to read the nutrition labels and other claims on those labels and make informed decisions about what brand of bread we buy. To find out more, click here to go to the Canadian government’s website: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/whole-grains-facts.html