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Bad Bread Gets Badder

December 16, 2015

Believe it or not, but not everyone in the Fussy household is on board the real-food train. In some ways, I suppose that’s a good thing, because it keeps me grounded in just how hard the task is of changing people’s minds when it comes to food.

Last night’s dinner didn’t meet with any grumbles. We had a white bean and potato soup, which was flavored with parmigiano rinds. There was a bit of orzo stirred in, and loose sausage from Bella Terra Farm was browned and scattered on top.

Even though the soup has starch in the form of both potato and pasta, there are some members of the family who insist on toast sticks to dip into the soup. And by some, I mean everybody else but me. Perhaps I should try again to get the rest of the family on real bread. Real bread doesn’t have any emulsifiers, preservatives, or added flavors. Real bread can be made with just four ingredients. Luckily, there’s a regional bakery named Heidelberg that is doing just that with flour, yeast, salt, and water.

Heidelberg is what I eat, but it’s not what the family eats. They need something squishier, and it’s turned my stomach for years. The best of the worst has seemed to be Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat. At least that was true until they recently “improved” their recipe.

At first, I thought there was just some kind of mix up at the factory. The reason I’ve bought this sliced sandwich loaf for the family is because it’s soft, and kids like soft things. But one day last month I noticed some bits in the interior crumb. Something like oats, or nuts, or seeds. And since nobody in my family has food allergies or sensitivities, it was no big deal.

My hunch was that this batch of loaves was made immediately after a batch that contained an inclusion of some sort. This is how the dum-dum mystery-flavor lollipops are produced, at the overlap of two production runs.

Then we got the second loaf. And that’s when Young Master Fussy noticed a small red blurb on the packaging calling out its “New! Improved recipe.” That should have given me pause, and caused me to reread the ingredients. What’s remarkable is how I hadn’t seen it until the kiddo pointed it out to me. I’m usually pretty astute to the shenanigans that go on in the grocery aisle, but I was in a hurry and apparently got complacent.

I’ve been caught off my guard so many times, that I try to be ever vigilant when food shopping. So I checked the ingredients. Here’s what they now say on the bag of Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat: whole wheat flour, water, bulgur wheat, sugar, wheat gluten, honey, soybean oil, yeast, whole wheat, salt, preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid), monoglycerides, grain vinegar, DATEM, calcium sulfate, soy lecithin, natural flavors.

So bulgur wheat is the culprit.

In some ways, I think this formulation may be better than the last version. The old ingredients list is as follows: whole wheat flour, water, sugar, wheat gluten, yeast, raisin juice concentrate, wheat bran, molasses, soybean oil, salt, monoglycerides, calcium propionate (preservative), calcium sulfate, DATEM, grain vinegar, citric acid, soy lecithin, whey, soy flour, nonfat milk.

The soy flour is gone. As is the raisin juice concentrate. And the loaf no longer contains dairy in the form of whey and nonfat milk.

But in this case, the big problem is simply the texture, which the company claims was driven by a tasting panel and consumer preference. Judging from the Facebook reaction to this strange new texture in a popular flavor, their research really missed the mark.

I’m a bit suspicious of this though. Brands make changes to their formulations all the time. Back in 2008 Oroweat (which is the same company) removed high fructose corn syrup from all of its loaves. In fact, that’s why we started buying the product in the first place. However, the change wasn’t undergone lightly, and maintaining the texture and flavor consumers loved was a top priority.

My suspicions stem from the fact that now each slice of bread has fewer calories, even though the slices remain the same size by weight. The calories from fat have also increased from less than 10% to 15%. That’s a fifty percent increase. How is that even possible? Well, previously soybean oil came after yeast. In the new improved recipe, there is more soybean oil than yeast. The sodium content has also gone up in the new recipe by 7%.

I guess it’s been a while since I looked closely at the Arnold ingredient labels. Talking on the phone with customer service, I was told that the recipe had changed in 2009, 2011, and 2012. At some point in the past, I remember each slice having 4g of dietary fiber, but it turns out that changed a while ago. For the past couple of formulations it has only been 3g. However, back in the day, Arnold added cellulose to up the fiber content. At some point that must have gone away as people wanted more nutritious sources of fiber.

More than anything, I’m just really surprised that people actually eat this stiff, loaf-shaped paste and continue to call it “bread” as if it actually resembles real food. Soon, i’ll be back in the grocery aisle, scanning ingredients looking for a suitable replacement for squishy peanut butter sandwiches.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2015 11:11 am

    You know bulgur is still wheat, obviously. So what’s the problem? Your earthy righteous loaves from the farmer’s market may well contain multiple renditions of wheat such as ground wheat, wheat berries, sprouted or prefermented wheat berries to give it additional flavor and texture interest. I think it’s brilliant that a mainstream baker has latched on to this technique.

    Your Facebook link timed out but I would think consumers of a mass consumer product that go on social media to rail about it are very far to the end of the bell shaped curve. Not powerful or relevant research.

    • December 16, 2015 12:08 pm

      Here’s the executive summary:
      1) I only buy this loaf for the kids who don’t care about food and like it to be soft.
      2) This has been our go-to brand for soft sandwich slices without HFCS and other junk.
      3) Now it has bits in it, and the kids hate it, so I’m frustrated that I’ve got to find a new brand.

      Arnold has other breads with bits in it. I’ve got nothing personally against bits in bread. Maybe if Arnold had put on the “New! Improved Recipe” packaging, “Now with crunchy bits of bulgur baked inside!” we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

      Much of it has to do with managing consumer expectations.

      There is another side of this too, and I think it has to do with portfolio management. Arnold also has a line of “country” loaves. I’ve never been clear on how they are different from the base brand. And it would seem the new point of differentiation may be that the regular loaves will all have bits, and the country loaves will be bit-free. But that’s only a guess.

  2. December 16, 2015 11:24 am

    Barowsky’s Certified Organic Whole Wheat Bread is best quality balanced by squish: http://www.ewg.org/foodscores/products/073402115634-BarowskysCertifiedWholeGrainOrganicBread100Wheat

  3. ericscheirerstott permalink
    December 16, 2015 11:31 am

    Arnold bread loaves are good for only one thing- making little sandwiches for parties. The slices are thin and the square shape means you can trim the crusts with minimal waste.

  4. December 16, 2015 12:04 pm

    Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been buying the Heidelberg Whole Wheat on and off for a couple of years now. I enjoy it for sandwiches because it is soft and square. Because it is so soft, and without reading the label, I assumed they used some white flour. Nope. Just whole wheat flour. How do they do that? My 100% whole wheat flour four ingredient loaves are good out of the oven but bricks as they cool. Almost all other makers add some white flour to soften the loaves and they are still much firmer than the Heidelberg loaves. Sometimes in the Heidelberg there are striations of lighter coloration. You ever notice that? I’m beginning to wonder if something is up here. Any insight you have would be welcomed. Factory tour offered and in order?

  5. December 16, 2015 4:50 pm

    I buy Hannaford’s Nature’s Place Whole Wheat for my daughter but I’m not particularly fond of the ingredient list.

  6. Ryan H permalink
    December 16, 2015 8:09 pm

    I hardly ever buy bread, but right now I have a loaf of Heidelberg, my favorite also. Hearty flaxseed. I made a squishy PB&J out of it yesterday too!

  7. December 16, 2015 10:41 pm

    We’ve been using Natures Own – which frankly I thought was a wal mart brand (which makes no sense answer buy it at Hannaford.)

    We spent a while reading all the labels on the shelf at Hannaford, only looking at 100% whole wheat…

    Ingredients are:
    Stone ground whole wheat, water, yeast, brown sugar, wheat gluten, contains less than 2% of the following: salt, monoglycerides, enzymes, ascorbic acid, soybean oil, vinegar, cultured wheat flour, mono calcium phosphate, soy lecithin.

    We did base our purchase on nutritional content, rather than ingredients….but overall it’s pretty inoffensive .

    And best part is its soft (end pieces are always harder, more so than regualr loaves), tastes good, and doesn’t go moldy fast like lots of other breads with no preservatives

  8. Beth Kiingati permalink
    December 16, 2015 11:55 pm

    We too have simply been trying to limit our bread consumption in general. But Heidelberg is actually what I buy for my kid’s sandwiches because it is so soft. We love the raisin sunflower one and the multi-grain. On Wednesdays and Sundays Leah’s Cakery in Round Lake makes fresh bread and we will pick up a loaf there sometimes as well. The honey whole wheat makes a fantastic PB&J (with cashew butter and fig butter…yum yum!!).

  9. December 17, 2015 10:53 am

    Heidelberg is the BEST … Love, love it.

  10. December 17, 2015 10:54 am

    I LOVE Heidelberg, so good …

  11. December 17, 2015 12:20 pm

    I buy Arnold bread for the kids when I can’t make my own Pullman loaves. (For the same reasons as you buy it.) No one has noticed anything in my house, but I’m going to prod a little and investigate.

  12. Jenny permalink
    December 22, 2015 12:52 am

    Well, my family members like a pretty mainstream bread, so I was very happy that Freihofer’s has finally replaced the High Fructose Corn Syrup in our family favorite 100% Whole Wheat, so that I finally will buy it again. There is a little bit of Stevia at the end of the recipe, but otherwise looks pretty much like the ingredients in the Arnold. No bulgur wheat, and a little less fiber (2g per slice). Whole Wheat flour, Water, Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Sea Salt, Wheat Bran, Monoglycerides, Calcium Proponate, DATEM, Calcium Sulfate, Salt, REBA (the Stevia), Soy lecithin, Citric Acid. We had been eating the Nature’s Own, but that seemed to be too squishy (i.e. I couldn’t get it home from the store without flattening it).

    Personally, I agree that the Heidelberg is the best. Unfortunately, I like to eat it with far too much butter.

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