Multigrain vs. Whole Grain Bread vs. Whole Wheat
Does a trip to the bread aisle make you feel overwhelmed by options? You might find dozens of different bread types in a grocery store, from multigrain loaves to whole wheat muffins. If you’re trying to choose a delicious and satisfying bread, it can be confusing with so many types to consider.
Although all loaves of brown, earthy-tasting bread might seem the same at first glance, there are essential differences between multigrain, whole wheat and whole grain bread. Let’s explore the variety of bread types and what they stand for, so you can select a product you feel good about.
What Is a Grain?
First, it helps to know a little bit about grains. A grain is a seed harvested from a grain-producing plant such as wheat or oat. A whole grain is an entire seed, and it may also be called the kernel. A whole grain has three edible parts protected by a husk. These include:
- The bran: The bran is the outer layer of the seed. It is rich in fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants.
- The germ: The germ is the embryo and the innermost layer of the seed. It can potentially sprout into a new plant. The germ contains protein, healthy fat, minerals and an abundance of B vitamins.
- The endosperm: The endosperm is the middle layer, and it makes up the largest part of the seed. The endosperm contains protein, carbohydrates and a small number of minerals and vitamins.
Refined grains do not contain every part of the seed and are therefore less nutritious than whole grains.
What’s the Difference Between Whole Wheat and Multigrain Bread?
Wheat is a type of grain. Therefore, whole wheat bread contains the entire grain of wheat and all of its nutritious parts.
Multigrain bread contains various types of grains. For example, multigrain might contain wheat, barley, flax and oats. Sometimes, multigrain bread also includes seeds in its ingredients, such as sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. The word “multigrain” simply means there are several kinds of grains in the bread. It may or may not mean these grains are whole.
What Is the Difference in Whole Grain and Whole Wheat?
Whole grain bread means the bread contains whole grains, typically wheat, and additional grains. Whole grain bread might include any type of whole grain — wheat, barley, oats, or a combination, for example. However, not every grain in a loaf of whole grain bread needs to be included in its entirety. It’s important to look at the ingredients list to see which grains are whole and which ones are not. Whole grains should have “whole” in front of them.
Whole wheat bread, on the other hand, means it contains whole grains of wheat. In other words, whole wheat bread is a type of whole grain bread.
What Is the Difference Between Whole Grain and Multigrain?
Multigrain bread contains several types of grains. None of these grains may be whole. Whole grain bread contains the entire grain and its three edible layers — the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Whole grain bread may include a variety of grains and therefore be considered multigrain.
What Are the Different Bread Flavors?
In the United States, whole wheat and multigrain bread are among the most popular types of bread. Though the flavors and textures vary depending on the manufacturer, here’s a bit about each kind of bread and what makes them unique:
- Whole wheat: Whole wheat bread typically has a soft, moist texture and nutty flavor with a hint of sweetness. Whole wheat bread is extremely versatile and can be used to hold a range of sandwich fillings, including peanut butter and jelly or melted cheese.
- Multigrain: Since multigrain bread typically includes a range of grains, you can expect an earthy flavor and a texture similar to whole wheat bread. Like whole wheat, multigrain might also have a touch of sweetness. Multigrain bread can be used to make just about any sandwich. However, fillings like pickles or mustard can help balance its sweet, earthy flavor.
- Whole grain: The flavor and texture of whole grain bread depend on the types of grains used. For example, whole grain bread might include whole flax seeds, which would lend a nutty flavor and grainy texture. Toasted slices of whole grain bread make a hearty base for egg and cheese sandwiches, avocado with bacon or creamy chicken salad with spicy greens.
How Is Bread Made?
Now that we hopefully cleared up some confusion about the differences between whole wheat, whole grain and multigrain bread, let’s explore the breadmaking process. You might envision crunching on hard kernels when you think about whole grain bread. While there are various ways to consume whole grains, bread involves eating grains in their ground form. The breadmaking process makes it easier to chew, digest and enjoy the benefits of healthy whole grains.
What Are the Main Ingredients in Bread?
In general, any type of bread is made with flour, water and yeast. Water is used to turn the flour into a dough, while the yeast causes the dough to rise, creating the soft, fluffy bread we love to eat.
The flour is the ingredient that determines whether bread has whole grains in it or not. Flour is a powder made from grains that had been ground up during a milling process. Wheat is the most commonly used grain in the United States, and roughly three-quarters of grain products are made from wheat flour.
The Breadmaking Process
To make bread, manufacturers typically take the following steps:
- First, they pour flour into a mixer and then add water and yeast.
- The mixer then combines the ingredients and kneads the dough to form a certain consistency.
- The dough goes through a fermentation process, which causes it to rise.
- The dough is then divided into balls, shaped in loaves and baked.
The final step involves cutting the loaves of bread into uniform slices and packaging them.
The Common Types of Flours
Here are the main types of wheat flour that are commonly used to make whole grain, whole wheat or multigrain bread:
1. All-Purpose Flour
All-purpose flour is refined wheat flour. It may also be called white flour. Refined flour is the result of a milling process that removes the bran and the germ from the whole grain. Refined flour has a finer texture and longer shelf life than whole wheat flour. However, it also has a lot fewer nutrients. To replace some of the nutrients lost during the milling process, manufacturers might put certain ingredients back in, like B vitamins and iron. This creates enriched all-purpose flour. Most refined flour in the United States is enriched.
The ingredient list on the packaging should tell you the type of flour used and whether it’s refined, whole wheat or both. Since flour is the main ingredient in bread, it should be the first one listed. Some bread may be made mostly with white flour and contain just a small amount of whole wheat. For example, multigrain bread might contain 75% refined flour and 25% whole wheat flour.
2. Whole Wheat Flour
Whole grain and whole wheat bread are made from flour that includes the entire ground-up wheat kernel. Whole grain bread might also include other grains, though wheat is still typically the main ingredient. Any package that claims to use whole grains must contain the same proportion of bran, endosperm and germ as the pre-processed kernel in the “whole grain” ingredient.
Is Whole Wheat Flour Considered Whole Grain?
Yes, whole wheat flour is considered whole grain because wheat is a type of grain. When you see “whole wheat” on a package, it means it contains all the wheat grain parts. However, if you only see the words “wheat flour” you’re likely looking at a product that contains refined flour. Wheat flour is only about 25% whole wheat, and the rest is refined flour.
What Does Split-Top Wheat Bread Mean?
Split-top refers to a technique used during the breadmaking process and does not describe whether the bread consists of whole grains. Split-top wheat bread made may contain both refined and whole wheat flour. Bakers might split the top of a bread loaf before placing it in the oven to relieve tension and help the bread expand evenly. The technique, called scoring, may also be used for aesthetic purposes.
What Is Stoneground Wheat?
Stoneground describes the method used to grind the wheat grains and make the flour for the bread. Stone milling is a traditional process that involves crushing entire kernels between stones. The first milling machine which used stones to grind grain was introduced in the fifth century B.C.
Modern steel rollers, on the other hand, press the grains and separate their parts. When manufacturers mill white flour, they keep the bran and germ separate from the endosperm. When they mill wheat flour using rollers, they rejoin the bran, germ and endosperm.
Stoneground wheat usually means the whole grain is included in a loaf of bread, though you’ll still want to check the ingredients list.
What to Look for in Bread Packaging
A loaf of bread might claim to be whole wheat, but if it’s not the first ingredient listed, there’s no way of telling how much of the bread is made with whole grains. A bread labeled as “whole grain” does not mean that every grain in the loaf is complete, and it could still be made mostly with refined flour. Here’s what to look for to ensure you’re getting whole grains:
The Whole Grain Stamp
The Whole Grain Stamp was created by the Whole Grains Council to help consumers quickly find healthy and reliable grain products. The 100% Stamp is black and yellow and resembles a postage stamp. This symbol ensures that all the grain used in a product is whole grain. This means that if you choose whole grain bread with the 100% Stamp, no matter the type of grains used, you’ll know each kernel is complete and nutritious.
Whole Grain Ingredients
Ingredients are listed in the order of the amount used in a food product. So, for example, if the main ingredient in a loaf of bread is enriched flour, it will be the first element listed. Use the ingredient list to show you exactly what you’re about to buy.
For a loaf of nutritious bread, the first ingredient should include the word “whole.” If whole grain is listed as the second ingredient, it could be included in a large amount or a small amount — there’s no way of telling. If a loaf of whole grain bread does not include the 100% Stamp, look for these words in the ingredient list:
- Whole grain
- Whole wheat
- Stoneground whole grain
The following words do not describe whole grains:
- Enriched flour
- Wheat flour
- Wheat germ
Adequate Fiber Content
It’s important to consider the nutrition facts when shopping for bread, no matter what the packaging says. You’ll especially want to look at the fiber content in each serving. Experts recommend choosing bread that has at least three grams of fiber per slice. Eating fiber-rich bread can help you meet your daily requirements. Adults need between 21 and 38 grams of fiber per day, depending on age and sex. However, the majority of Americans get less than half of the recommended daily amount.
Fiber has a lot of benefits, from lowering cholesterol levels to helping your body remove waste. Fiber may also decrease your risk of developing cancer and heart disease. If you’re trying to shed some pounds, adding more fiber to your diet can help you stay fuller longer and eat less.
Does Your Body Need Whole Grains?
You can survive without eating whole grains. However, whole grains should be part of a healthy diet. The Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat at least three servings of grains per day, and half of those should be whole grains. By eating three slices of 100% whole wheat bread a day, you can reach your minimum daily requirement, generally speaking. Those who get a lot of physical activity will need to consume more grains than someone who lives a sedentary lifestyle.
Contact Gold Medal Bakery for More Information
Historians believe humans have been baking bread for at least 30,000 years. As you might imagine, milling and baking methods have changed over time and have led to a wide variety of bread types and tons of options. We hope we clarified the differences between whole wheat, whole grain and multigrain bread and helped you feel more prepared for your next trip to the bread aisle. If you have more questions about the different types of bread, please reach out to us at Gold Medal Bakery, where we’ve been baking the highest quality bread for over 100 years.