White flour, not whole wheat flour, the main ingredient of most artisan bakery breads

You’re probably avoiding that long aisle of plastic-wrapped bread, but if you think you’re getting something better when you buy expensive artisan bread, think again.

Sure, artisan bread tastes better, but no better than industrial packaged brands nutrition-wise.

Food writer and professor Marion Nestle has this to say about artisanal bread: “Artisanal breads begin with just four ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast – and turn them into loaves so crusty, chewy and fragrant that you cannot stop eating them….But handmade breads take forever to make and quickly go stale. Commercial bakeries deal with these problems by rushing the bread-making process and compensate for the loss of flavor by adding stabilizers, dough softeners and preservatives, and covering up the chemical tastes with sweeteners. Breads with 30 or more ingredients are not unusual and violate my rule: Never buy processed foods with more than five ingredients.” (Nestle)

If you go to the websites of artisan bakeries, you’ll see they make one or more breads with some whole wheat flour, but good luck finding those particular loaves at the store.  Artisan bakers don’t like whole wheat because it’s less predictable than white flour, with varying amounts of gluten depending on which farm the wheat was grown on.

There are two notable exceptions:

  • National chain “Great Harvest” bread is wonderful, that’s where I discovered whole wheat bread. Great Harvest mills their wheatberries every day to make fresh  flour for their breads. Each bakery has different breads (i.e.  Great Harvest Bread nutrition)
  • In San Rafael, California, Ponsford’s Place uses no white flour at all.

Below I’ve compiled the most common first ingredient of San Francisco Bay Area breads at Market hall and most other grocery stores in Oakland.  Nearly all are made entirely with white flour,  but you might think that the bread was whole grain from the description:

Acme: Unbleached Organic Wheat Flour (Organic is in bold and italicized)

Artisan Bakers: Unbleached hi-protein flour, unbleached flour

Semifreddi’s: Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour

It is very hard to know if a product is whole grain or not, to learn more, read my post on dishonest labeling.

Although I could see from the bakery websites that they do make a few partially whole wheat breads, when I went to Market Hall in Oakland on July 16, 2012, I could only find 2 of the 11 partially whole wheat loaves listed on their websites.

Acme Bread has no 100% whole grain breads.

100% white flour  Italian bread, Sourdough, Sweetdough, Sweet Rustic Dough, Pain de Mie, Herb slab, Herb loaf, Fougasse, Challah, Cinnamon Currant Bread, Citrus Almond Brioche, Kulich.

Over 80% white flour and 20% or less whole wheat flour: $4.75 Walnut Levain, Pain au Levain

Artisan Bakers has no 100% whole grain breads.

100% White Flour: Dry Jack & Roasted Garlic, Jalapeno corn, Le pain Francais, Olive, $5.35 Potato rosemary, $4.60 Pugliese, Sourdough

82 to 99% White flour: 5th ingredient is whole wheat flour – Sour country walnut

78% to 99% White flour: 4th ingredient is whole wheat flour
Italian Country Walnut

66% to 99% White flour: 3rd ingredient is whole wheat flour
Garden Herb, Italian Country, Multigrain, Sour Rye

Semifreddi’s has no 100% whole grain breads.

100% white flour: $3.50 sourdough batard, Sourdough Baguette, Sourdough seeded baguette, sweet baguette, challah, cinnamon twist, $3.99 Rustic sour, $3.99 sweet batard,  odessa rye, $3.99 Ciabatta, rosemary focaccia, challah burger bun, dutch crunch roll, ciabatta roll,french roll, sour panini, pantofolina roll, sour seeded panini, all of the dinner rolls, deli white, deli sour, deli rye, sourdough grande, sweet grande, croutons, all of the buns, all of the croissants, apple turnover, pecan swirl, bran muffin, blueberry muffin, lemon poppy seed muffin, all of the scones, all of the biscotti, chocolate chip cookies

66 to 99% white flour: 3rd ingredient is whole wheat flour – Country Levain, deli Multigrain.

At least 51% whole wheat (1st ingredient). The 2nd ingredient is enriched unbleached wheat flour: Deli wheat

If the first ingredient is whole wheat flour, then the bread is supposed to be at least 51% whole grain (though there’s no government agency monitoring this, it’s voluntary).  If the word whole doesn’t appear until the second ingredient, then the bread could be as little as 1% whole grain.

Prices and label descriptions above at Market hall are from July 16, 2012


These artisan breads are also very dry and need to be slathered with butter or dipped in oil to swallow, butter and oil, that have zero nutrition.

If you ever take a few minutes to mix the ingredients for a simple whole grain quick bread or machine yeast bread, you may come to prefer the dense, rich, nutty flavor and wonder who got to decide that expensive “artisan” airy, dry white flour breads were superior.


Nestle, Marion. Oct 3, 2010. Whole wheat, but not the whole story. San Francisco Chronicle.

About Alice

I've milled and baked with whole grains for many years, because whole grains are delicious, and white flour is missing the nutrition that protects you from cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases. Plus it's a good emergency food.
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