A labor of loaf
I grew up with parents who baked off loaves of fresh sourdough—two white loaves, two wheat loaves—almost every week from a decades-old starter. That's how I ate my turkey sandwiches and PB&Js and slices of cinnamon sugar toast until I moved out. While, nowadays, my siblings and I swoon over that just-out-of-the-oven slice when we're back home, my parents like to remind us that we used to ask—no, beg—for the bread from the grocery store. You know, the squishy loaves, with animals or idyllic scenes or polka dots on the plastic bags, piled up in the yeasty-smelling aisles. Our request was always soundly rejected.
As a result, there's always been a bit of intrigue surrounding those supermarket loaves. I've had my fair share by this point—don't get me wrong—but it's usually been in other people's kitchens, or surrounding picnic tables outside, and I haven't been picky about or particularly observant of my carb-delivery system. So I decided it was time to take a closer look, and try just about every whole wheat loaf you can pull off of grocery story shelves. Ranked from worst to best, here's what I found out.
Martin's 100% Whole Wheat Potato Bread
Boasting that slightly odd yellowish tint that most commercial potato bread has, Martin's had an obviously different appearance than the rest of the loaves. It was perhaps the softest, squishiest bread I tried—and that's saying something—but had a surprisingly tear-resistant crust. While it doesn't feel dry to the touch, it somehow becomes drier while you chew, which results with you with a ball of masticated bread in your throat. It feels not unlike that lump you get in your throat when you feel it would be embarrassing to cry. Sorry, Martin, but your bread's too emo for my PB&J.
Pepperidge Farm Light Style Soft Wheat
This bread is so light that a breeze could whisk it away, and the unpleasant nut-dust smell doesn't really help matters. It's dry, and tastes artificial. It did taste better after a few good chews, but honestly, why do that to yourself?
Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Sara Lee may make delicious sweets, but she should leave the bread to others. This was very vaguely wheat-y and yeasty, as one would hope, but the crust just tasted old and slightly sour. No, thank you.
Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat Bread
This was a surprise. Veering way away from the yeasty, wheaty flavors of most of the other loaves, Nature's Own served up an almost buttery, salty taste, like it had already been secretly slathered in Country Crock. It wasn't bad, but it was strange, especially when paired with a crust that tasted mildly burnt, and a smell that could only be described as sawdust-adjacent.
Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse 100% Whole Wheat
This super soft, floppy bread had a faint, sweet smell that reminded me of honey. It tasted that way, too, but it was possibly even more subtle. While the flavor wasn't bad, this was the kind of bread that completely disintegrated when you ate it. I have no idea how it would withstand any toppings.
Stroehmann Dutch Country 100% Whole Wheat Bread
The Stroehmann Dutch Country bread is not the largest slice, and it's not the smallest. It is a bit squat. It's got the ubiquitous cracked oat dusting on the crust. Even though it feels moist to the touch, the taste is dry, and it's tough to tear—perhaps thanks to it's surprisingly tight crumb. There's literally nothing remarkable about the taste or the smell: it's entirely inoffensive, but if you're looking for anything interesting, this is not the loaf for you.
Arnold Classic 100% Whole What
This squat square-ish loaf smells exactly like the sandwiches at your lunch table in second grade, and that's not a bad thing. While the texture was off—it was spongy and dry—it had a solid, barely sweet, yeasty flavor. A good match for peanut butter.
Nature's Harvest Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat Bread
For some reason, biting into this sandwich immediately catapulted me into a memory of eating ham sandwiches with sharp mustard, lettuce, and slightly sad tomatoes. I couldn't tell you why, but—with slightly happier tomatoes—that would be a completely acceptable sandwich on this bread. While there's a nice, malty taste at the top, the flavor unfortunately wears out near the end. Good for sandwiches, not so much for flying solo.
Arnold Country 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Arnold's Country Whole Wheat bread has a squishy-but-not-too-squishy texture that would stand up to sandwiching, honeyish hue, and nice level of moistness. And while the flavor was okay at first—there was a pleasant hint of salt, it unfortunately turned a bit sour, and the crust tasted mildly carbonized. I would eat it again, but it wouldn't be my first pick.
Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat
While this was perhaps the best of the Pepperidge Farm options, that doesn't mean it was a winner. It was extremely soft, with a crumb that wouldn't stand up to much. The texture provided a bit more heft—it didn't totally fall apart while you were eating. While there wasn't a particularly pronounced taste at first, there was a yeasty, lingering aftertaste. It was fine. That's all.
Arnold Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat Bread
One of the smaller loaves in the list, the Arnold stone ground whole wheat smelled nice and packed full of toasted oat and wheat, and tasted that way, too. Unfortunately, though, it was also quite dry in texture, in a way that felt almost rough on my tongue. Everything else about this was solid though, so it's not the worst choice here at all.
Winner: Arnold Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat
This wider, squatter loaf had a light brown crust sprinkled with cracked oat. It has a notably tight crumb compared to the other breads, and a toasted, yeasty, sweet smell. There's a good chew and texture to it—whole grains really seem to mean whole grains to Arnold, so there are oats and seeds within the bread itself. The malty wheat flavor is flavor is steady from bite to swallow. This loaf is the winner by a long shot.