Bread is a staple food that has been around for ages, and a delicious slice of bread is an incredible treat that can go with almost any meal.
However, it may come as a surprise that bread dough contains sugar, an ingredient that is primarily associated with sweet desserts and pastries. You might be wondering why sugar is added to bread dough.
What’s the purpose of adding sugar to bread dough? If you’re an amateur baker or a seasoned professional, this is a question that you might have asked yourself.
Delve with us as we explore the reasons and science behind adding sugar to bread dough to create the perfect loaf.
What’s The Reason For So Much Sugar Added To Processed Foods?
Adding sugar to various foods, including bread, serves several purposes, such as enhancing shelf life, texture, taste, and browning.
Like salt, sugar acts as a preservative and prevents mold growth while preserving the bread’s moisture.
You can easily observe the difference in texture between bread varieties that contain sugar, like Wonder Bread or sweet Hawaiian dinner rolls, versus those without added sugar, such as stone-ground whole wheat sourdough.
While a small amount of sugar is added to feed the yeast during the bread-making process, this amount is typically insignificant and hardly affects the recipe.
How Sugar Serves A Purpose Beyond Sweetness In Bread
Sugar is a common ingredient in various bread types due to its multifunctional properties. In fact, it serves more than just a sweetener. Let’s explore the various roles sugar plays in bread making.
1. Adds Flavor To Food
Many people enjoy the sweet and browned edges of bread, and this browning is mostly due to the Maillard reactions. These enzymatic reactions happen when proteins are heated in the oven.
Sugar added to bread dough enhances the browning process by increasing caramelization and Maillard reactions. This combination adds additional color and sweet notes to the crust, and a smoky aroma is left behind to perfume the loaf.
2. Reduces Staling And Improves Moistness
Sugar has a moisture-retaining property that helps to keep baked goods moist. When added to bread dough, it locks in moisture in the crumb structure, slowing down the rate at which water can escape.
This property allows enriched bread to stay fresher for longer periods, as the sugar helps to retain moisture better.
3. Improves The Texture
Sugar improves the texture of bread by tenderizing the gluten strands. Dough that contains a sufficient amount of sugar forms strong bonds with water molecules.
This prevents water from being available to the gluten and yeast (known as osmotic stress). This creates close-knit gluten bonds that reduce the dough’s ability to stretch, resulting in a softer textured crumb.
Adding a small amount of sugar to the dough produces a compact breadcrumb that is ideal for rolls and dinner bread.
However, a significant amount of sugar added to the dough results in a light, fluffy texture, as seen in cakes, brioche, and other pastries.
4. Adds Sweetness
Yeast does not consume all the sugar. When table sugar is combined with sugars derived from moistened flour, there can be an excess of sugar available for the yeast to consume.
Any sugars that are not utilized by the yeast can contribute to sweet flavors in the bread. While not all sugars taste sweet, glucose and fructose in table sugar can make the bread taste sweeter.
5. Reduces Ethanol Production
Yeast will undergo aerobic respiration to produce CO2 in the presence of sugar and oxygen. However, yeast switches to anaerobic respiration when sugar and oxygen levels are low.
In the case of standard yeast bread, anaerobic respiration leads to alcoholic fermentation. In this process, half of the sugars that are processed by yeast ferment and produce ethanol or alcohol in addition to CO2.
During baking, the majority of the ethanol produced evaporates, leaving behind a pleasant aroma of burning and raw alcohol that contributes to the unique flavor of the bread.
Adding sugar to the recipe provides food for the yeast, which combines with oxygen to create a dough that rises twice as fast and yields a lighter-tasting bread.
How Does Sugar Affect Bread Texture?
A cookie with a low sugar content won’t spread properly. Reduced-sugar cakes may rise less than regular cakes.
However, sugar does not affect yeast bread’s structure, except in one positive way: the lower the sugar content, the higher the rise.
Regarding texture, sugar-reduced cakes and muffins may be rubbery and tough, and cookies tend to crumble. The only difference in texture you might see in yeast bread when you reduce sugar is a tendency to become dry.
Why is this the case? As a hygroscopic substance, sugar attracts and holds moisture. Sugar prevents moisture from evaporating from bread during baking, leading to drier bread.
This effect becomes more noticeable as you reduce sugar in a yeast bread recipe. The moisture level changes very little if you omit two tablespoons of sugar from your sandwich bread recipe.
Do Breads With Sugar Keep Their Freshness Longer?
To a certain extent, yes. Typical sandwich loaves that have one to two tablespoons of sugar start out slightly softer than bread without sugar and remain that way over time. However, it does not make a significant difference at this level of sweetness.
How Does Sugar Affect Bread Dough?
Here are a few ways sugar has an effect on bread dough.
Sugar Slows Down Fermentation
As opposed to popular belief, sugar actually slows the fermentation process down. Sugar is a liquefier. As a result, it absorbs water, weakens the gluten structure, and loosens the dough.
As the dough expands during baking, the crumb becomes lighter and softer. Additionally, it makes it stickier and a little more difficult to work with.
The sweeteners listed above slow down fermentation, but diastatic malt powder can aid in fermentation, crust color, and flavor.
Yeast Doesn’t Need Sugar To Grow
Actually, it does; however, it does not require spoon-feeding from your sugar bowl. The yeast makes its own food by converting starch from flour into sugar.
Although sugar jumpstarts yeast right from the beginning, it won’t take long for yeast dough without sugar to catch up.
Grain contains active amylase enzymes (alpha-amylase and beta-amylase) that convert starch to maltose. That’s what yeast eats. These enzymes are usually present in enough quantity in the flour we use to make yeast bread.
Depending on the grain harvest, diastatic barley malt powder may be added to flours in order to boost alpha-amylase levels. A statement about this should be on The Flour Package’s Ingredients List.
Test Your Yeast With Sugar If You Are Unsure If It Is Good
Most older recipes call for mixing sugar and water with active dry yeast to “proof” it. Yeast is good if it produces bubbles, foam, and expands after about 10 minutes.
Using 1/4 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup warm water, you can prove that the yeast in That Old Packet Is Alive.
Yeast Dough Will Rise More Slowly If It Contains More Sugar
It is important to remember that sugar is hygroscopic. Therefore, it can prevent yeast from growing in yeast dough.
Have you ever been impatiently waiting for your sweet bread to rise? I blame the “arid” atmosphere; and you should change your yeast.
A Touch Of Sugar Enhances Flavor
Adding sugar to bread enhances its flavor (like adding salt). In my experience, sugar up to 10% (baker’s percentage) adds richness to bread without adding much sweetness.
Whether You Like It Or Not, Sugar Enhances Browning
While the bread bakes, some of the sugar in yeast dough rises to the surface and caramelizes, giving the bread its rich brown color. There may be advantages and disadvantages to this, though.
With only a small amount of sugar, sandwich loaves turn out beautifully browned. To prevent it from over browning, tent panettone with foil as it bakes because of its higher sugar content.
Tips For Sweet Bread Dough
Here are a few tips you can use to achieve better sweet (or not) breads:
Special Yeast Helps High-Sugar Breads Rise More Quickly
The yeast in SAF Gold is osmotolerant. What’s the translation? As a camel in the desert, it does well with limited moisture. You’ll see a faster rise when using SAF Gold yeast in recipes with more than 10% sugar.
Sweet Ingredients Don’t Require Super-Sweet Dough
It makes sense to cut the amount of sugar in dough when you’re using dried fruit, chocolate, or other sweet ingredients.
You won’t mind the sugar-free bread around the raisins and cherries as long as your tongue is focused on the sweet fruit.
Why Is Added Sugar Unhealthy?
The problem with added sugar arises when it creeps into foods that are not typically perceived as sweet, like bread, crackers, granola, muffins, salad dressings, energy bars, and even some yogurts and “healthy” multi-grain cereals.
If added sugar were only present in desserts, cookies, and other confections, most people would easily stay within the recommended daily limits for added sugar (assuming serving sizes are reasonable).
However, with sugar present in so many other foods, it’s easy to exceed healthy sugar limits, especially when combined with other sweets, baked goods, and sugary beverages.
If you consume too many foods that have added sugars, you will consume excess calories without receiving any beneficial nutrients, also known as “empty calories”.
Over time, it can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dental cavities, as well as condition taste preferences towards sweet foods, even in savory items.
Regularly consuming too much sugar can also contribute to inflammation in the body and poor gut health, both of which are linked to poor overall health.
In conclusion, the purpose of adding sugar to bread dough goes beyond just imparting sweetness. It plays a crucial role in creating the perfect bread texture and flavor.
Whether you’re a professional baker or simply baking at home, understanding the role of sugar in your bread is essential to achieving your desired result.
From enhancing crust color to improving fermentation, sugar in bread dough cannot be overlooked. So, the next time you’re baking bread, don’t forget the sugar, and see the difference it makes.