Decision: Rain chemicals on my sandwich bread, please

Bread makes or breaks a sandwich. You can have the most processed, slimy piece of space age turkey and when you put it in between chewy, vinegary pieces of fresh sourdough, you have a hundred dollar sandwich sitting in front of you.

What is the decision-making process that goes into purchasing good bread for your sandwich?  You can’t taste it beforehand if you are buying it from a supermarket, but one of the few signals of quality that you can obtain from the bread’s packaging is whether it is natural, organic, or inorganic/processed (otherwise known as “neutral” or “regular” to those who don’t work for the whole foods police). These labels of quality are broad categorizations but do provide the consumer an easy  way to divide the world of bread into good and bad.

The good: inorganic. The bad: organic.

No, those last two sentences were not mistakes.

In the current day, it is true the norm is to view organic food as good and inorganic as the inferior option. Humans are idealistic. Almost anyone can see themselves as being a supporter of the organic movement (even if one cannot afford the high price points on organic products), because it represents an undeniably glamorous aspiration.

On the contrary, inorganic bread can be superior to organic bread if you consider the variety in consumer behavior profiles. Often times, marketers talk about tailoring products for certain consumer profiles that find maximum value in product attributes that others may not. In this case, inorganic bread can be a superior product upon closer examination of:

  1. goals of certain segments of consumers (health, taste, prestige, self-punishment, etc.)
  2. usage patterns (how often do you eat bread?)
  3. the chemicals factories pour into your processed bread

Consider my consumer profile. I am a single young professional who eats out sometimes and can last on a loaf of bread for one to two weeks.  I seek out quirky restaurants with high Yelp rating on the weekends and like to whip up a gourmet Chinese dinner a few days a week. If my stir-fry calls for regular “high sodium” soy sauce and ample amounts of “high fat” sesame oil, I am generous to include them in my meals.

Every time you buy a product, you should calculate the tradeoffs between its weaknesses and strengths to maximize what works best for your own usage. Therefore, it does not make sense that if you see an organic label on bread you should snatch it up immediately unless you are a health nut who does not value taste and shelf life.

My consumer profile would indicate that I value taste and shelf life over health. Inorganic bread trumps organic bread in shelf life anytime. A loaf of “When Pigs Fly” Organic Wheat Bread lasts for six days from the day it was packed (mold starts showing up once it gets close to the six day mark) whereas a loaf of “Dutch Country” Whole Wheat Bread lasts twice the amount of time and retains its taste more readily (from observation since the standard SELL BY dates are never indicative of food expiration). It is psychologically painful to see half a loaf of bread go to waste and this future pain is often overlooked upon time of purchase.

While there is no market research comparing general population taste opinions of organic versus inorganic bread, inorganic bread manufacturers have found ways to utilize food science technology to enhance processing of both the wheat itself and the breadmaking process to produce “ tastier” bread.  After all, customer retention is based on these companies being able to produce the most delicious bread. My opinion is that I have encountered numerous disappointments in the taste of organic bread, especially in texture. The majority come too dry or too hard. On a higher level, inorganic bread does not allow me to accomplish my consumption goals successfully.

Look at this:

You may argue that the insane number of chemicals in inorganic breads can be dangerous to one’s health.  I would be crazy to argue otherwise upon seeing this lab experiment in the shape of bread.

However, not all inorganic breads are made the same. Some use only a few preservatives that provide greater shelf life and taste. Science should not be feared just because you cannot read an ingredient’s name properly. Such biases against scientific food enhancers have been perpetuated by celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver who proclaim famous heuristics like if you don’t know what the ingredient is in the nutrition label, don’t eat it.

However, many of these chemicals have been tested with the FDA (the reliability of the FDA is questioned at times but this is another story) and are known to be chemically inert (non-reactive with bodily processes) to any chemist. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about which chemicals to avoid and which are safe. Once again, you as the consumer should make the tradeoff between the nebulous health risks and very real gains from added preservatives and enhancers. For Jamie Oliver, he sees no tradeoff since the gains side of the equation is unrealistically missing.

Marketers at companies like Pepperidge farm (a famous inorganic bread company though they do offer organic options) can leverage the unique strengths of inorganic bread and make consumers aware of these tradeoffs instead of trying to minimize exposure of perceived unhealthy ingredients or copying an organic image without actually offering an organic product.

Next time you are perusing the bread section at a supermarket that offers inorganic and organic options, introspect on your own consumption behavior and make an informed purchase choice. Organic bread is good, but organic bread might not be good for you.

Culinary Tip:

for breakfast sandwiches involving “wet” spreads, buy soft, fluffy bread and eat immediately

for lunch and dinner sandwiches, buy drier breads so they can soak up the moisture of crisp greens, tomatoes and deli meats without becoming soggy.

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3 thoughts on “Decision: Rain chemicals on my sandwich bread, please

  1. A solution to the organic moldy bread predicament: freeze (or even refrigerate) it! This extends its shelf life significantly, and a quick toast or 15 second zap in the microwave and its warm and delicious. Great blog!!

    • Thanks for reading my blog! True haha. Refrigerated bread is pretty good after toasting but you have to eat it immediately or else it dries out rapidly, which is a problem if you are making a sandwich to bring to lunch later.

  2. Well, I smell the bread and touch it first. Texture and smell transcend the organic-inorganic divide that haunts aspirational consumption in this country (unless you’re really committed to those aspirations, I guess), and if you buy a baguette at Foodmaster or something, I don’t think it’s that much different than buying it at Whole Paycheck. Except you don’t have to interact with the people at Whole Paycheck who seem of believe themselves to be superior/entitled to extremely picky bagging preferences and the like based on their “evolved” and “sustainable” consumer choices. All of which are misguided because Whole Foods clearly does not privilege local food as a rule since it boasts “buy X from Costa Rica,” “hearts of palm from ___.”

    (I’m bitter that Whole Foods is the closest grocery store to my house).

    And I agree with Julianna — freeze that bread. Not ideal, but if you put olive oil on it (clearly I am imagining French bread or other good-textured bread), and then put it in a toaster oven, it will be okay.

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