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Multigrain Bread

Published October 2012

How we tested

Update: October 2013

Our winning multigrain bread, Nature's Pride 12-Grain, is on "production hold," because this brand was purchased by Flower Foods from its former manufacturer, Hostess Brands (along with Wonder Bread). The new owners are currently deciding whether or not to continue production. In the meantime, we're promoting the second-place brand, Nature's Own Specialty 12-Grain (also owned by Flower Foods), and will continue to monitor whether Nature's Pride returns to market.


“Multigrain” is a vague term in the bread industry. It’s printed on bread bags holding everything from downy off-white loaves to dense and wheaty walnut-colored ones. Unlike with the term “whole wheat,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to set parameters about what constitutes a multigrain product; in fact, the matter is under review as we go to press. A grain is defined merely as wheat or any other cultivated cereal crop used as food. Some manufacturers stick a number on their breads (“7-grain,” “15-grain”). If you’re having trouble naming 15 grains—no worries, we were, too—think of such things as barley, triticale, buckwheat, amaranth, and brown rice. With such a range, we set off to define what we expect from multigrain bread and which brand offers the best flavor and texture.

We bought seven top-selling multigrain breads, each containing from 10 to 15 different types of grains, and invited 21 editors and cooks from America’s Test Kitchen to taste them plain and toasted with butter. A strong preference for heartier loaves emerged. Tasters praised “substantial” and “wholesome” slices with naturally “sweet, wheaty” flavor. We checked the labels and found the key: In general, we liked brands with more whole-wheat and less white flour, and if white flour was high on the ingredient list (listed by weight), other grains must be, too, to achieve the wholesome texture tasters preferred. (All but one of the loaves we tested include some white flour.) Along the way, we noticed that some products counted wheat twice and one product included nuts and seeds as two of its “12 grains”; while nuts and seeds may be healthy, the FDA doesn’t classify them as grains, so this label is misleading. Only four products had grain counts that matched their labels.

In addition to grains, every multigrain bread we tested included some combination of nuts and seeds (and sometimes whole wheat berries). The more the better, according to our tasters. To compare, we carefully picked through a slice of our winning loaf and the last-place finisher, plucking out every seed or nut we found. The winning brand had 4 1/2 times more by weight than the losing brand. We also preferred larger, denser slices of bread; the slices ranged from 37 to 45 grams, and heavier slices rated higher.

Heftier slices combined with more whole grains also spelled success in our final challenge: the tuna test. To see how the breads would hold up until lunchtime, we made tuna salad sandwiches with slices from each loaf and put them in an insulated lunch cooler with ice packs. When we unpacked the sandwiches four hours later, we found that our top-ranked breads held up fine. But slices from loaves that contained the most white flour, as well as those that weighed the least, were soggy.

Our winning brand starts with whole-wheat flour and then adds lots of whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It passed the tuna salad test with flying colors, remaining springy and fresh despite the mayonnaise-laden filling. We wanted our multigrain bread sturdy, nutty, wheaty, and wholesome, and our winning brand delivered on all counts. In sum, we recommend all of the products (three with reservations). That’s in strong contrast to our white sandwich bread tasting, in which we recommended only two of the eight supermarket loaves we tasted.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*