Is Homemade Bread Better than Purchased Bread?

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)
Photo source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

People have worried about bread quality for a long time. In some theoretical sense, I believe that homemade bread is better than purchased bread. That said, I can barely remember the last time that I made bread.

Here is what a hundred-year-old home economics textbook said:

A pound loaf of bread at the bakery should cost five cents, the cost being slightly less when the bread is made at home, even taking the fuel into account. It is an open question, however, whether bread should be made at home or bought at the bakery, all of the circumstances being weighted in the balance by the individual.

In America, we need to learn to dictate and control the methods in the public bakeries because bakers’ bread is being used more and more, although it is said that 50 percent is still made at home. If bread is to be bought, it is necessary for the housekeeper to understand, the bread-making process, and the standard of good bread so that she may criticize intelligently, and force the public bakeries to furnish bread made under ideal conditions.

It must be understood that the baker’s oven is fitted to do better work than the small oven of the average kitchen, and if the public through laws and inspection, will control the quality of the materials used and the cleanliness of the process, baker’s bread will be a useful “ready-cooked” food.

Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

52 thoughts on “Is Homemade Bread Better than Purchased Bread?

  1. Interesting! An old friend of mine (born in 1933) told me that she recalled what a treat it was for them to get store-bought bread. Apparently in those days, women made home-made biscuits EVERYDAY.

    1. I also have the sense that many women made bread or biscuits EVERYDAY during much of the first have of the 20th century. When I asked my aunt about my grandmother (her mother), she said that until Grandma gave in and bought store stuff, she baked loaf after loaf of very good bread.

      1. Of course they the same women (and for domestic consumption, it was almost 100% women) were baking and cooking almost everything eaten in a main meal everyday. Larger families, the heavy nature of all labor, and poor methods of food preservation all contributed to that. The lack of domestic machinery basically necessitated it as well:

        Of course, there were bakeries, of which here’s a century old example:

        Folks buying at such a location probably bought a loaf and consumed it very rapidly.

    2. I hate to admit that I’m in the opposite camp. My mother occasionally made bread when I was a kid (this would be in the 60s and 70s), but it was just awful. I grew up thinking that making bread must be a real art. For whatever reason my folks also never bought the really good “sandwich bread” but the store brand which wasn’t too nifty either. So as a kid, I was not a bread fan.

      When my mother became ill and my father took over the cooking, however, he started making biscuits, and I was amazed. I would have been a teenager at the time. The local groceries started selling French bread as well, and again, it was amazing. As an adult, I started making Irish Soda Bread on occasion and really like it.

      I’ve heard it claimed by a baker once that American sandwich bread contains so much sugar that its really cake. Seeing it sold in individual slices in South Korea sort of confirmed that for me. As I’m not hugely keen on cake, that may form part of my ideas about what breads are nifty and which are not.

  2. I wonder if the percentage of women baking bread is still 50 percent? I make bread for I like the smell it gives the house ,also there’s no way bought bread can beat homemade bread along with a good beef stew. I do use bought bread for sandwiches.

    1. I make homemade twice a month. I have IBS and don’t like the additives in store bought. I realize it costs in fuel, but I bake 5 loaves n 35 minutes, so it’s not like I’me baking them in 2 batches. Also the cost is minimal for supplies. a bag of flour is about $1.99 to $2.40 at Walmart, and I use nearly the whole thing for 5 loaves. The yeast is minimal as I get it in bulk, sugar, salt and canola oil are not much.

        1. My old electric stove has a hot oven and only one rack! Even though I turn it down to 350 for the 375 degrees I prefer. I also have to switch the loaves around after 20 minutes., but it seems to work for me.

      1. I’m also impressed that you are able to make 5 loaves in 35 minutes. Are you not counting the time while it is rising?

        The cost of ingredients to make bread is very reasonable. I often spend $3-4 a loaf when I purchase bread at the store. For 5 loaves that would be $15 or $20.

        1. Well I let my bread rise first in the fridge for 2 or 3 hours. Then I weigh the dough for 24 OZ loaves, and shape them, placing in Tin loaf pans grandma gave me 40 years ago plus a prized Oven-ex pan I bought at an estate sale. Then they rise a second time in about 2 hours. But I bake them all at the same time. thee in the back and two sideways in the front.

    2. I’ve never seen any recent statistics, but I’d guess that the percentage of people who bake bread today is much lower than 50%. It’s awesome that you still make bread regularly. I also love the smell, but only occasionally make it.

  3. There was a time (which I remember!) when “store-bought” implied higher quality, and the discretionary income to purchase it. Buying bread instead of making it was a sign of moving up the socio-economic ladder, not to mention a relief from all that bread baking for a large family!

    When I was in grade school, the Omar man came by on a regular basis, and grandma bought cookies, cakes, and bread from him. He had a truck, and you could place a standing order, or go out to the truck and pick out things. We loved it. Then, of course, Wonder Bread came along, and purchased bread turned into that white, spongy stuff that was truly awful — even though we didn’t know it at the time.

    Now? The pendulum has swung a bit, and even commercially sold bread from bakeries is as good and nutritious as anything made at home. The difference is that buying bread means missing the experience of making bread — and that’s the “something extra” a bakery never can provide.

    My — aren’t I chatty this morning! 🙂

    1. I like it when you are chatty. Your comment is thought-provoking, and I like how you place this post within a larger socio-economic context. I think you are right that there was a time when people preferred “store-bought” bread because it showed that they had the discretionary income to afford it. In some ways it seems a little sad.

      I never heard of the Omar man. It must have been a regional company.

  4. I like homemade, mostly for the memories that flood back when I smell it–the farm, my grandmother, etc. And I suspect store-bought bread from 100 years ago was very different than what we buy now!

    1. Hoe made bread toasts up crisper.. I love to dunk buttered toast in hot cocoa I made with Evaporated milk and Hershey’s cocoa, sugar and vanilla.

        1. My mom had 7 lunches to prepare every day and we almost lived on bread. She baked bread or buns every other day. As a change from her homemade jam, she would occasionally make a chocolate icing that we had on bread. Forgot all about it until I saw this post on dipping bread in hot chocolate. Another variation was to pour sweetened coffee in a bowl and add a slice of bread. Hum. Wouldn’t think of feeding that to anyone let alone a child now!

          1. My husband says that his family used to occasionally put milk on bread. They’d put a slice of bread in a bowl with a little sugar, and then pour milk over it. It was something they’d eat when they were rushed and needed a really quick meal. He says it was tasty. Times sure have changed.

    1. I occasionally look at the list of ingredients on the label–but there are so many unfamiliar words that generally look like the names of chemical compounds that I tend to feel slightly alarmed. So in general I try to avoid thinking about the ingredients.

    1. I should search out a good bakery that makes high quality bread. I often take the easiest route and buy bread at the supermarket–but I’m not very happy with it.

    1. I also believe that homemade bread is probably healthier. I think that store-bought bread has lots of preservatives. Several years ago, my husband and I went on vacation for several weeks. I accidentally left a loaf of store-bought bread on the kitchen counter when I left. I was surprised, and somewhat appalled, that the bread still looked edible when we got home. (I threw it out, and didn’t actually eat it, since it was long past its expiration date.)

  5. I love baking bread. I am still trying to figure out how or which recipe will “keep”. I made two different breads this week and the ends sit here in my bread box. I like to bake bread because it is a treat for my family and because so few people do it. I think initially store bought bread may have been good but now with so much mass production one wonders.

    1. It sounds like a lot of fun to try out different bread recipes. I want to try making potato bread sometime. My mother used to occasionally made it when I was a child–and I have fond memories of it.

  6. I make bread with a bread machine fairly often and by hand occasionally because I love the way it smells and tastes. I still buy bread sometimes though since there is a really nice bakery nearby that makes levain bread. I can’t bring myself to buy supermarket bread anymore!

    1. I learned a new word today–levain. After reading your comment, I googled it, and gather that it is similar to what I’d call sourdough bread.

  7. I started making bread when I retired (4 yrs ago). The first challenge was finding a recipe that only made 1 or 2 loaves. My mom’s recipe called for 12 cups of flour – producing many more loaves than I wanted! But, my search was rewarded with many wonderful recipes – herb bread, multi-grain, Cinnamon swirl, etc. I still tend to only bake bread on ‘blizzard days.’ Hopefully those are still a few months away.

    My second challenge was the yeast. At first I tried everything. I even purchased active live yeast from a bakery. It definately makes the bread rise higher, but consistency is an issue. I tried to divide it into 1 oz portions (which you can freeze for up to 6 months), but it was hard to know what the substitution should be. Also, I did not like the strong smell of the yeast. Now I usually use instant but would love other comments on using live yeast.

    1. I’m also a “blizzard day” bread baker. It is fun to try different bread recipes. I’ve never used live yeast–but I’m hoping that some of the readers have and will share their experiences.

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