Since the late 1960s, when baby boomers began to discover the joys of granola, yogurt and whole-grain breads, traditional soft, snowy loaves of white bread have fallen into disrepute. White bread is often maligned as flavorless and nutritionally inadequate, despite the industry's efforts to reinforce it with vitamins, minerals and added fiber. Interestingly, many traditional recipes achieve similar results by adding potatoes to the bread dough. It's still a soft, white loaf, but more nutritious than ordinary white bread.
Why There's Potato Bread
For much of Western history, bread was dark and coarse. The only way to make flour lighter was to manually sift out the bran and germ, a costly and time-consuming process that only the wealthy could afford. Just paying the miller to grind grain into flour was burdensome for many, which is why millers are so disliked in the Canterbury Tales and other old literature. When potatoes rose to popularity in the late 18th century, frugal peasants were quick to realize they could stretch their costly wheat flour by adding fluffy mashed potatoes to their bread dough. The resulting bread was both less expensive and more nutritious.
Your Basic White Bread
Modern high-speed milling and bleaching techniques made beautiful, easy-baking white flour affordable for every household by the late 19th century, and white bread became the standard, rather than a luxury item. Basic white bread requires only flour, water, salt and yeast, but this results in chewy, artisan-style loaves. Mainstream recipes for white sandwich bread usually add milk, a small amount of sugar, and fat in the form of butter or shortening. These add nutrients to the loaf, but more importantly they give it a soft, tender crumb that makes it appealing as sandwiches or toast.
The Potato Alternative
Potato bread recipes are similarly variable, but most follow the same basic pattern as white sandwich bread. The difference is that they call for either well-mashed potatoes or -- more conveniently -- instant mashed potato flakes as part of their dry ingredients. The bread remains a soft, white sandwich loaf, but even a small quantity of potato changes its character slightly. Potato bread retains moisture better than plain white bread, keeping it soft for a longer period of time. It's also slightly chewier, which many bakers find a pleasant change from relatively insubstantial white bread.
The Nutritional Benefits
You can add potatoes to any whole-grain bread as well, but it's often most useful as a way to provide a healthier alternative for picky eaters who only like white bread. Each recipe varies slightly in its nutritive values, but the USDA's nutrient database provides a comparison between standard commercial white bread, potato bread and whole-wheat bread. Potato bread rivals the whole-wheat loaf in fiber and protein content, which well exceeds basic white bread. It also contains vitamin A, which is missing in white and wheat bread, as well as higher levels of vitamin B6, folate, calcium and potassium.
- Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History; H. E. Jacob
- Healthaliciousness: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool -- White Bread, Potato Bread, Whole-Wheat Bread
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images