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What makes brown bread brown?

Brown bread gets its distinctive brown color from the whole grains and bran used during the bread making process. The bran contains pigments that impart a brownish color to the bread. White bread, on the other hand, is made from refined flour that has had the bran and germ removed, giving it a lighter color. The use of whole grains versus refined grains is the main difference between brown and white bread that gives them their distinct colors.

Whole Grains vs Refined Grains

Whole grains contain all three parts of the original kernel – the bran, endosperm, and germ. Refining grains removes the bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. Here is a comparison:

Whole Grains

– Contain the bran, endosperm, and germ
– Rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals
– Brown or tan color
– Nutty, rich flavor
– Examples: Whole wheat, rye, oats

Refined Grains

– Contain only the endosperm
– Lower in fiber, vitamins, minerals
– Light color
– Mild flavor
– Examples: White flour, white rice

So whole grains retain more of the grain’s original nutrients and color because they haven’t been processed and stripped down like refined grains.

Bran Contains Brown Pigments

Specifically, it’s the bran layer of whole grains that gives brown bread its color. Bran is the hard outer layer of the grain kernel that protects the inside. It contains fiber, B vitamins, iron, and small amounts of fat. Bran also contains pigments such as carotenoids and tannins that impart a brownish hue.

When whole grain flours are used to make brown bread, these brown bran particles distribute throughout the dough, giving the baked bread its distinctive tan or brown color. The various grains used in brown bread – like whole wheat, rye, oats – also influence the exact shade. For example, pumpernickel bread gets an especially dark brown color from the rye bran.

In contrast, refined white flour has had the bran and germ removed, so it lacks these brown pigments. This results in a lighter colored bread.

Fermentation Deepens Brown Bread’s Color

The fermentation process also deepens the color of brown bread. During fermentation, enzymes break down some of the proteins and starches in the dough into sugars. This produces amino acids that then interact with sugars through the Maillard reaction.

The Maillard reaction occurs when the amino acids and natural sugars are heated during baking. This reaction produces brown melanoidins that provide flavor and a darker crust to bread. Fermentation allows this reaction to take place more readily, resulting in brown bread that is darker than unfermented bread.

So in summary, the brown color develops in stages:

– Bran particles add brown pigments
– Fermentation produces amino acids
– Baking causes the Maillard reaction
– Dark melanoidins form, deepening the color

Other Ingredients in Brown Bread

In addition to whole grain flours, brown bread often contains added ingredients that enhance its nutrition and flavor. Some of these also influence the color:


Molasses is sometimes added to brown bread dough. It acts as a natural sweetener and adds depth of flavor. Molasses also darkens the bread, contributing to the brown color.

Seeds and Nuts

Seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds add crunch and nutrients. Nuts like walnuts or almonds also provide nutrition and texture. Both seeds and nuts are brown in color, so they provide flecks of brown throughout the bread.

Whole Grain Flours

As mentioned earlier, various whole grains are used to make brown bread, depending on the type. Some examples and their effects on color:

Whole wheat: Tan color, mild flavor
Rye: Dark brown color, hearty flavor
Oats: Light brown color, chewy texture
Buckwheat: Brown flecks, earthy flavor

So the assortment of whole grains contributes different shades of brown.

Spices and Herbs

Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger add warmth and interest to brown bread. Herbs like rosemary, thyme or oregano provide aromatic flavors. While spices and herbs don’t directly affect the color, they add layers of flavor to complement the bread.

Health Benefits of Brown Bread

Beyond providing a rich, brown color, whole grains like those found in brown bread offer some health advantages:

– Higher fiber – Helps improve digestive health
– More vitamins and minerals – Provides nutrition
– Lower glycemic index – Helps control blood sugar
– Antioxidants – May reduce disease risk
– Phytochemicals – Have anti-inflammatory effects

So choosing whole grain brown bread over refined white provides more nutrients as well as color and flavor.

How is White Bread Made White?

In contrast to nutritious brown bread, white bread is made using refined grains like white wheat flour. Here’s an overview of how white bread is made:


The wheat kernels are milled to remove the bran and germ, leaving just the starchy endosperm. This creates refined white flour.


The refined white flour is mixed with other dough ingredients like water, yeast, salt, and sugar. Without the bran, this dough mix is lighter in color.


The dough is allowed to ferment and rise. However, because there is no bran, fewer Maillard reactions occur, so less browning develops.


The dough is baked into loaves of bread. With no whole grains or germ, the bread bakes up white in color with a soft texture.

So at each stage of the process – milling, mixing, fermenting, and baking – the lack of bran keeps white bread light in color and low in nutrients.

Color and Nutrition Comparison

Here is a summary comparison of the color and nutrition of brown bread versus white:

Attribute Brown Bread White Bread
Color Tan, brown White, light
Grains Used Whole grains like whole wheat, rye, oats Refined grains like white flour
Fiber Content High Low
Vitamins and Minerals High amounts Low amounts
Phytochemicals Present Absent
Texture Dense, chewy Soft, spongy

As shown, brown bread contains more nutrients and has a chewier texture due to the whole grains, while white bread is lighter in both color and nutrition.

Ways to Add Whole Grains to Your Diet

To take advantage of the nutrition and color of whole grains, here are some tips:

Choose Brown Bread

Select whole grain breads like 100% whole wheat instead of white bread. Brown rice instead of white rice also provides whole grains.

Try Oats and Barley

Enjoy oatmeal, muesli, granola and other oat-based foods. Cook up barley as a fiber-rich side dish.

Add Wheat Berries

Use nutty, chewy wheat berries in salads, soups and pilafs for a dose of whole grains. Rye berries are also an option.

Snack on Popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is a surprisingly healthy whole grain snack full of fiber.

Bake with Whole Wheat Flour

Substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the white flour in recipes for baked goods like cookies, muffins and waffles.

Top Yogurt and Cereal

Sprinkle bran cereal or wheat germ on yogurt, oatmeal and other cereal dishes.

The Bottom Line

Brown bread gets its distinctive tan/brown hue from the whole grains, bran and added ingredients used when making it. In particular, the brown pigments in bran develop into melanoidins during fermentation and baking for a dark, rich color. White bread stays light in color because it is made with refined flour that has had the bran removed. When it comes to nutrition, the whole grains in brown bread provide more fiber, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds compared to refined white bread. So choosing nutritious, high-fiber brown bread over white provides health advantages along with a pleasant, chewy texture and brown color.