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Bread has been at the heart of cuisines worldwide for millennia, yet most stick to the same few varieties. The origins of different types of bread span over 30,000 years, yet most limit their baking to modern wheat loaves.
This guide tours bread’s rich history and diversity across 23 iconic varieties, from challah to injera. Learn how ancient bakers shaped history through unique techniques like naturally leavened sourdough.
Discover bread integral to cultural traditions worldwide, from the Italian focaccia to the Jewish braided challah. Beyond origins, explore the best ways to serve each loaf—using naan for scooping curries, topping focaccia with cheese as pizza, or savoring a baguette with jam.
Expand your baking skills and cuisine by exploring bread’s terroir of time-honored history and flavors waiting to be discovered.
1. White Bread
White bread is made from refined wheat flour, with the bran and germ removed from the wheatberry. This leaves mostly the starchy endosperm, resulting in a lighter color and texture with less flavor and nutrients.
- Origins: Ancient Egypt, where wheat was sifted to produce pure white starch
- Main Ingredients: Refined wheat flour, yeast, water
- How to Eat: Best for sandwiches and tea sandwiches, casseroles, grilled cheeses
2. Whole Wheat Bread
Whole wheat bread is made from whole wheat flour, which contains the entire wheat kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. This gives it a heartier texture and a more nutty, aromatic flavor than white bread.
- Origins: Ancient Egypt, but the whole wheat kernel was retained instead of removing bran and germ
- Main Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, wheat bran, wheat germ, yeast, water
- How to Eat: Great for nutritious sandwiches, toast, French toast, bread pudding, croutons, breadcrumbs. Pairs well with soups and salads.
3. Rye Bread
Rye bread is made from rye flour by milling the rye grain kernel containing the bran, germ, and endosperm. This imparts a dense, chewy texture and tangy, earthy flavor compared to regular wheat bread.
- Origins: Ancient Egypt, but rye flour became more commonly used on its own in Europe during the Middle Ages
- Main Ingredients: Rye flour, wheat flour, rye bran, rye germ, yeast
- How to Eat: Excellent for hearty sandwiches. Great for toast, absorbing soups like borscht, schmearing with butter, making bruschetta, and as a base for snack cake. Pairs well with robust foods.
4. Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is a beloved artisanal bread-making style that utilizes wild yeast and bacteria rather than commercial yeast for fermentation. This ancient method imparts a signature tangy, complex flavor and chewy crumb that bread enthusiasts crave.
The starter is at the heart of sourdough’s unique properties, a mixture of flour and water that captures wild yeast and lactobacilli from the air. After several days of fermenting, the starter develops robust populations of microorganisms that leaven the bread. Maintaining your sourdough starter at home connects you intimately to the art and science behind this iconic bread.
- Origin: Ancient Egypt, but using wild yeasts
- Main Ingredients: Flour, water, salt, sourdough starter
- How to Eat: Great for artisanal sandwiches, topping with olive oil and herbs, dipping in soups, eating by itself
5. Multigrain Bread
incorporates a variety of whole grains and seeds, providing a hearty, wholesome loaf packed with fiber and nutrition. The assortment of grains gives it a distinctive flavor and texture.
At the heart of multigrain bread is its diverse blend of whole grains like wheat, rye, oats, millet, and corn. It also frequently contains seeds like sunflower, sesame, and flax. This abundance of whole grains and seeds makes it more nutritious than white bread.
- Origin: Originated in Germany in the 1800s
- Main Ingredients: Whole grain flour, wheat bran, variety of seeds, yeast, water, salt
- How to Eat: Great for nutritious sandwiches and toast. Its hearty texture is ideal for dipping in soups or olive oil.
Baguette is the quintessential French bread – a long, crispy loaf with pointed ends that is a staple of French cuisine. While simple, it requires artisanal technique to create that perfect contrast between a shattery crust and a pillowy interior.
- Origin: The baguette evolved in France in the early 1900s, likely an offshoot from traditions of Vienna bread. The word comes from the Italian word “bacchetta,” meaning stick.
- Main Ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, salt. The flour is typically French wheat flour with a high protein content.
- How to Eat: It’s perfect for dipping in soups, olive oil, and sauces. A demi-baguette spread with butter and prosciutto is a French classic. Also wonderful as sandwich bread, toasted for bruschetta, or baked into baguette pizzas with fresh toppings.
Ciabatta is a rustic Italian white bread known for its signature airy, open crumb, and crispy crust. With its long loaf shape, channeled bottom, and slack dough, the ciabatta offers a polar opposite texture to the finer, tighter crumb of bread-like baguette. You can make it with yeast or a sourdough ciabatta with a starter.
- Origin: Ciabatta traces its origins to Italy in the 1980s. A baker in Verona created the loaf, which translates to “slipper” in Italian, likely referring to its loose, slack shape.
- Main Ingredients: Ciabatta is made from high-protein bread flour, water, salt, yeast, and olive oil.
- How to Eat: It’s excellent as a base for bruschetta or bread salads like Panzanella. Split horizontally and layered with deli meats and cheeses, it makes a stellar Italian sandwich. Ciabatta shines when baked into pizzas loaded with Mediterranean toppings or toasted garlic bread.
8. Pumpernickel Bread
Pumpernickel bread is a dark, dense, and hearty German specialty bread made with rye flour and molasses. This classic loaf offers a uniquely sweet, earthy flavor perfect for rounding out a continental breakfast spread.
- Origin: The origins of pumpernickel bread can be traced back to Germany in the 15th century. The name comes from the German words “pamper,” meaning to digest, and “nickel” for devil.
- Main Ingredients: Pumpernickel gets its signature flavor from a combination of rye flour and molasses.
- How to Eat: Slice pumpernickel bread for a twist on classic sandwiches, or enjoy it toasted with butter or jam. It also pairs wonderfully with solid cheeses and meats as an appetizer. Pumpernickel makes a mean base for bruschetta as well. Let it soak up the flavors of your favorite soups and stews.
Flatbread refers to any bread made with simple, unleavened dough that is rolled flat and cooked. These rustic breads trace their history to the most ancient breadmaking traditions across cultures. While ingredients vary, the common theme is a dough made without yeast that produces a thin, flat loaf.
- Origin: Flatbreads date back over 30,000 years to the earliest breads of the Middle East, Egypt, India, and Europe. Unleavened flatbreads predate leavened loaves.
- Main Ingredients: Flour, water, salt. Extras like oil, herbs, seeds, or honey are optional. Leavening agents not used.
- How to Eat: Flatbreads shine for dipping, wrapping, and scooping. Soft and pliable when warm, they’re perfect for tacos, gyros, and sandwiches. Drizzle with oil and herbs for an instant appetizer. Bake into chips or crisp in a pan for croutons. Spread with sweet or savory toppings as a simple pizza-style meal.
10. Naan Bread
Naan is a popular Indian flatbread distinguished by its soft, pillowy texture and tender crumb. This iconic bread bears a light charring from being cooked in a super-hot tandoor oven. Tracing its origins to Central and South Asia, naan has become a staple across Indian restaurants worldwide.
- Origin: Emerged in Central Asia before becoming popular in India during the Mughal era around 1300 AD.
- Main Ingredients: Refined white flour, yogurt, ghee or oil, eggs, salt. Optional leavening agents.
- How to Eat: Naan is the perfect vehicle for scooping up curries, chutneys, and sauces. Enjoy as an appetizer with dips. Wrap kebabs or tandoori chicken in freshly baked naan for an instant meal. Brush with honey or stuff with spices for inventive flavors.
11. Pita Bread
A staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, pita bread is a soft, lightly leavened flatbread that puffs up into a pocket when baked. The signature pocket shape allows pita to be opened up and stuffed with savory fillings. While simple in flavor, pita’s versatility and convenience as a sandwich carrier have made it popular worldwide.
- Origin: Emerged around 2500 BC in the ancient Middle East
- Main Ingredients: Bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, yeast, salt
- How to Eat: Cut pita in half and fill the pocket with falafel, kebabs, hummus, or salad to make a quick meal. Use pieces of pita to scoop up dips like babaganoush. Make pita chips or pizzas. Use whole pita as an edible utensil for grabbing foods.
Bagels are a beloved breakfast bread with their signature dense, chewy texture and distinctive ring shape. Unlike regular bread, bagels go through a process of being boiled and then baked, giving them their characteristic shiny, glossy crust. Though long symbolic of New York City, bagels trace their origins to Jewish communities in Poland in the 1600s.
Typical bagel dough contains bread flour, yeast, malt syrup or barley malt, salt, and water. Alternatively, you can make sourdough bagels and use a starter instead of yeast. Toppings like sesame or poppy seeds are added before baking.
- Origin: It originated in Jewish communities in Kraków, Poland, in the 1600s
- Main ingredients: Bread flour, barley malt, yeast, salt, water
- How to Eat: Best consumed fresh. Serve with cream cheese, lox, and capers for a classic sandwich. Toast or grill with butter or sandwich toppings. Dip in spreads like hummus. Make mini bagel pizzas. They are excellent bases for breakfast sandwiches, too.
Hailing from Italy, focaccia is a flat oven-baked bread with a dimpled, spongy texture and robust olive oil and herb flavor. The name derives from the Latin for “hearth” or “place for baking.” Beyond regular flour, salt, and yeast, focaccia dough is unique for its high proportion of olive oil, which creates its signature rich taste and moist crumb.
- Origin: Northern Italy, tracing back to Ancient Roman traditions
- Main ingredients: Flour, olive oil, yeast, salt, herbs
- How to Eat: Focaccia makes excellent sandwich bread or crostini base. Serve warm wedges with dips like hummus. Top with cheese and veggies for a quick pizza. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or garlic butter. An excellent accompaniment to Italian meals.
Cornbread is a beloved American quick bread made with cornmeal and leavened with baking powder or soda. This iconic Southern staple traces its roots to Native American and African American culinary traditions. Ranging from savory to sweet, cornbread delivers hearty texture and rustic corn flavor.
- Origin: Originating with various Native American tribes and early settlers, it became a Southern staple
- Main ingredients: Cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, eggs, baking powder/soda, salt. Optional sugar, honey, creamed corn.
- How to Eat: Serve cornbread alongside chili, stew, or barbecue. Crumble for breading fried foods or stuffing. Enjoy with honey butter. Dress wedges in molasses or preserves. Goes well with Southern cuisine.
15. Soda Bread
Soda bread is a variety of quick bread that uses baking soda rather than yeast as the primary leavening agent. This gives soda bread a distinctively coarse, dense texture and mildly sweet flavor. While soda bread has ancient roots, it became a staple in Ireland, where sour milk was more readily available to activate the baking soda.
- Origin: While ancient, soda bread became an Irish specialty in the 19th century
- Main ingredients: All-purpose flour, baking soda, buttermilk, salt, and butter. Raisins or caraway seeds are optional.
- How to Eat: Soda bread is fantastic with soups and stews. Split vertically and fill with breakfast sausage. Fry slices in butter. Enjoy slices with sharp cheddar cheese. Crumble over cottage pie, too.
16. Banana Bread
Beloved for its simplicity and comforting flavor, banana bread is a quick bread that provides a delicious way to use overripe bananas. The sweet, moist crumb is loaded with banana flavor and often studded with walnuts or chocolate chips.
- Origin: Banana bread originated in America during the 1930s Great Depression
- Main ingredients: Bananas, sugar, flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, spices
- How to Eat: Enjoy sliced banana bread plain or toasted, with cream cheese or nut butter. Makes excellent French toast, too. Slice and serve as a dessert, or enjoy with coffee or tea in the morning. Freeze extras or gift loaves.
Crunchy, crispy breadsticks make for the perfect snack or accompaniment for dips and sauces. Ranging from chewy and soft to cracker-like, breadsticks trace their origin to Northern Italy. The classic grissini style features a crisp exterior and light interior, achieved through stretching and baking the dough several times.
- Origin: Originated as grissini breadsticks in Turin, Italy in the 1600s
- Main Ingredients: Flour, yeast, salt, water. Optional herbs, cheese, spices.
- How to Eat: Breadsticks shine as accompaniments for dips, cheese plates, and Italian meals. Grate over salads or break into soups for added crunch. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar or chocolate-hazelnut spread for a sweet snack. Use to stir and scoop hummus or yogurt dips.
With its rustic round shape and crusty exterior, boule is a classic artisan-style bread. The name boule is French for “ball,” referring to the loaf’s rounded form. Boule dough is made the same as standard bread but formed into a bottom-up ball before baking. The smooth surface then cracks during rising and baking to create its distinctive appearance.
- Origin: France and other parts of Europe; based on ancient breadmaking methods
- Main Ingredients: Bread flour, water, salt, yeast. Sometimes, it includes whole wheat flour.
- How to Eat: The crusty exterior and soft interior make boule ideal for dipping in oil, tearing to soak up soup, and using for bruschetta. It also makes excellent everyday sandwich bread, croutons, breadcrumbs, and breakfast toast.
19. Milk Bread
Known for its distinctively soft, pillowy texture, it traces its origins to parts of East Asia, like Japan and China. Adding dairy and unique cooking techniques give milk bread its signature fluffiness. At the heart of milk bread is tangzhong, a cooked milk and flour paste that hydrates the gluten and makes the crumb extra moist.
- Origin: Originated in Japan, China, and other parts of East Asia in the early 1900s
- Main Ingredients: Flour, whole milk, tangzhong, sugar, yeast, butter
- How to Eat: Wonderful in sweet or savory applications. Make sandwiches on thick sliced milk bread. Shape into burgers and hot dog buns. Fry slices into French toast. Fill with red bean paste or custard as a dessert.
20. Potato Bread
Known for its supremely soft, moist crumb, potato bread incorporates cooked mashed potatoes into the dough. This yields bread with a distinctive tender texture. The starch from the potatoes also allows for a higher moisture content that keeps the bread fresher longer. While potato bread is simple, this humble ingredient creates a lovely loaf.
- Origin: Originated in eastern and central Europe in the early 1800s
- Main Ingredients: Flour, cooked mashed potatoes, yeast, salt, butter/oil
- How to Eat: With its softness, potato bread makes excellent sandwich bread, particularly for roasted meat or grilled cheeses. Toast thick slices for breakfast. Also lovely for bread bowls, rolls, bread pudding, and croutons. Spread with jam or dip in olive oil.
Lavash is a soft, thin, unleavened flatbread integral to the cuisines of Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. This versatile bread can be used for scooping, wrapping, and baking. Traditional lavash is prepared by slapping and stretching the dough against the walls of a hot clay oven. The rapid high heat creates its signature pliable, paper-thin texture.
The name lavash is derived from the Armenian word “to wash,” which refers to wet hands to handle the sticky dough. Ancient lavash baking techniques reached their height in medieval Armenia. Beyond just flour and water, lavash dough usually contains a small amount of oil.
- Origin: Emerged in ancient Persia and widespread in medieval Armenia
- Main Ingredients: Bread flour, water, yeast, salt, oil
- How to Eat: Use lavash to wrap kebabs, falafel, or sandwich bread. Layer with cheese for quick flatbread pizzas. Fry or bake into crispy lavash chips. Crumble into salads for texture. Soft and pliable when warm.
Bake Away Today
This comprehensive guide has taken us on a tour through bread’s origins, ingredients, and best uses across iconic varieties from around the globe. While baking techniques and flour may vary, bread’s importance as a staple food is universal across cultures.
The journey traces bread’s ancient roots in the Fertile Crescent to the myriad world bread traditions that emerged, from braided challah to soft naan baking against tandoor walls. We discover how sourdough’s wild yeast makes it a crunchy, tangy standout. How focaccia is defined by its slick of olive oil and a sprinkle of herbs. Their enrichment with butter and eggs sets tender brioche and milk bread apart.
Potato and multigrain breads teach us how home bakers improvise with available ingredients to create nutritious, hearty loaves. Local grains like rye flour give us hearty German pumpernickel and chewy Scandinavian crispbreads. We learn the crumbs of history, too, like the ripple effect of medieval Europe’s limited wheat on soda bread’s quick rise.
While this guide underscores how no two breads are pretty the same, a common thread is bread’s place at our tables and in our hearts. Whether splitting a baguette under the Eiffel Tower or sopping up sauce with Ethiopian injera, bread brings people together. The variety of breads mirrors the diversity of cultures. This guide offers a passport through the vast, vibrant world of bread baking. Let it inspire you to create new loaves and traditions as people have done for thousands of years. Bread nourishes both the body and the community.
FAQ on Types of Bread
What are the top 10 types of bread?
All 10 breads span flavor profiles and global origins. They include baguette, focaccia, and ciabatta from Italy; hearty rye and pumpernickel from Germany; flatbreads like naan, pita, and lavash; French brioche; Jewish challah; fluffy Japanese milk bread; classic sourdough; and the all-American cornbread. This bread bucket list offers a world tour of diverse baking styles, textures, and ingredients – the ultimate way to become an expert on bread’s possibilities.
What are the exciting types of bread?
For fascinating bread, explore sourdough’s complex flavor from wild yeast, chewy German pumpernickel made with molasses, or Indian naan slapped against a tandoor oven wall. Check out crusty oval boules, vegetable-speckled cornbread, and potato bread with its moist crumb. Try Jewish challah, braided and glazed for holidays. Or creamy Japanese milk bread, tangy San Francisco sourdough, and French brioche enriched with butter and eggs. Bread’s diversity across cultures allows every loaf to discover new tastes and techniques.
This article originally appeared on Pink When.