Please Explain: Wonder Bread

Friday, August 31, 2012

Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf and professor of politics at Whitman College, explains the colorful history of white bread and tells us what makes it so soft, so white, and have such a long shelf life. He’ll also discuss how the kind of bread you eat has defined social status for centuries.


Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Comments [24]

Kevin P.

Where is the audio for this segment?

Aug. 31 2012 04:34 PM

I grew up in Hoboken,NJ in the 1930s which had a Wonder Bakery on 11th St. & Park Ave. Next to it was a Wonder Bread outlet store which sold day old Wonder bread for 5 cents. It was identified by a slit in the top of the wax cover. The regular price was 10 cents. This makes me think that the current version is a hybrid containing various chemicals not intended for human consumption.

Aug. 31 2012 02:32 PM
Michael from NYC

I had a tour of the SILVERCUP studio and was told that when bread was made there, the flour was aged in the attic before being made into bread. Has anyone ever heard of aging flour for bread?

Aug. 31 2012 02:15 PM
Fin from Brooklyn

I remember my grandmother visiting Long Island from Germany in the late 60s. We were invited to lunch by our neighbors and when she saw the wonder bread they served, she asked if this was her napkin. It was so soft she thought it was meant to pat the food off her lips, not be the food.

Aug. 31 2012 02:01 PM
Joe from nearby

Was your guest present at the whitebread convention that ended in Tampa last night?

Aug. 31 2012 01:59 PM
John A.

Something not yet mentioned on-air:
White substances are infinitely easy to examine for contaminents like bugs and most mold. This need to watch out plagues those people who have to keep the ingredients, rice, lentils, flower, etc etc. in storage.
The man was fascinating - thanks.

Aug. 31 2012 01:58 PM
pliny from soho

An Italian I knew who lived through the war
said that bread was made with lots of unknown substances during the war
and that after the war white Italian bread was a welcome sight.

Aug. 31 2012 01:58 PM
Hugh Sansom

I'm not sure the guest is right that bleaching flour invariably strips out nutritional components.

Some bleaching agents may just change color.

And, guess what? The US to this day allows many bleaching agents that are illegal in Europe.

Aug. 31 2012 01:57 PM
Dan from NJ

I just read Aaron's entertaining article "Atomic Bread Baking At Home" in The Believer yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to turn on WNYC today to hear him talking about the same subject. I was most struck by an anecdote in the article wherein his daughter bursts into the room following the completion of his first homemade "industrial" loaf, exclaims, "It's fake!" and then gobbles down a slice and asks for more. I wonder if his extensive research has influenced any change in diet within his family.

Aug. 31 2012 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

But the nutrients aren't lost from the bleaching--that's from the refining, right?

Aug. 31 2012 01:56 PM
pain au chocolat

There used to be a commercial, "I used to sit and worry and worry about holes in the bread..." (I use this memory to calm myself down when worrying!) - for Wonder Bread, I think

Thank you Leonard for seeing the importance of the story of food

Aug. 31 2012 01:54 PM
Tim in Queens

I once passed a Fink factory at about 3 in the morning. A door was open, and the aroma wafting out was wonderful. The bakers let me go in and sample a bit of fresh Fink bread. It was actually delicious.

Aug. 31 2012 01:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Can't remember when I 1st heard that mold didn't grow on Wonder Bread--it made me wonder (hey, maybe that's what the name means!) what else couldn't live on it...including us.

Also, considering how little actual meat is in a lamb chop, the advertisement's claim that 8 slices of WB have more iron than 3 lamb chops isn't such an achievement, is it?

Aug. 31 2012 01:53 PM
suzinne from bronx


Aug. 31 2012 01:52 PM
Robert from NYC

You can't get homemade bread exactly like you buy at the bakery, with the crispy crust but you can get it very close and nice and crispy enough by baking it in the highest temp in the oven and spray water with a spray bottle every minute for the first five or six minutes of baking. Do that quickly with the oven door held 1/2 open so not too much heat escapes. After those several minutes just let it bake without doing anything more until it done.

Aug. 31 2012 01:51 PM
James L

This is strangely fascinating-great segment!

Aug. 31 2012 01:49 PM
Robert from NYC

My pizza dough is far superior to my bread dough and now I know why, I let it rise in the refrigerator, whereas my bread dough I let rise in a warm place. Duh, why didn't I figure that out myself! Well from now on all by bread doughs will also be risen in the fridge. Thanks for that.≈

Aug. 31 2012 01:47 PM

I recall one day in the '50s my grandmother who had been born in 1878 and should have known better proudly demonstrating how Wonder bread was pure white compared to the other baker's breads, so was better.

Aug. 31 2012 01:46 PM
Robert from NYC

I remember the little loaves of Wonder Bread too, Bernie. My dad got them to hand out as samples in his grocery store. The little loaves were whole not sliced. Actually we prefered Silvercup in our home for toast, Wonder bread always seemed too soft and gushy. Silvercup was "sturdier", if that makes any sense to anyone else I don't know but I don't know how else to put it.

Aug. 31 2012 01:42 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

What do we all mean by "shelf life?" All bread will stay softer longer when it is wrapped in a plastic bag. Do we mean it has gone stale? Or that it has begun to decompose? We cannot compare shelf lives without definitions.

Aug. 31 2012 01:42 PM
Robert from NYC

I remember Bond, Silvercup, Wonder were the three big white bread companies.

Aug. 31 2012 01:39 PM
Hugh Sansom

Question for guest: How did he try to measure sickness from bread? Public reports may not even have recorded such things. We also have to ask what other food problems might have developed in parallel to any supposed bread issues. For example, New York City's harbor, once a fantastic source of seafood, became one of the most poisonous cesspools in the entire world.

Food problems weren't isolated to the US. In France 200 years ago, there were cases of bakers adding _sawdust_ to flour.

These days we have meat processors adding "pink slime" to ground beef.

Whatever the weirdness of Wonder Bread, to claim that there was no substantive problem in food safety is deeply deceptive, irresponsible nonsense.

Aug. 31 2012 01:38 PM
Bernie from the Catskills

When I was an elementary school kid in the 1950s, I remember a field trip to the Wonder Bread factory in Washington D.C.....we all received mini loaves in the bags with balloons on it!!!

Aug. 31 2012 01:34 PM
Robert from NYC

I grew up in an Italian(-American) family in the 50s in the Bronx where my family were grocers of italian imports among our products. The only use we had for American bread, as we called it, was for morning toast and to break up and roll into little balls to have bread fights with!!! Yuk, said dad, what is this garbage! And BTW we also removed much of the "mollica" from italian bread for bread ball fights or or bread crumbs and stuffing.

Aug. 31 2012 01:31 PM

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