The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021 changed a lot of things about American life. One of the more surprising was that it sparked nationwide interest in bread baking. As stores ran short of food, many Americans started baking their own bread to ensure they wouldn’t run out — and to keep from going stir-crazy during lockdown.
For some people, baking bread was just a means to an end. But others discovered the process of baking itself could be a source of pleasure. Baking instructor Kristin Hoffman told NPR she’s “heard a lot of people say that they’re very surprised how much joy they’re finding in bread baking.”
These newbie bakers were just discovering what my husband and I have known for years. Not only is our homemade bread cheaper and better than store-bought, but the process of bread making itself is also incredibly rewarding. And those are just a handful of the benefits of baking your own bread.
Benefits of Making Your Own Bread
The pandemic baking trend started because it was hard to find bread at the supermarket. But there are plenty of good reasons to bake your own bread, even when store shelves are full. From cost to flavor to nutrition, homemade bread — and the process of making it — offers a host of benefits no store-bought loaf can provide.
1. It Costs Less
A 1-pound loaf of white bread costs about $1.54 at the grocery store, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Whole-wheat bread is a bit pricier at around $2.20 per loaf. And if you favor fancy breads like seven-grain, sourdough, or cinnamon-raisin, you could pay $4 per loaf or more.
Making your own bread can cut these costs dramatically. For example, these are the ingredients for our basic whole-wheat bread recipe and the prices we pay for them:
- 3 1/2 Cups Whole-Wheat Flour: $0.78 ($2.99 for a 5-pound bag)
- 1/2 Cup Wheat Bran: $0.08 ($1.28 per pound from the bulk bins at our local health food store)
- 1/4 Cup Organic Sugar: $0.40 ($8 for a 5-pound bag at the warehouse store)
- 2 Tablespoons Canola Oil: $0.04 ($4.86 per gallon)
- 1 Tablespoon Yeast: $0.07 ($4.49 for a 2-pound bag)
- 2 Teaspoons Salt: about $0.01
All told, the ingredients cost us $1.38 for a recipe that makes two loaves of bread. We also use a little bit of energy running the oven for an hour, which adds an extra $0.17 or so to the price, based on SFGate calculations. Even with that cost, our homemade bread still costs around $0.78 per loaf — less than half the price of whole-wheat bread from the store.
Pro tip: Before you head to the grocery store to purchase ingredients, make sure you download the Fetch Rewards app. Scan your receipts and you can earn gift cards to your favorite stores.
2. It Tastes Better
Perhaps you’re thinking that $0.78 for a loaf of bread isn’t all that cheap. After all, at most big supermarkets, you can pick up a store-brand white bread loaf for about a buck. Why should you go to the trouble of baking your own to save less than a quarter?
To understand why, picture a single slice of that $1 loaf from the store. Basically, it’s a flat, pale slice with hardly any substance. If you pick it up in your hand, it feels like it weighs less than a single sheet of paper. If you make a fist while you’re holding it, your fingers will go straight through it.
A slice of our homemade whole-wheat bread is nothing like that squishy, wimpy stuff. It’s a hearty, chewy bread you can really sink your teeth into. It’s full of nutty, yeasty, whole-grain flavor with a touch of sweetness. And unlike the store-bought stuff, it doesn’t fall apart under your knife if you try to spread some peanut butter on it.
Of course, it’s possible to buy bread with more substance than those mass-produced loaves. But the good stuff costs a lot more — as much as $4 to $5 per loaf — so you always have a trade-off between good flavor and an affordable price.
With home-baked bread, you get both. Plus, as a bonus, you get to enjoy your fresh bread while it’s still just a bit warm from the oven — a benefit no supermarket bread can ever provide.
3. It’s More Nutritious
Those dollar loaves of white bread are also pretty unimpressive when it comes to nutrition. According to the nutrition calculator at SparkPeople, a single slice of store-bought white bread has about 65 calories, mostly from starch. It has 1.4 grams of sugar and less than a gram of fiber. Commercial “wheat bread” is only slightly better, with 1.5 grams of sugar and 1.1 grams of fiber.
By contrast, when I entered the ingredients for our homemade whole-wheat bread into the recipe calculator, I found that a single slice has 1.3 grams of sugar and 1.6 grams of fiber. Starting my day with two toasted slices of that keeps me going until lunchtime, whereas two slices of wussy white bread toast would probably leave me hungry by midmorning.
Once again, not all store-bought breads are created equal. You can buy bread made with good stuff like whole grains, unbleached white flour, and no artificial preservatives, but you’ll pay a lot more for it. By baking our own, we don’t have to compromise between nutrition and cost.
4. It’s Easy to Customize
Did you notice that the whole-wheat bread recipe I provided above was vegan? It wasn’t always. My husband used to make it with butter and honey, so it was vegetarian but not vegan. But when we decided to cut back on our use of animal products still more, all it took was a few tweaks to the recipe to make it fit our new diet.
That’s just one example of how making bread from scratch allows you to customize your recipes to suit your dietary needs. That’s especially handy if you’re on a special diet, such as vegan, low-carb, or gluten-free. Special food needs make it hard to find bread you can eat in stores. And even if you find some, you’ll probably have to pay a lot for it. A quick search online turns up prices for gluten-free breads ranging from $4.79 to over $10 per loaf.
By baking your own, you can make breads that suit your dietary needs at a much more reasonable cost. The bloggers at No Gluten, No Problem found that their homemade gluten-free breads and other baked goods were cheaper than store-bought versions by anywhere from 33% to 66%.
Even if you’re not on a special diet, home baking allows you to try all sorts of bread you can’t easily find at the supermarket. You can enjoy no-knead artisan breads that grocery stores can’t sell because of their short shelf life and bakeries charge a bundle for. You can also experiment with flatbreads, sourdough, and breads with extras like whole grains and dried cranberries in the dough. The only limit is your imagination.
5. It’s Satisfying
As nice as all these perks are, the main reason my husband prefers to make all our bread by hand is that he honestly enjoys it. There’s something about the process of kneading the dough with his own hands that he finds really satisfying. It’s kind of like the fun you used to have playing with modeling clay as a kid — except instead of making little balls that are going to get squished up and put away, you’re making actual food you get to enjoy later. You can have fun and do something useful at the same time.
But even if playing with bread dough isn’t your idea of fun, baking your own bread can still provide a lot of enjoyment. It’s very satisfying to pull a golden-topped loaf of bread from the oven and know you made it with your own hands. And having the whole house fill up with the warm, yeasty smell of baking bread is a pleasure everyone who lives with you can share.
When HuffPost interviewed home bakers about their reasons for baking bread during the pandemic, most of their answers had to do with the satisfaction it brings. Many said they enjoyed it as both a comforting, relaxing ritual and an outlet for their creative energy. Others talked about the “sensory experience” of mixing the ingredients, the smell of the baking bread, and the pleasure of biting into a warm slice. And many said being able to make their own bread gave them a much-needed sense of control during an uncertain time.
If you’re new to baking bread from scratch, the process can seem a little intimidating. You may worry you don’t know what you’re doing or assume all that kneading, rising, and baking will take more time than you can spare. Luckily, there are ways around all these problems.
Baking bread isn’t a difficult skill to master. There are plenty of resources that can teach you everything you need to know, from bread-oriented cookbooks to online tutorials. And there are all kinds of tools and techniques you can use to make the process faster and easier, from bread makers to no-knead dough. You can even bake bread in your slow cooker. Whatever your schedule is like, there’s a way to fit homemade bread into it.
In fact, there’s only one real downside to baking bread from scratch: It’s addictive. Once you get into the habit of baking, you’ll never be completely satisfied with store-bought bread again. Even when your schedule is busy, you may find yourself trying to squeeze in time for baking because you’re hooked on that homemade flavor. And with every loaf you bake, you’ll be saving money at the same time.