Do I need to add sugar to my bread dough?

A question I am often asked is “Do I need to add sugar to my bread dough?”. The simple answer is no. Bread dough only needs flour, water and yeast to work, but adding salt, whilst optional, improves the flavour and the texture of the dough.

Why add sugar?

Many recipes for bread include a small amount of sugar – 1-2 tsps. This sugar is unnecessary. Sugar is added to give the yeast a boost and get fermentation happening quickly. If you want your bread in a rush this makes sense. However, I always recommend that you try to plan your bread in advance and give the dough as long a fermentation time as you can. The longer the dough ferments the better flavour and texture it will have as a baked loaf.

Why you don’t need to add sugar

When you add water to flour several chemical reactions start to take place. One of these is the activation of enzymes present in the flour and the yeast that start to break down the starches in the flour into complex, then simple, sugars ready for the yeast to eat. The yeast eats these simple sugars and lets out carbon dioxide and ethanol into the dough. The carbon dioxide gets trapped inside bubbles in the dough and begins to expand, stretching the gluten network and making the holes in the crumb. The ethanol contributes aroma and flavour to the baked loaf.

There is plenty of sugar available in the starches of the flour, adding refined sugar is unnecessary to make a delicious loaf of bread.

Feel free to cut out the sugar in you recipe and see if it still makes a great loaf of bread. Remember it may take a little more time to ferment and get lovely and airy. Also remember that this can be a bonus.

Why you might want to add sugar

Some breads do benefit from sugar being added. If you are trying to make a sweet bread, such as an iced finger or Chelsea bun then sugar is an important addition to make sure the bun has the right flavour. I also make an oat and honey loaf that would not be the same without the addition of the honey. If you are adding sugar for a good reason and removing it will make a different bread then you should continue to add the sugar.

oat and honey bread
Oat and honey bread

Want to learn more?

I explain what happens when you add sugar (and fats) to dough in this article.

When you join my Bread Made Easy Membership you can enjoy access to my comprehensive range of online bread courses and join me for a monthly live bread demo and chat.

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