To this category, we can also add zucchini bread. Both banana and zucchini bread are dense, moist, sweet treats, usually chemically leavened with baking soda or powder. It’s supposed that both of these “quick” breads got their start in the United States, where 18th-century bakers first used pearlash, a refined form of potash, to create carbon dioxide in dough. Today, American bakers search online for banana bread recipes more often than any other bread. It’s so popular, it even has its own holiday: February 23 is National Banana Bread Day.
Nothing else in the bread family, not even the wonderfully flaky croissant, conjures images of the Eiffel Tower and all things French the way the baguette does. The long, stick-like loaf, also called French bread (thanks to its origins), is made with flour, yeast, water, and salt. From those simple ingredients rises the iconic baguette, distinguished by its chewy crust, feather-light interior, and topside slashes, which allow for gas expansion during baking.
Would it really be an Italian meal without a serving of this pencil-thin dry bread sitting atop the table as an appetizer? Much smaller than a baguette, breadsticks are said to have originated in the boot-shaped country in the 17th century. Nowadays, American restaurants sometimes serve them soft and warm, topped with cheese and garlic, or as a dessert, with icing and cinnamon.
Our tastebuds owe the French a huge debt of gratitude for inventing brioche, a traditionally sweet yeast bread loaded with eggs and butter. People have been enjoying the golden, soft-as-a-pillow pastry forever—the word brioche dates to 1404—and it’s now commonly used as hamburger buns, dinner rolls and even in French toast recipes.
Challah, which is made with eggs and most often braided, is integral to the Jewish faith. Served on the Sabbath and holidays, it was originally called berches before the word challah was adopted in the Middle Ages. The bread continues to carry rich symbolism, from the poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on top that symbolize manna from God, to the plaited shape, which represents love.
Ciabatta hails from Italy, where the word means “slipper” in the native language. Usually broad, flat and somewhat collapsed in the middle, it’s a lot more flavorful than footwear, and perfect for use in paninis and sandwiches. Unlike most of the bread on this list, this wheat flour-based bread is a recent invention, first produced in 1982.
The bread maybe most associated with the region below the Mason-Dixon Line, cornbread originated with Native Americans. Made from finely-ground corn, wheat flour, eggs and milk (or buttermilk), Southern-style cornbread is traditionally baked in a skillet, either unleavened or with baking powder. Crumbly, rich and crispy, this classic cornbread should be enjoyed quickly, because it doesn’t store well.
Another bread originating from Italy, focaccia is a flat, dimpled yeast bread resembling pizza dough that’s baked at high temperatures in sheet pans. Often topped with olive oil, rosemary and coarse salt, focaccia’s exact origins are unknown, though it might date back to Ancient Rome. Focaccia’s name is derived from the Latin panis focacius, which means fireplace bread. Modern varieties include savory toppings like olives, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
Seemingly, not a lot of creativity went in to naming multigrain bread, since it’s defined simply as bread made from more than one grain. It can include flax, oats, and barley, but be aware that even bread made from wheat and a smidge of flour from a second grain can be called multigrain. If you’re looking for dense, hearty multigrain, which is terrific for sandwiches, be sure to check the label.
Like tortillas and naan, pita is a flatbread. Soft and round, this slightly leavened bread, which originated in the Middle East some 4,000 years ago, is cooked at a high temperature. This causes the dough to puff up, leaving a handy interior pocket when it cools. Goodies like falafel can be stuffed into the pocket, although pitas are also wrapped around ingredients—as in the case of gyros—or used to scoop up dips such as hummus and tzatziki.
A type of rye bread, flavorful pumpernickel hails from Germany, where it’s made with coarsely ground whole rye berries. The traditional version requires a lot of patience to create, since the recipe calls for baking pumpernickel at a low temperature for as long as 24 hours. Americans typically eschew the marathon oven session, instead producing pumpernickel’s dark hue by adding molasses or coffee.
Crucial to beloved deli sandwiches like pastrami and corned beef-based Reubens, rye bread can come light, medium or dark, depending on which part of the rye berry is used to make the flour. In Europe, bakers tend to use 100% rye flour, while in the U.S., rye bread may be mainly made from wheat flour. Some recipes call for adding caraway or dill seeds on top.
As anyone who seriously celebrates St. Patrick’s Day will tell you, the world’s most legendary soda bread comes courtesy of the Emerald Isle. Recipes vary widely between Ireland and the U.S., but traditional soda bread contains soft wheat flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. Dense with a thick crust, this bread has a mild flavor, though in the U.S., bakers like to add raisins, giving it a slight sweetness.
Thought to have originated in Egypt in 1500 B.C., sourdough bread is created via a long fermenting process using yeasts and lactobacilli that occur naturally. This creates lactic acid, which gives the bread its signature, slightly sour flavor. Sourdough bread, pretty much a trademark food for the San Francisco Bay area, is better for digestion and blood sugar control, as well as more nutritious, than many other kinds of bread.
Speaking of healthy breads, whole wheat, which is one of a range of whole grain breads, is one of the very best breads for your body. Made from flour that uses the entire grain, including the bran and germ, whole wheat offers more fiber, protein, and vitamins than white bread. It also boasts a richer flavor and aroma.