Protein is an important issue for aging. Getting enough and spreading intake out as evenly as possible through the day. The problem meal for many: breakfast. Wouldn’t it be nice if your morning toast contributed significant protein. I’d like that.
Unfortunately, boosting protein in bread is not that easy. Wheat flour is critically important to bread making, because gluten in wheat creates structure and texture. You can add some high protein ingredients to bread dough, but not too many, or texture and quality may be adversely affected. As wheat flour and gluten content decreases, your loaf of bread ends up more dense and leaden. Slices won’t hold together.
A one ounce slice of commercial white bread might have 3 grams of protein, most of that from the wheat. Many conventional breads labeled “high protein” have around 5 grams per slice, or the equivalent protein-per-calories, if slices are bigger. One catch is that many of these breads get a protein boost from seeds like flax or sesame. If you don’t chew and digest all those little seeds, you aren’t going to get a benefit from the protein. A better way to boost protein in bread is to use ingredients that blend well with the dough and don’t require careful chewing.
Some bread history
Many years ago, a recipe for Cornell Bread was very popular with home cooks. I made this recipe frequently back in the day. The history of the recipe is fascinating. It was originally developed in the 1940s as a way to improve the diet of patients in state psychiatric hospitals. Bread was a popular food; why not improve it? Cornell professor Clive McCays noted that the quality of the protein in this bread was enhanced by the combination of ingredients. Instead of adding a bunch of seeds, he included soy flour, milk powder and wheat germ.
As I explain in more detail in my book Feed Your Vegetarian Teen 2nd edition, plant proteins are not high quality on their own. Grain proteins lack the amino acid lysine; legume proteins are good sources of lysine but lack other amino acids that are more abundant in grains. Combining different grains and beans improves protein quality of both. In daily life, we combine protein all the time. For example, putting peanut butter on bread improves the combined protein quality of the bread and peanuts.
I recently revisited the higher protein bread idea, since I bake a lot of bread and I had some garbanzo flour to use up. So I tinkered with my usual bread dough, adding garbanzo flour, wheat germ and milk. A few days later I remembered the Cornell bread recipe and looked it up. Strangely I’d sort of recreated it on my own. Well not exactly, but pretty close.
Protein boosting ingredients
I highly recommend Professor McCays’ strategy of improving protein quality by using a variety of ingredients, not just throwing in a few seeds. If you enjoy bread baking and want to boost protein, here are some ideas:
- Adding milk boosts protein quality and content. It’s also a good way to use up extra milk. The Cornell bread recipe uses nonfat dried milk. My recipe uses fluid milk to replace some of the water. Same difference. You could use soy milk, although the protein content is lower. Adding any other plant milk will NOT increase protein, so why bother?
- Soy flour is the best legume flour for protein. One-quarter cup in a one-loaf recipe adds 13+ grams protein, which is significant. Garbanzo flour has less protein (more like 5 grams/quarter cup), but it’s a decent choice. Neither flour has a major impact on flavor.
- Wheat germ boosts protein a little, and also adds more B vitamins, fiber and vitamin E, as well as boosts the whole grain flavor.
- Nuts and seeds can add some protein, but chewing problems can limit the actual protein availability. Finely ground nuts will boost protein a little, and add rich flavor. You can buy nut flours and peanut powder, or grind your own in a food processor.. I wouldn’t add more than 1/2 cup to a one-loaf recipe.
- Adding cheese definitely boosts protein, but melty cheese will affect bread quality and cohesion. Better to just put cheese on top of your bread.
- Whole wheat flour is slightly higher protein than white flour. According to the USDA Food Data website, 1 cup whole wheat has 15.8 grams protein while white flour has 12.9. In a one loaf recipe, this is a difference of 9 grams total. However, whole wheat flour will yield a more dense loaf of bread, which is why many bread recipes use mostly white flour.
In general, I’d suggest limiting your dry protein booster ingredients to 1 cup total per loaf.
According to my rough calculations, the Cornell bread recipe yields a 9 inch loaf with 67-70 grams protein. The combination of different proteins — wheat, soy, wheat germ and dairy — improves the overall protein quality. My recipe has a similar protein content — about 70 grams using soy flour, 61 with garbanzo flour. If you get a dozen 3/4 inch slices per loaf, each has about 6 grams protein, close to the protein content in one egg.
Sometimes Vegetarian Higher Protein Bread
For people who enjoy bread baking, you can experiment with adding higher protein ingredients to bread. As with all bread, the amount of flour depends on your ingredients. You can add 1 tsp of dried herbs of your choice, such as dill or rosemary.
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 envelope active yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 to 2-1/2 cups white unbleached flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup soy or garbanzo flour
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 TB salt
- Step 1 Mix the yeast, sugar and water in a mixing bowl, or bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook.
- Step 2 Once the yeast is foamy, add the whole wheat flour and 1 cup white flour. Mix by hand and let this mixtue sit for 30-60 minutes.
- Step 3 Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and knead for 5 minutes, with mixer, or by hand. Dough should come together and have a nice stretchy texture.
- Step 4 Put dough in a bowl, cover and allow to rise double in bulk, an hour or more.
- Step 5 Press down, allow to rise again, close to another hour.
- Step 6 Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently press and stretch it out into a rectangle. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Step 7 Grease an 8 or 9 inch loaf pan.
- Step 8 Fold 1/3 of the dough over to the middle and press. Fold the other third over and press the edge down. Turn the rectangle and fold again, one edge folded to the middle, the other edge folded all the way over. You now have a rounded rectangle.
- Step 9 Roll the loaf to fit the pan.
- Step 10 Allow to rise at least another 45 minutes. Turn on oven to 450º.
- Step 11 When oven is ready, put loaf in and turn temperature to 425º.
- Step 12 Bake for 15 minutes.
- Step 13 Reduce temperature to 350º and bake another 25-30 minutes.
- Step 14 Loaf is done when it sounds hollow if tapped on bottom.
Nothing like homemade bread! But if you aren’t into baking, keep in mind, there is no official standard for “high protein bread.*” It’s whatever the manufacturer wants it to be. Check the package label. Bread with 5 or more grams protein per slice is decent, but you still need to get protein from other foods, especially at breakfast. Bread may be the staff of life, but you can’t live on bread alone.
*So called “keto bread” is formulated to fit into a keto diet. Contrary to popular belief, a keto diet is high fat, not high protein. Commercial keto breads are not notably high protein; many use the added seed method to boost protein content, but again, chewing and digestion can be issues with little seeds. Many keto bread recipes are based on eggs and almond flour. The result is more like a heavy duty quick bread, not exactly something you’d use for a sandwich. If they don’t bake properly, they could end up sticky and mushy.