More than Just Taste: Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Bread

Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada

Sensory profiles of bread made from organic and conventional wheat have produced results of interest to both types of farmers.

Though there had been anecdotal evidence that organic bread might taste and smell better, a series of tests could find no differences compared with conventional bread.

“We observed no differences in flavor and aroma between organic and conventional bread,” states a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“I think it would confirm for the conventional producer that there still is a market for conventionally produced grain and the products made from it,” says WendyWismer, one of three study authors. The lead author was L.E. Annett and the other was D. Spaner.

“I think it indicates that a lot of organic products are consumed because of the belief that a person is maybe improving their health or helping the environment,” said Wismer in a phone interview.

Perception is important. “We have this belief that products of organic production are valuable and they are good,” says Wismer. “And so associated with that would be the idea that they taste better.”

The implications of the study – “Sensory Profiles of Bread Made from Paired Samples of Organic and Conventionally Grown Wheat Grain,” published in the Journal of Food Science – are that consumer purchases are based on several factors. “One of the things about consumers is that when they evaluate their liking or the quality of a food product it’s really the integration of a lot of factors,” says Wismer.

Even the look of a product can affect decisions. For example, one of the differences in the 60% whole wheat organic bread was that it was denser than the conventional bread. As a result, the organic loaf was often smaller.

Though care was taken in the study not to let the look of the bread influence testers, for consumers the look and texture may have an effect on other senses.

“Even if you liked the way an organic product looked, that might have a bit of a halo effect and then you consider that the sensory properties, like the taste, were better as well,” says Wismer.

Labeling a product organic can also have an impact. “Once you know it’s organic, it seems to taste better.”

Wismer says some of the study’s findings provide a caution for consumers. “I think it tells us that organic products are not all straight across the board better in taste or different in taste than conventional products.”

If a product is advertised as having superior taste, the consumer might want to know how this was determined. “I think those suggestions are often made without substantial evidence.”

Wismer notes that findings for less processed foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, might be different than for bread or other processed products.

One of the study’s conclusions was that in future consumer research, the influence of nonsensory characteristics affecting perceptions of organic products should be evaluated.

As the organic sector continues to grow, understanding it better becomes increasingly important.

The study notes that there are over 3,500 organic farms comprising about 1.5% of Canada’s total agricultural land, with over 1 million acres (405,000 ha) of cropland dedicated to organic production. Organically produced wheat in western Canada had a value of over $44 million in 2004.

In the study, the sensory quality of bread made from different wheat sources was compared using descriptive analysis. Organically produced grain had more protein (16.2%) in the whole grain than conventional grain (14.9%). Test results for dough strength indicated that conventional flour produced stronger dough.

Though people’s senses can vary considerably, the study sought to obtain an objective perspective by using trained sensory panels. People with above average sense of smell and taste were selected for the panel. They also needed good verbal skills to describe what they were experiencing.

Researchers worked with panel members to describe the sensory attributes of the bread, usually using a physical reference standard. For example, the denseness of the texture could be described by comparing it to angel food cake at one end of the scale and a plain bagel at the other.

This article was written by Steve Harder on behalf of the OACC with funding provided by Canada’s Organic Science Cluster (a part of the Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Growing Forward Policy Framework).  The Organic Science Cluster is a collaborative effort led jointly by the OACC, the Organic Federation of Canada and industry partners. For more information: or 902-893-7256.

Posted May 2011