Are bread crusts healthier?

by Yair Halberstadt1 min read18th Jun 202116 comments



When you think about it for a second, almost definitely not. They're exactly the same stuff as bread, just more burnt, and so more likely to have the nutritious stuff broken down, and contain carcinogens. Indeed a quick internet search "busts the myth" that crusts are healthier.

So when my baby wasn't very hungry, and I was deciding which bits of the roll to give him for his last few bites of supper, why did I catch myself thinking "let's give him the crust, it's healthier"?

I guess the virtue theory of diet runs deeper in my subconscious than I realized. "If you are virtuous, and eat unpleasant foods, then they are good for you and you will grow strong and healthy." Usually when we have biases we can run rings around ourselves justifying them. It's good to occasionally catch ourself so red handedly in the process of magical thinking that we just have to accept we're occasionally irrational and work on rectifying that.

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For me, at least, the idea that you should eat the bread crusts seems to stem from being scolded about wasting food. Kids often leave the crusts from their sandwiches along with a portion of the non-crust part and adults never like their kids to waste food.

Speculation: I'm not positive that people in general have the thought that crusts are healthier?  But maybe they do, and the don't-waste-food inclination transmorgifies into "crusts are healthier so you should eat them"?

As a child, I was definitely (repeatedly) told that the crusts are healthier than the rest, with the reasoning being something like "the vitamins rise to the top."

I was told the same, often, but I don't remember anyone offering any reasoning. Also, "the vitamins rise to the top" is a terrible explanation since bread has crust all the way around!! Aiyaa.

Curious: Are you from a country without very good (crusted) bread?

In Switzerland, Germany and France (that I know of) the crust is often considered the tastiest part of the bread, at least when fresh. I only know of children and elderly people not eating the crust because it's harder to chew.

I am from germany, and I don't really agree with this assessment of the crust being the tastiest part. People definitely told me that many times, but I think it does just seem straightforwardly wrong by my own taste. I do still usually eat the crust though.

It depends on the kind of bread. I usually don't eat the ends of sandwich bread loaves, but the crusts of artisan bread are the best part.

Interesting. I'm now wondering if dislike of crust is more widespread than I assumed. 
This strikes me as plausible because there is a lot of moral sentiment attached to not wasting food.
This consumer survey from Switzerland found that consumers see the crust as more indicative of bread freshness than the crumb [low quality online survey]. So maybe people are also mixing up the crust as an indicator for quality with the actual taste of the crust?

I only know of children and elderly people not eating the crust because it's harder to chew.


Interesting explanation, but does that hold for other foods -- do kids/adults that don't enjoy the crust because it's harder tend to also dislike other difficult-to-chew foods? Anything from jerky to raw vegetables? And those that do enjoy it, enjoy chewing other harder foods?

Clearly, there are lots of crunchy/chewy foods kids are willing to eat or at least are not stereotyped as off-putting the way bread crusts are for kids.

It'd be interesting to tease apart what is causing the dislike -- is it really texture, or taste or something else?

When I try to look up the question of why kids (often) don't like crusts, there is the occasional person that frames it as an "American" thing. Other disagree pointing out Brits, Europeans etc. also feel this way.

But is there any evidence that this varies by country, culture or nationality? If so why might this be -- differences in type of bread/baking styles?

Forget “healthier”; if your bread’s crust isn’t the tastiest part of your bread, you’re eating inferior bread!

Now, this is understandable: most bread that most people eat is, well… lame. Boring. But good bread should be so good that you can enjoy eating a piece by itself, or (at most!) with a bit of butter spread on it—and the crust should be the best part!

So, no, don’t eat the crust because it’s “healthier”. Find good bread, and eat the crust because it’s delicious! (For example, take a look at this homemade sourdough loaf crust. You will not want to cut off this crust, I assure you!)

I usually cut the crust off my bread! It is way tastier that way. 

The intuition might also come from whole grains generally being healthier and darker than refined grains. A naive attempt to generalize that might conclude that the darkest part of the bread is the healthiest.

I dunno, the healthiness of a food is not identical to the sum of the healthiness of its ingredients if you separate those ingredients out in a centrifuge. I think the "palatability" of food is partly related to how physically easy it is to break down (with both teeth and digestive tract). Hardness-to-break-down is potentially related to how many calories your digestive tract uses in digesting it, how quickly it delivers its nutrients, and how much you actually wind up eating.

(Very much not an expert. I think "a food is more than the sum of its ingredients" is discussed in a Michael Pollan book.)

What kind of roll was it? And do you, personally, like the crust or crumb of said type of roll better? What about when you were a kid?

Over the past two years I've cut most of the more industrially refined oils, grains, sugars, and salt, as well as added natural and artificial flavors. Within a few months my taste buds shifted in several ways, and a lot of popular (in the US) foods I used to like now taste bland, off, unbalanced, or fake to me. It made me realize how much more, in the past, we could trust our sense of taste to tell us what was good for us. And as much as we try to follow the research on what humans know about good nutrition, it's really hard to find good advice that's actually useful and actionable. Bodies are complicated, there are a lot of variables, and the outcomes we really care about are ones that we sum up over a whole lifetime, not the ones we can easily and quickly measure.

So if the bread thought is about unpleasantness and virtue, I think it's probably cultural. Maybe something like that was once adaptive in a world of scarce good food, maybe it originated in all the diet crazes of the last few generations, maybe it comes from various bits of religious history. But it's also true in general that we get more calories from cooked food than raw food, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised if there's a mental link between more burnt-->more cooked--> more nutritious coming from that way as well, though that's pure just-so speculation from me.

That said, I do think there's real value (for health, physical and mental) in having a varied diet, and part of what we do when we feed kids is train them to accept variety and learn to enjoy variety so they can feed themselves a healthy diet later in life. At first we feed them a bland nutrient-rich fluid , then simple purees, and gradually shift away from that to new flavors and textures.

It was a soft roll with a pretty soft crust. Personally I eat pretty much everything, crust included, but I still have this childhood association of crust as the not nice part of the bread even though I personally don't mind it (I would still say I prefer the inner parts of bread over the crust though).

Google tells me that the "the crust has more nutrients" thing may stem from a 2002 study which found pronyl-lysine (which supposedly helps prevent cancer) at much higher concentration in crust vs the rest of the bread. The search results seem mixed on whether it's true; CNN says no, but my top result says yes.