Why Use Sugar In Bread Dough?

sugar in bread dough
My mum's bread recipe contained sugar. Therefore, for a long time, all my recipes contained sugar. Whenever I created a new type of bread, sugar was automatically included.

Only recently, I have decided that sugar may not be necessary.

This article is about the role of sugar in bread, and  whether you should leave it out.

What does sugar do?

Firstly. let's look at why we might want to put sugar into our bread dough mixture.

It's primarily a food for the yeast.

Bread yeast breaks down starches and sugars found in flour or other ingredients. The products of this breakdown included carbon dioxide: the gas which makes the bread rise.

Now, it can take a while for yeast to wake up and get going. If it has to gain its food source only from flour, it first has to break down the flour-starch into sugar. If you feed the yeast sugar, directly, it can become more active, more quickly.

Thus, adding sugar to the dough mixture can speed up the action of the yeast.

So, why would I want to omit the sugar?

The fact is, yeast works perfectly well without sugar. In other words, the sugar turns out to be plain old unnecessary.

French bread is, I am told, made without sugar and that is delicious, is it not?

I am starting to create bread recipes without sugar, simply because I can. Why add an extra ingredient if you don't need to?

[Edit: I have now edited the unnecessary sugar out of my earlier recipes]

What about the flavour?

Some people have suggested that sugar adds to the flavour of the finished loaf.

I doubt it.

If the sugar is used to feed the yeast then it will be broken down by the fermentation process until little - if any - of the sugary flavour remains.

The flavour of bread comes from the alcohol made in the fermentation process.

The jury's out as to whether bread tastes better made slowly, but if you let the dough ferment for a long time, or several times, more alcohol can be produced, giving the bread a stronger, sourer flavour.

I prefer a less sour taste to my bread but that's purely personal preference.

So, can I just miss out the sugar?


In any of my bread recipes, you can choose to include or omit the sugar at will.

Using sugar is likely to increase the activity of the yeast, helping the dough to rise faster, initially, but if you're prepared to wait a little longer, the sugar is surplus to requirements.

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  1. Great! I've begun making enough bread dough to make 3 or 4 loaves throughout the week. But then I really enjoy a soft pretzel - especially for company coming over for the big game or whatever - but my pretzel recipes always include sugar. A small amount, but sugar nonetheless. I'm so glad to hear it likely doesn't matter - I'll be using bread dough for soft pretzels tonight!

    1. I've never made pretzels and they are on my 'to do' list, to try sometime. I'll be very interested to hear how you get on without the sugar. If you have time, please report back!

  2. So glad you don't need sugar because I forgot to put it in my bread dough and it's half way through rising phew!

    1. Helen how did the bread turn out? I bet it was delicious :)

  3. Where can i buy bread without sugar please email me this info to jameslawless@live.co.uk

    1. James I'm sorry, I don't know where to buy sugar-free bread. I bake my own!

  4. Hi, I found this site after searching for whether sugar is really needed when baking bread. I have just started trying to eliminate as much added sugar from my diet as possible. This article has ready helped, thanks! Also, I have found a really fab site, to which I have now subscribed and will be visiting regularly. Thanks for that too :-)

    1. Hi Wendy! Nice to 'meet' you. Thanks for leaving a comment. Me too. I'm being really ruthless about eliminating sugar from my diet at the moment and I feel lots better for it. I've been hopeless at updating this site over the last few months but here I am back again with more articles to write. New subscribers and commenters like yourself are the encouragement I need to keep going. Thanks for that :)

  5. Thanks for the info. I recently bought a breadmaker, never having made my own bread before. I followed the recipes for basic white and brown bread, to the letter. The white called for 3 tablespoons of sugar, and the brown wanted 4 tablespoons. The bread was delicious and I was delighted.

    Two white loaves ago I decided to reduce the sugar content by 1 tablespoon to 2. The loaf was still delicious, and I had the impression that the loaf was slightly less dense, and a little taller - hmm...

    Today, I reduced the sugar by one more tablespoon to only 1. The loaf tasted more like shop-bought bread (not quite as sweet - more neutral), and still delicious with butter. The loaf was even less dense, and even taller! Not my imagination, as the loaf, in the last 10 minutes was touching the top window of the breadmaker, and rose another inch when I lifted it out,

    The breadmaker takes 3 hours to bake the bread, if that has anything to do with it.

    Out of pure curiosity my next white loaf will have no sugar at all, as I want to see what happens, in both cooking and flavour. So far, the 1 tablespoon is the best of the lot. On reflection, more sugar makes the loaf shorter and denser in my breadmaker.

    Now, about that salt ......

    1. Very interesting to note that your bread rose better and was lighter without the sugar. I have never felt the need to reintroduce sugar into my bread recipes (unless for a specifically sweet type of bread). I'll be interested to know how you get on with no sugar at all.
      Hmmm the salt. A little is beneficial, I believe, but not as much as some people say. I reckon you can use as little as one small tsp per 500g flour. I think you could cut it out completely but that really does affect the flavour so it depends on your personal taste.

  6. This is a excellent blogs of the sugar in bread dough. Logged on this website:

  7. I am so pleased to learn that generaly sugar is not necessary, I have diabetes and trying to reduce my intake of sugar.
    Thank you, Kate

    1. I am also trying to cut out sugar from the diets of myself and my children. Certainly the lack of it in my bread does not affect the quality!

  8. It's true. I never put sugar in french bread. You have to be careful that the salt (always needed) doesn't kill the yeast though.