What Does Sugar Do in Bread?

If you’re about to make a loaf of bread and see sugar listed as one of the ingredients, you might start scratching your head. Does bread need sugar? While sugar may seem out of place in your bread loaf recipe, it actually plays a vital role in certain types of bread.

Sugar is a crucial ingredient in many bread loaves. For one, it adds a delicious pinch of sweetness essential for certain bread types. However, it’s also added to enhance moisture, fend off mold, speed up the rising process, and creates perfect browning.

Hello, everyone! My name’s Michelle, a bread connoisseur, and baker. I’ve spent the last ten-plus years honing my bread-baking skills, and I’m always eager to learn more. I decided to plunge into the question, “What does sugar do in bread?” and I’m here to share my discoveries.

Let’s talk about what sugar really does in bread and whether or not it’s necessary.

5 Things Sugar Does in Bread

Adding sugar to your bread dough might seem odd, but there is a reason why it’s listed in your recipe ingredient list. Sugar plays a significant role in individual bread loaves. In fact, it’s responsible for five different things. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Adds Sweetness

When you hear the word “sugar,” you automatically think of sweetness. That said, it’s no surprise that sugar adds a touch of sweetness to bread loaves. 

It typically isn’t overwhelming – you won’t feel like you are consuming a slice of cake. But it will be just enough to create undeniable pleasantness in your loaf.

2. Creates Delicious, Eye-Catching Browning

Most people – myself included – love a perfectly browned bread crust. Well, sugar works to enhance the caramelization of the crust, leaving you with bread that’s not only significantly tastier but with a beautiful, eye-catching exterior, too.

3. Improves Moisture Levels

Sugar retains moisture and holds onto it like glue. By adding sugar to your bread dough, you’re upping the moisture content, ensuring a fluffy, lightweight loaf of bread you’ll enjoy sinking your teeth into.

Oh, and don’t worry – the moisture won’t escape a few hours after baking. Since sugar binds to moisture, your loaf of bread will remain hydrated and delicious for longer, reducing the infamous staleness that renders loaves disgusting, rock-hard, and destined for the receptacle.

4. Speeds Up the Rising Process

Your bread dough needs to rise. There’s no getting around that. But in order to do that, the yeast needs something to eat.

Now, bread dough without sugar will rely on the broken-down starches from the flour. So, don’t worry if your bread recipe doesn’t have added sugar. It will still rise as it’s supposed to; it will just take a bit longer.

Added sugar, on the other hand? The readily-available sugars will allow the yeast to feed much sooner and faster. This results in a quick production of essential carbon dioxide, making your bread dough rise swiftly.

5. Extends the Shelf Life

Bread doesn’t have a reputation for being long-lasting, especially if it’s homemade. Homemade bread only lasts around three or four days on the counter or up to five days longer in the fridge. That means you’ll need to eat your homemade loaf relatively quickly before it expires.

Adding sugar is a great way to help your bread last another day or two. Sugar, like salt, is a natural preservative that will help your bread last longer while fending off mold. It’s a win-win situation.

Does Bread Need Sugar?

If you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle or are simply avoiding sugar for one reason or another, you might wonder if your bread really needs sugar.

The simple answer is no; your bread does not need sugar in order to rise properly and taste scrumptious. The flour has enough “food” for the yeast to feed and multiply.

If your bread loaf recipe calls for sugar, it’s a matter of opinion. You don’t have to add it. However, the results may be slightly altered.

What Happens if You Make Bread Without Sugar?

No adverse outcomes will occur if you make bread without sugar, even if the recipe specifically calls for it. 

The significant difference is that the bread will require more time to rise. Remember – sugar is used to speed up the rising process. Without sugar present, the yeast will need to wait for the flour starches to break down into simple sugars for consumption.

Your bread may not have the desired browning on the exterior, either. It may also not be as moist, lightweight, and fluffy. There may be a slight change in the flavor, too. 

Overall, your bread won’t be much different than if you used sugar. So, use your discretion when deciding whether or not to add sugar to your bread dough.

What Happens if You Add Too Much Sugar to Bread?

You should be careful when adding sugar to your bread dough. While a bit of sugar (one or two tablespoons) will be beneficial, too much sugar can actually halt yeast production, leaving you with sunken, lifeless bread

Essentially, when too much sugar is present, the overabundance of food will suffocate the yeast. Therefore, they will be unable to produce the carbon dioxide necessary for the bread to rise. 

That said, follow your recipe closely – especially when it comes to amounts. 


Sugar? Well, it might be precisely what your bread dough needs for perfect caramelization of the crust, lovely moisture, and a pinch of sweetness. If you’re still curious about this topic, here are a few more commonly asked questions to check out.

Can bread rise without sugar?

Bread can rise without the presence of sugar. There is enough sugar in the flour. So, don’t add sugar for the sole purpose of allowing your bread to rise. Add it for other reasons, such as added moisture and sweetness, the caramelization of the crust, and extended shelf life.

What does sugar do to yeast?

Sugar provides the necessary food for yeast to create carbon dioxide, which allows your bread to rise successfully. While yeast can wait for the flour to break down and consume the natural sugars, added sugars make it easier and faster, leading to a quicker rise.

Does sugar slow down bread rising?

No, in fact, sugar speeds up the bread-rising process. Now, keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, though. If you add an overabundance of sugar, you will suffocate the yeast, which will cause the bread rising process to slow down. So, be extra careful with the amount of sugar added.

Does homemade bread need sugar?

Homemade bread does not need sugar, but it can certainly be added. Don’t go overboard, though. A tablespoon or two is more than enough.

Sugar Can Be a Great Addition to Your Bread

A tablespoon or two of sugar can be a wonderful addition to your bread. Not only will it add a pinch of sweetness, but it will also create beautiful and delicious caramelization of the crust. YOu will also get a faster rise time, longer shelf life, and an overall moister and lighter loaf.

Do you use sugar in your bread recipes? Do you like adding sugar or prefer to bake bread without it? Share with us!

About Michelle
I have been a lover of sweets since day one. This led me on a self-taught baking journey starting at the age of 13. It's been over 10 years since the start of my baking adventures, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now, people rave about my delectable treats, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a strawberry crepe.

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  • Jiimms

    Awesome post.
    Came for sugar but got a lot of other questions answered.