Why is Japanese bread so soft and sweet?

“In Japan we had to learn to like bread. At the start we used to sweeten it with bean paste, we thought French bread was too crispy, so we made it softer to suit our palates”

Chef Yoshihiro Murata, quoted in Sushi and Beyond

Certainly seems to make sense as a historical explanation, as you can now find far more authentic French bread in Tokyo than you can in London. I do think there are other factors, though. One thing is that bread (and the other things that “pan” mean, such as pastries, and in fact most Western food) are still a mainly for females. I’ve written elsewhere on why I think this explains the soft and fluffy bagels.

Another thing is that “localised” bread is the same over most of Asia, e.g. Korea and Thailand. In Korea, for example, garlic toast has icing on it (!) As well as matching local tastes, I have a feeling it had something to do with the people they were getting it from, being sailors coming off long sea journeys. I’m thinking something like the story of how IPA has the taste it has because it was made to travel, but still have to do some work on that theory I reckon…

5 Comments

  1. March 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I suppose some of it has to do with the predominant influence of richer western European baking rather than British or American baking. At any rate, my Japanese students in the US were vastly disappointed that much of our bread doesn’t contain eggs, milk, or butter, and certainly not all three–unless you go to special effort to get brioche, viewed as very decadent, unhealthy, and indulgent. Meanwhile, they think our bread is tasteless, dry, and not very nutritious. (Though they did seem to like the sourdough…)

    It sounded pretty ridiculous for me, an American, to tell a Japanese person that we thought brioche-like breads were fattening. Ha!

  2. alexcase said,

    May 25, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Turns out you were right about the European influence Clarissa:
    https://japanexplained.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/sweet-asian-bread/

  3. crella said,

    May 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

    The bread here is similar to bread I had in Europe…fruit Danish, custard cream, occasionally marzipan. I went to cooking school here, bread and cake courses, and I can really see the European (French and perhaps Austrian..Germanic???) influences. The cake and bread culture is definitely European….fillings, custard kneaded into bread, dried fruit, glazes on Danish etc. There are really no places in Japan (besides Costco) that do cakes like those in the US, with lots of frosting decorations as opposed to arrangements of fruit and a gelatin or sugar glaze.

    As for baguettes and bagels, when you think about it there is no native Japanese food you have to chew that much! ;-) so it’s kind of understandable to see softer bagels and French bread than we’re used to…

  4. alexcase said,

    May 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    We have really soft French bread back home too (we call it “French bread” in contrast to actual “baguettes”), but they aren’t sweet… You can get proper baguettes nowadays, in Paul etc, probably better than in any British town but London. Never had a proper chewy doughy bagel in Japan though, but I am super fussy because in London I’ve only had them from a proper old Jewish bakery. Not that I’d turn down an Excelsior adzuki and green tea bagel, it’s just not an actual bagel…

  5. crella said,

    May 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Costco! Their bagels are from Einstein Brothers!


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