What Happens if I Leave the Sugar Out of a Yeast Bread Recipe?

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Sneak Preview: Whether you want to eat healthier, prefer less sweet food, or are under doctor’s orders to cut down on sugar, making your own yeast bread gives you a chance to tinker with the ingredients. Find out what happens when you leave out or reduce the sugar in a bread recipe.

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Some of us prefer soft, sweet, white bread, often choosing it for comfort and affordability. After all, that’s what many of us were raised on, including me. What about you?

Maybe you are from a different area of the world where artisan-type bread with less or no sugar is the norm, and you want to make your own bread the same way.

Reducing or cutting the sugar out of your favorite bread recipe can change the behavior of yeast and flour beyond the sweet flavor. Consider how sugar might affect your recipe and proceed with knowledge.

Five Ways Sugar Affects Bread

1. Sugar serves as food for the yeast

  • In the absence of sugar, the yeast takes longer to start rising. Eventually, the yeasty bodies will start munching on the flour.
  • A longer rise time can be disastrous if you’re using a bread machine from start to finish. When the dough doesn’t rise as fast as the machine expects, the result will be dense bread.
  • When using the DOUGH cycle, remember to ignore the clock and go by looks or use the knuckle test before moving to the next step.

2. Sugar provides flavor

  • Obviously, sugar adds sweetness.
  • Sugar helps to balance the other flavors in the bread.
  • Without sugar, your bread may taste bland. If you also like to reduce the salt in a bread recipe, removing the sugar could be a double whammy to the flavor of your bread.
  • Consider adding herbs or spices to make up for no sugar.

3. Sugar retains moisture

  • Sugar will make your bread softer and fluffier. Think sweet cinnamon rolls or dinner rolls.
  • Sugar causes the crumb to be more tender and moist.
  • Without sugar, the bread may be denser and feel dryer.

4. Sugar prolongs freshness

  • Sugar acts as a natural preservative. Keeping bread fresh longer than a day or two is an ongoing challenge for home breadmakers, so this is a big plus for sugar.
  • Bread without sugar will likely go stale faster. Traditional sourdough bread without sugar can be one solution.

5. Sugar imparts color to the crust

  • Sugar contributes to the caramelization of the crust.
  • The crust doesn’t brown as quickly without sugar and tends to turn out paler.
  • Consider adding only a teaspoon to give color. I do this with my pizza dough and this crusty loaf.

As you can imagine, some recipes will be impacted greatly by reducing or cutting out the sugar. Enriched doughs (containing milk, eggs, fat, or sugar) like brioche, Challah, or my Condensed Milk Bread will become an entirely different loaf without some form of sugar. Try reducing the sugar gradually as opposed to cutting it out and see how it goes.

Removing sugar from lean doughs like French Bread and traditional sourdough bread probably won’t change the taste of the final product significantly. However, the crust and window of freshness may be different.


Four Adjustments To Consider When Reducing or Cutting Out Sugar

  1. Allow for longer rise times (a good reason to use your DOUGH cycle and bake in the oven so you can take more control of your bread dough),
  2. Explore other ways to flavor the dough, if needed.
  3. Compensate for shorter freshness windows by making smaller loaves, sharing with neighbors, or freezing your bread after a day or two.
  4. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Consider reducing the sugar as opposed to cutting it out completely, especially for enriched breads and rolls.

The Bottom Line

Omitting or reducing sugar from recipes can alter rise times, texture, and taste. Deleting the sugar in a bread recipe without adjusting for the consequences can lead to disappointment.

FAQ About Cutting Sugar Out of Your Bread

What recipes do you have on this website with no sugar?

Traditional Bread Machine Sourdough Bread
Bread Machine Ciabatta
Crusty Bread Machine Recipe (sugar is minimal and optional)

What about substituting honey, molasses, date sugar, or maple syrup?

These substitutes will affect the bread in the same way as white granulated sugar, with minor variations in regard to the flavor and amount of moisture they contribute.

“Even bad bread is good while it’s warm. True character is revealed once it cools”–a Paula-ism

PARTING THOUGHTS: I wholeheartedly encourage experimenting with bread recipes; it’s a wonderful way to learn and grow your baking skills. Avoid bread disasters by making recipe modifications gradually. One of my readers added, “Only make one change at a time.” Good advice!


If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula

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One Comment

  1. Another truly GREAT and detailed article! Don’t stop what you are doing! 🙂

    I’ve written articles for websites and hosting companies for a lot of years and know a truly detailed one when I see it. 😉