When you bake bread, the ingredients you seem to mostly focus on are the type of flour that you use or the type of yeast be it dry, fresh, or sourdough starter. Did you ever consider that the type of water you use actually makes a difference?
Water can indeed impact the quality of your bread, your best choice would be medium-hard that has no more than 100 to 150 particles per million of minerals. Tap water is fine too, as is any water that’s not overly soft or hard.
Wait, particles per what now? If you’ve never given the water you pour into your bread dough much thought, then you’re not going to want to miss this article. We’ll elaborate more on the best water for bread dough as well as discuss many types of water and how they influence your bread.
How Does Water Affect Bread?
Every bread dough recipe calls for water. Whether you use tap water or filtered water, hard or soft water though matters (keep reading for more on hard vs. soft water).
Water allows your bread dough to develop the right consistency. It also gives the yeast in the dough the perfect environment in which to ferment and reproduce.
The role of water goes even further. When pouring in yeast from a packet as well as sugar and salt, water lets these ingredients disperse across the bread dough. They also dissolve amongst your ingredients thanks to water.
Arguably, the biggest duty of water in bread dough is it allows for the development of gluten. Gluten, a wheat protein, acts as a binder for your bread ingredients. Without it, your bread will lack the texture that makes it, well, bread. You also have a denser loaf since gas bubbles can escape during the fermentation process.
What Is the Best Water for Bread?
You never realized how important it is not to just use any water that’s handy when making bread dough. Now that you know better, you want to ensure that you choose only the best type of water for bread going forward.
As we said in the intro, that would be medium-hard water with minerals at a rate of 100 to 150 particles per million or PPM.
Water of any kind, either hard or soft, has magnesium and calcium ions, which are the particles per million. Soft water will contain fewer of these ions than hard water, meaning soft water’s PPM is lower. A medium-hard water is not the hardest type of water, as very hard water can have 180 PPM and more.
Magnesium and calcium should be in the water you use to bake bread. These minerals act as a source of food for your yeast. If the yeast has no food, then it won’t ferment, so it needs something.
We’ll talk about it more in just a moment, but water that’s too hard can create issues with the gluten, whereas water that’s too soft leaves you with dough that’s less than satisfactory. You want a happy medium here, and that’s why you should stick to a medium-hard water.
The Effects of Hard Water and Soft Water on Bread Dough
Okay, so let’s dive deeper into hard water vs. soft water. You know already that water can be hard or soft depending on how many minerals it has as expressed in PPM.
According to the Water Research Center, here is how water is classified as soft to very hard:
- Soft water has 0 to 17.1 PPM and no more than 50 PPM
- Slightly hard water has up to 60 PPM
- Medium-hard water has up to 120 PPM
- Hard water has 120 to 180 PPM
- Very hard water is anything over 180 PPM
Hard and soft water then are named for their mineral content, not because they feel any different when you wash, bathe, or drink them. You can even get your daily essential minerals by consuming hard water, but does that make it the best option for baking bread?
No, it doesn’t. Once you use hard or very hard water in your bread dough recipe, you’ll notice something strange happens. That influx of minerals leaves the flour proteins unable to absorb all the water. This reduces how much the yeast can ferment. Further, the gluten becomes tighter, changing the texture of your bread for the worst.
Even too much soft water is a bad thing. Soft water may have fewer minerals to interrupt fermentation, but too few minerals change your dough’s consistency. It doesn’t have much pliability, so if you poke your finger in the center of the dough, you’ll leave an indent. You want dough with some pliability so it would bounce back upon being poked.
Also, your dough will feel ultra-sticky if you make bread dough with soft water. You’ll likely overcompensate by coating the dough in flour, leaving your baked bread with a floury crust that’s not so appealing or tasty.
How Do Common Types of Water Affect Bread?
Really, any potable water that’s not too soft nor too hard should be suitable for baking bread. That said, if you have the following types of water in your refrigerator or your kitchen, you’ll want to read this section before you bake bread with them.
Good, old-fashioned tap water is named such because it comes from your kitchen/bathroom sink or tap. Tap water can be filtered or unfiltered. Even if you use a water filter, it won’t remove magnesium, zinc, or calcium, just arsenic, lead, mercury, pesticides, and heavy metals. Thus, the filter won’t affect bread quality for the worst.
Tap water is perfectly fine to use for baking bread, but you do want to make sure it’s not too hard or soft. Otherwise, you’ll run into the same issues as described above.
If you have a jug of distilled water at home, this H2O has been boiled until it becomes a vapor. Then, it undergoes condensation so it can turn into a liquid again. This is supposed to filter out water impurities.
You may have a friend who claims that distilled water is best to use when baking bread because it’s purer, so you’ll have a better flavor and the dough even rises more quickly.
While the case for distilled water being purer is true the effects it has on your bread are not. It will not work miracles for you.
Distilled water or medium hard water will react the same in your dough and will not make a difference in the quality of the final product.
You’re fine to use distilled water when baking bread then, but don’t expect any special miracles just because the water is purified.
I personally do like using distilled water but only because of the flavor aspect.
When water undergoes deionization or distillation, the result is demineralized water. As you can guess from the name, this water has very few if any dissolved minerals. This is again a purer type of water.
Unlike distilled water, which is okay to use in bread dough recipes, we wouldn’t advise you to substitute in demineralized water. Since it’s lacking most of the minerals that yeast relies on as a food source, you’re going to end up with bread dough much like that when you bake with soft water. The dough isn’t totally unusable, but it is a pain to work with.
Most bottled water on store shelves is spring water, but what does this mean? Spring water comes from an aquifer and then flows to the earth, where it’s then bottled at the source. The natural minerals within the water are retained, so you should be safe to use spring water when baking bread.
Above, we discussed filtered water. This is a form of tap water that undergoes a filtration process. You can have a filter attached to your sink, a standalone unit that purifies water as it exits your kitchen and bathroom pipes, or you can buy water filter pitchers. With those, you’d pour tap water in, then the filter purifies the water. When you pour the filtered water out of the spout and drink it, you can enjoy greater peace of mind.
As mentioned above, since you don’t lose minerals with filtered water, you should be safe to use it for your bread baking adventures. Filtered water is just cleaner tap water, after all.
Water is one of the key ingredients in your bread dough recipe. It may be readily available, but you want to put just as much focus on choosing the right type of water as you do when shopping for bread yeast.
It’s best if your water is of a medium hardness, as that contains enough minerals for yeast to eat and thus ferment, but not too few minerals that your dough is sticky and slack. Most types of water around the house are safe to use when baking bread, with the exception of demineralized water. It lacks the minerals yeast needs.
Now that you have this handy info, you’re ready to bake your best-tasting bread yet. Good luck!