Our Favorite Store-Bought Sourdough Bread Is A Actually Fast Food Favorite

Sourdough bread adds a layer of unique flavor to sandwiches as trendy toast that cannot be replaced. The tart bite is a perfect contrast to hearty, umami-forward fillings and rich toppings. The great thing is, with a quality "mother" to start a loaf, it isn't that hard to make. But, let's be honest, you don't always have the time to knead, proof, and bake a fresh loaf whenever you need. Thankfully, there are lots of great sourdough bread options on store and bakery shelves. Tasting Table set out to find which loaf reigns supreme, and our gold medalist, unsurprisingly, comes from a restaurant that has bread as a jumping-off point.

Panera Bread is that perfectly acceptable chain that pleases many, if not wowing all. Its iconic broccoli-cheddar soup, plethora of sandwiches, and baked goods make for a meal destination that seemingly has something for everyone. Its bakery also sells loaves of its most popular breads, and you should be glad they do. Out of a pack of 14 sourdoughs, Panera emerged as the clear favorite, beating out some heavy hitters like Pepperidge Farms, Trader Joe's, and Nature's Own. The crusty loaf had plenty of chew and springiness that belied an achingly tender interior crumb and delightful flavor. Slice it for sandwiches or smear it with cultured butter for a double down on the funky flavor and you won't regret it.

A sourdough for sandwiches and more

There are some who probably shudder at the thought of stepping foot in a Panera Bread. The food it serves isn't wildly innovative or comically over-the-top. It isn't the place for heat seekers or those with a penchant for unusual flavors. Yet, Panera's commitment to fresh-baked bread sets it apart from its competition, and the fact that you can take a loaf home makes it all the more appealing. What's more, it is baked fresh every day, though the dough isn't made on-site.

As stated this is a great bread for sandwiches, as evidenced by the excellent sourdough melts that Panera offers. Heating this sourdough only makes it come more alive (Hint: Try it as a grilled cheese) and it provides a punchy counterpoint to robust fillings, like bacon and avocado or southwest chicken. Consider these tasty Panera offerings as inspiration for what you can do with a loaf of sourdough at home. And don't think it can only be deployed in savory settings; sourdough can make for a pleasingly unusual take on classic French toast, scoring top marks on Tasting Table's review of best — and worst — breads for the sweet breakfast classic.