Americans love soft pretzels, but only Midwesterners love Texas toast

Last week I shared some aggregate results from our bread survey. This week I’m diving into some of the demographic differences in bread preferences. But before I get to that, quick teaser that I just released the second Odd Survey, this one on holidays.

OK, first things first, I sheepishly must confess I made a silly technical error in the first survey that led to underestimating the popularity of breads that many folks had not tried. As a reminder, I asked respondents to rate 17 different types of bread on a scale of 1 to 5. Below are the updated aggregate results based on that survey.

Chart 1: Average Rating by Percent of People who have Tried Each Bread

Though the results are largely the same (yay for biscuits and naan!), the obvious change from the previous (inaccurate results is that injera, Texas toast, and steamed buns all moved up. As a result, rye is now the clear loser. Everyone has tried it, and people don’t like it. In fact, 17% of respondents described it as “awful” and 34% labeled it “meh”. Keep in mind, this is from a sample of people who wake up every morning thinking about how great bread is.

I’ve also updated the chart showing rating by standard deviation. The results are still directionally similar to what I shared before. There is still a “fine posse” on the left side of breads that received ho hum ratings and have a very low standard deviation.

I’ve moved sourdough into the orange circle of “polarizers”, breads that have middle to high ratings and a high standard deviation, meaning a sizable number of survey respondents really liked and really didn’t like these breads.

Chart 2: Average Rating by Standard Deviation

All right, with corrections out of the way, let’s get to the fun demographic analysis. Here are the demographics I checked results against:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • # of countries visited
  • Region and urbanicity of where respondents grew up
  • Region and urbanicity of where respondents live now

Almost all of these had no material impact in shaping folks’ bread preferences, but there were three specific demographic trends I found fascinating.

First, Americans love soft pretzels. I didn’t realize this until this survey because I’m an American. It’s like getting a fish to understand it’s wet. If all you’ve ever known is being an American, you also probably don’t get this. We Americans love swimming in our ocean of pretzels while folks from other lands are quite all right without them. Fully 17% of folks who grew up in the US describe pretzels as amazing, while not a single respondent who grew up overseas did. Conversely, 11% of international respondents believe pretzels are awful versus only 1% of the yanks. So let’s hear it for the amber waves of pretzels, but let’s not be pushy about it.

Chart 3: Soft Pretzel Rating by Childhood Country

The second thing I learned is that young whipper snappers really like steamed buns while old codgers like myself are pretty split. Sixty percent of those 30 and under rated steamed buns at least “very good” and none thought they were awful. But over 40% of those over 40 believe steamed buns are “meh” at best.

Chart 4: Steamed Bun Rating by Age Cohort

The final demographic insight is that love of Texas toast varies widely by region.[i] I won’t go through every number below, but folks who live in the Midwest think it’s the best thing since sliced bread (because it’s thickly sliced, slathered in butter and grilled), and I worry that anyone who pushes it in the Northeast could trigger the next Salem witch trial.

Chart 5: Texas Toast Rating by Current Region

I’ll confess my bias as a Texas toast lover, but I’m going to take a risk in wondering if everyone who hates Texas toast has had really good Texas toast. I know, I know. The comments section was filled with folks saying the difference between “good X” and “bad X” is huge, and they had trouble filling out the survey because of that. But this regional difference makes me wonder. I also happened to be in the grocery store Friday and saw this in the freezer.

An abomination if ever there was one

For the record, any bread that comes from a freezer isn’t bread in my book. If you’ve only had Texas toast from a freezer, go to a legit barbecue restaurant and get you some. If you try that and still don’t like it, I won’t berate you.

One final thought — some of you remember from the aggregate analysis that one-sixth of respondents eat all of one item in a meal before moving on to the next one, one-sixth mix everything together, and two-thirds tend to jump around from item to item. I tried and tried to find a demographic correlation to this, and there was none. So demographics are not destiny, and we are a hidden tapestry of diversity.

Don’t forget to fill out the holiday Odd Survey! It will be open until September 29. And if you’re not on the survey list but would like to participate going forward, send an email to Bon appétit!

[i] There were not enough respondents who currently live overseas who had tried Texas toast to make reliable estimates.