Food

This Is Why Grocery Stores Sell Crusty Bread in Paper

Any way you slice it, bread is wonderful. But while you probably buy your sliced sandwich bread in a plastic bag, that's not the case for all varietals of carby goodness. If you want a crusty, artisanal baguette, you'll likely be taking it home in a paper bag. Why the special treatment?

Crust Is a Must

Apparently, there are bread conspiracy theorists out there that have some opinions on why bakery bread is sold in paper bags. You know what happens when you don't tie up the plastic bag containing your sandwich bread, right? Boom, stale. Having crusty baguettes in an open paper bag then means they'll go stale faster and you'll have to get back to the store sooner to buy more. Cha-ching, mystery solved — only, not quite. Staleness has little to do with the real reason this sort of bread comes in paper sleeves.

It's all in that adjective: crusty. The reason soft, sliced sandwich bread is sealed in a plastic bag is to lock in the moisture, preventing the bread from getting stale and hard. While the inside of a crusty bakery loaf can be soft, having a chewy, hearty exterior is the key element. If you tied a crusty baguette in a plastic bag, the bread's locked-in moisture would get those delicious outer chewy bits soft and soggy. Not ideal in a bakery loaf. Sure, sealing it in a plastic bag will keep it fresher longer, but you're sacrificing that sweet crusty crust in the process. It's a give-and-take.

Just Eat It

According to Food52, there's no need to try to keep your bakery loaf fresh for an extended period of time anyway. Bread without added fat or sugar, like ciabatta, sourdough, or a baguette, are at their prime for just a few days after baking. So if you don't plan on eating your bakery loaf within 48 hours of buying it, expect one of these things to happen: the whole thing will get soft and soggy in a sealed plastic bag, or the middle of the bread will get as hard and stale as the crust. (To be fair, hard, stale bread like this is perfect for French toast or bread pudding.) If you don't plan on eating your crusty loaf in a single sitting, stick your bread cut-side down in the paper bag. This will keep the inner bread soft — for a short time, anyway — and your crust hard and chewy.

The Fresh-Maker

If you're trying to keep any type of bread fresh for an extended period of time, consider the freezer your friend. Cookbook author Nathan Myhrvold tells Chatelaine, "We tried everything you can imagine for keeping bread fresh. But nothing works as well as freezing the bread and reheating, or what we call refreshing, it."

But if you're feeling a little lazy, the fridge is fine. Though you may have heard that refrigerating bread will make it go stale faster, that's a misconception. Bread doesn't lose moisture, and thus turn stale, in the fridge. It may appear stale due to a process called starch retrogradation, which is the re-crystallization of the starch in the bread. You can reverse this effect by toasting or microwaving the bread a bit. "Most people [including us!] would say, don't put it in the fridge because it'll make it go stale faster," says Myhrvold. "If you're going to toast it or warm it up anyway, it doesn't matter."

Hungry for more? Learn everything you'd ever need to know about the kitchen in Nathan Myhrvold's book "Modernist Cuisine at Home." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 5, 2018

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