How to Store Bread

Cin-Strawberry-3.jpgI love having a local bakery within walking distance. We pick up a fresh loaf of bread at the Ithaca Bakery at least once a week. We especially love their sourdough sandwich bread, which is funny because I always thought I didn’t like sourdough. Usually, we come home with a sourdough or whole wheat oatmeal sandwich loaf, but sometimes we mix it up (or they are completely out of sandwich bread) and bring home a French round or marble artisan loaf.

I don’t want to think about the number of times we’ve gone to use the last few slices, only to find them speckled with green and white mold. Sometimes, even a full 1/3 of the loaf ends up in the trash. That’s the one downside of buying fresh bread without preservatives… it just doesn’t last that long!

Let’s look at the different ways you can store your bread. I should note that this applies to yeast/sandwich breads. If you want information on storing your favorite quick breads or muffins, check out my “how to store muffins” post instead.

Refrigerating

Dan is {or used to be} a proponent of storing the bread in the refrigerator to make it last longer. While that does indeed slow down the growth of mold, it also increases the rate at which the bread stales.

To understand why this is, you need to understand what it means to say that bread “went stale.” Basically, when bread comes out of the oven, its starch molecules very slowly start to clump and crystallize, driving moisture to the outer crust of the bread. The bread loses its fluffy texture and becomes dry and hard.

Crystallized starch molecules = water pushed out = stale bread

When you refrigerate bread, you actually speed up the staling process. Refrigeration temperatures are the temperatures at which starch crystallizes the fastest, so you’re really sacrificing the texture of your bread.

Note: If you plan on toasting your bread when you use it, refrigerating it is probably fine. Heating the bread above 140F actually reverses much of the staling.

Freezing

If you freeze your bread, you completely halt the starch crystallization process. When you defrost your bread, the slices will still have that spongy crumb texture that you expect from bread.

Just be sure to wrap it tightly in a few layers of plastic wrap before freezing, and unwrap it before defrosting. Otherwise, the water from the melting ice crystals will get trapped on the surface of the bread, leaving you with soggy slices. Ew.

Update: I have since revisited the best way to store fresh bread without freezing. Read the revised recommendations here.

Plastic Bag, Room Temperature

This is where we used to go wrong in our bread storage. Our bread comes in a plastic bakery bag, and we would leave the uneaten pieces in there.

But as you may recall from the refrigeration section above, water gets pushed towards the crust of the bread as the bread stales. The bags are impervious to moisture, so the water has no way to evaporate. Instead, the water collects on the surface of the bread, providing perfect conditions for mold growth. Again, ew.

Paper Bag, Room Temperature

This is probably the best storage option for the first few days. Unlike plastic, paper allows the bread to “breath,” so the moisture can escape instead of providing mold breeding grounds. And, staling happens at a much slower rate at room temperature than it does at refrigeration temperature.

My suggestion, in summary?

For the first few days, store your bread in a paper bag. I’ve found that it stores better if I buy it uncut and slice it myself, but that is up to you! If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it all before it goes stale, slice and freeze the bread, tightly wrapped in plastic. You’ll have no mold and no further staling! Just remember to think ahead and let it defrost {unwrapped!} for a few hours before you want to use it {though you can heat it up in the toaster in a pinch}.

For more food science posts, check out my Brain Food 101 page!

Comments

  1. says

    Good tips! We always go from the freezer to the fridge. But we also rarely eat bread unless it’s toasted so that’s what works for us. Now if only we had a great bakery nearby….

    • William says

      We live about half the year at our family fish site on a remote island in Alaska. So I’m sure you can understand how tips like yours can help us prevent waste of our very precious supplies. We love homemade baked goods, but without refrigeration we struggle with preservation of fresh foods. I look forward to putting these tips to the test this season, and please keep them coming. We never know what will work best until we try them.

  2. says

    This is really interesting. I always buy standard supermarket loaves of bread when they’re on sale and we usually store them in the freezer until we’re ready to start eating them. Growing up, we always kept bread on the counter, but Brian thinks it keeps better in the fridge. He eats more of it than me, so I don’t really care what we do and since we don’t go through it fast, it seems to be the best option for us.

  3. David says

    I usually buy (or bought) Earth Grain bread brand and I do not refrigerate it, I leave it in the cupboard with my other food items. My bread usually lasts 3 weeks or more.

    Earth Grain bread is packaged in an inner plastic wrapper. I think one reason mold gets to be a problem is HOW you store your bread, or more importantly, how you open your bread and how long you leave it open.

    Let’s face it, the reason bread gets moldy is because mold spores get on the bread in the first place! If you open your bread opening up, mold spores can fall in on the bread due to gravity. If you open it sideways, pull out your bread you are going to use, then seal it up again right away, then you minimize the bread’s exposure to mold spores, you minimize it’s chance of growing mold! Wash your hands before touching your bread!

    If you are going to toast your bread before you eat it, why not go for a drier bread anyways? Drier bread = less chance to grow mold! I have a loaf of bread that’s been in the cupboard for at least a month, it is a little drier than a fresh loaf, but last sandwich I had, which was yesterday, there was no mold on it!

    • Julie says

      David — Thanks for your comment. While your idea that opening bread horizontally instead of vertically is an interesting one, I’m not sure it has a scientific foundation to it. But I’m glad you have a bread that you enjoy that lasts a few weeks!

  4. Jannie Wood says

    I hasd thius experience; I bought a loaf of beautiful crusty French bread from my Farmers Market on Sunday morning. By the afternoon it had got completely hard. Hubby refused to eat it, so the birds got it. Three bucks for bird food!

  5. says

    I refrigerate or freeze my bread only if I don’t use it during the week I bought it. The cold helps the bread keep longer, but it also drys it out a bit. However, that is better than letting it go to waste, and bread pudding and french toast are always good options.

Trackbacks

  1. […] But wait a second – what do we do with the pizza between the time we declare it to be a leftover and the time we decide to feast on it?  Most of us were brought up to toss leftovers in the refrigerator, but that’s exactly the wrong thing to do with pizza.  Why?  Because the pizza crust is a type of bread, and bread goes stale six times faster in the refrigerator than at room temperature, for reasons that reportedly are not fully understood, even by food scientists.  The best advice for storing bread appears to be to wrap it in plastic to hold in the moisture and keep it at room temperature; but if you’re going to keep it for more than four days, wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze it, unwrapping it again before defrosting. […]

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