One of life’s greatest pleasures is eating fresh bread, soft and warm right out of the oven! Unfortunately, the clock starts ticking on quality the moment the loaf begins to cool. Nothing is sadder for a carbohydrate lover than to see a beautiful loaf of bread turn into a paper weight. If you are baking homemade bread, enjoy it as soon as it comes out of the oven. Of course, most of us buy packaged bread at the grocery store. Either way, there are several ways to maintain the freshness of your bread.
The Staling Process
When bread goes stale, it just looks all dried out, but there is more going on there than just moisture loss. Processes of retrogradation and recrystallization of starch are occurring. In short, there is a change in the structure of the starch molecules and they begin to crystallize once the bread is removed from the oven. The crystallization forces water out of the bread and staling occurs. In addition, the exposure to air also promotes moisture loss.
If you are like me, your first thought is to put foods in the fridge to keep them fresher and prevent molding. Well, in the case of bread, refrigeration unfortunately is the best way to speed up the staling process and therefore the worst way to store bread.
There are a few things you can do to prevent bread from staling.
Fresh bread can be stored at room temperature for three to five days using the packaging date as a guide. The storage method may depend on the type of bread you are storing. A recommended way to store bread at room temperature is to wrap it in a piece of linen (ex: dish towel) or paper bag and keep it in a dry place. Storing in plastic tends to give bread a chewy texture and promotes mold growth by trapping in moisture. Linen or paper will allow homemade bread to breathe, but store loaves seem to do fine in their plastic bags stored at room temperature. A drawback here, however, is molding if it sits too long. If you keep your bread slightly longer and it seems a little stale, you can restore it by heating in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The crystallization process can actually be reversed through reheating. Just make sure it doesn’t sit too long and is consumed immediately.
The best way to keep bread fresh it to freeze it. Freezing halts staling and preserves the taste and texture if you use an air-tight freezer safe container or plastic to prevent freezer burn. I have used plastic and foil, and these seem to preserve the freshness just fine. In the freezer, bread can last up to about three months. Once you put it in the toaster or oven, it will taste fresh. You can also thaw it on the counter or in the toaster using the defrost setting. Keep what you will eat in about four days stored at room temperature and freeze the rest in portions so that you are only thawing what you need each time.
Another great option I have encountered recently is that some bread companies like Aunt Millie’s are selling half loaves in grocery stores. If you have a small household or you just don’t eat bread every day, these are a good option to avoid wasting food.
If you love to bake homemade bread, always let bread cool completely before wrapping it up for storage to discourage soggy or moldy bread. Let bread cool on a rack so the moisture can escape. Rolls will take about 20 minutes to cool, but a loaf, depending on the size, can take up to an hour and a half to cool off. All loaves can be stored in plastic, but those with a crispy crust may fare better wrapped in paper.
It really is worth the time and effort to store bread properly. Proper food storage promotes healthy eating, cuts food costs, and helps the environment by avoiding waste. And if your bread ends up going stale, don’t fret; make breadcrumbs or croutons!
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information