Feel like you’re constantly throwing out bread? It can seem like a race against the clock to get bread finished before it goes off, especially in warm weather. All too often the mould and staleness are winning! So how do we fight back? There are lots of things we can do to keep bread from the bin, first we need to know what we are up against.
Why does bread go stale?
Bread becomes stale due to the chemical processes of retrogradation and recrystallisation of starch. When bread is baked, the crystalline structure of starch breaks down as it absorbs water. However, once the bread cools, the starch begins to change state again (retrogradation) to its earlier crystal form (recrystalisation). This process happens faster in cooler temperatures such as the refrigerator than warmer temperatures such as room temperature. Freezing bread however, significantly slows down the process. That is why keeping bread in the freezer prolongs its lifespan, while storing bread in the fridge is not a good idea.
Why does bread go mouldy?
Mould growth is a biological process requiring certain conditions for growth. These are: food, moisture, suitable air quality and favourable temperature. Once bread is removed from the oven, it is exposed to tiny mould spores which are all around us in the air. Once a spore lands on a surface it begins its search for nutrients and water which are present on the surface of our loaves, making them an excellent home for mould growth. As with staling, mould growth also depends greatly on the environment in which you store your bread. Mould thrives best in warm, damp environments.
What’s the solution?
A lot of the time we throw out bread because we buy more than we need. Before you go shopping, take a minute to think about the meals you’ll be having during the week. Perhaps a half loaf might do instead of a full one- although it’s often more expensive per slice, it’s cheaper than buying a full loaf and throwing some away. Buying smaller amounts more frequently will mean you’ll have fresher bread and less waste.
Storage plays a big role in how quickly your bread will go mouldy or stale. Storing bread is a balancing act: somewhere cool and airy will cause bread to stale while warm and damp will encourage mould. This is why the best place to store bread is the freezer.
Freezing bread is great for those weeks when you are unsure of how much you’ll need. The trick is to slice it before freezing. This way you can take it out as you need it and it thaws quickly; you can pop a frozen slice straight in the toaster!
If freezing for more than three weeks, seal it tightly in a zip-lock bag. Write a date on the bag before sticking it in the freezer and try to use it within six months.
Beware the bread bin: If you’re not freezing your bread, be careful when storing it in places such as the bread bin. Although it’s a great place to always keep bread in reach, it can also be a place where half-loaves get forgotten. Make sure you don’t just toss your fresh bread in. Bring any older loaves to the font so they will get used up first.
If you end up with stale bread, the good news is that you can resurrect it! Sliced pan can be toasted or made into bread crumbs, a nice loaf can be made into some delicious bread and butter pudding or French toast (there are plenty of recipes for both that can be found online). To keep it simple, just sprinkle your bread with water and place it in the oven at ~160°C for a few minutes to refresh.