Now that summer has descended fully upon us, we look at that half-eaten loaf of bread sitting on the counter and know it’s a ticking mold time-bomb. It’s mid-July, after all. So you do what we’ve all done: toss it in the fridge to prevent that mold from springing forth.
Yes, even you, “foodie,” even though you’ve been told time and again one should always—always!—store bread in the freezer. “Bread goes bad faster in the fridge!” all the shrill food-snob voices shout.
It is true that bread does go stale faster at temperatures just above freezing, which means your fridge is a perfect device to accomplish that feat. Contrary to myth, however, bread staling does NOT mean it’s drying out—it will go still stale in a tightly sealed container or wrapping. For you food nerds, going stale is a chemical process that begins immediately after baking called “starch retrogradation.” In short, moisture migrates from starch granules to the gaps in the bread, the starch changes its composition, stiffens, and the bread takes on that familiar toughness.
Also true is refrigerating bread DOES prevent mold growth and extend shelf life.
Yes, if you want to extend your bread’s shelf life while maintaining its freshness, DO throw it in the freezer, particularly if it’s a loaf you know you’re not likely to sink your teeth into for a couple days. Properly stored, bread can keep for months in the deep freeze. But to eat it, you should thaw it at room temperature—which isn’t convenient for most folks that might be rushing out the door in the morning and just want a piece of damn toast.
And that’s the rub: what are you using that loaf of bread for? If it’s your morning toast, go ahead and throw it in the fridge, because reheating bread reverses the staling process (the starch re-gelates).
What’s more irritating? Seeing those fuzzy mold blooms on half your remaining loaf in mid-July or a bit of stiffness in your bread that can be mostly remedied with your toaster? It’s your choice.
Yes, the freezer is best, but it’s not convenient. And after the thaw, you’re still left with the problem of eating it fast enough before mold invades.
So, better the fridge than the garbage can, a point that many chefs and restaurateurs adhere to. It’s not uncommon to find baguettes in their coolers, since to them, throwing out bread is literally throwing out money and margin. They’re reheating those baguettes anyway for service, so they get freshened up .
For those of you aching for definitive bread storage advice, here’s Harold McGee, from his book “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”:
“If you’re going to use bread in a day or two, then store it at room temperature in a breadbox or paper bag, which reduces moisture loss while allowing the crust to remain somewhat crisp. If you need to keep bread for several days or more, then wrap it well in plastic and or foil and freeze it. Refrigerate bread (well wrapped) only if you’re going to toast or otherwise reheat it.”
So there you go. Refrigerate (if necessary) and relax.