Why is refrigerating bread such a bad thing?
This story originally appeared on ExtraCrispy.com.
Though there was a nice porcelain breadbox that sat on my family's kitchen counter when I was growing up, I don't think my parents ever trusted it because they always would store bread in the fridge. I'm talking about loaves of pre-sliced bread here, straight from the grocery store in those thin plastic bags, as well as the artisanal freshly baked stuff. My parents' logic was that keeping bread in the fridge kept bread from getting moldy, which it did—but it turns out that refrigerating your loaf is not technically the best way to store bread. But why is it a bad idea to put bread in the refrigerator, and what is the best way to store bread so it doesn't go moldy?
The main reason you shouldn't store bread in the fridge is because the cold actually makes bread go stale faster. As Daniel Gritzer explains for Serious Eats, bread goes stale not because moisture is being wicked away but because the starches in bread want to be in a certain crystalline structure. When you bake bread, the starches break down, giving a loaf its sponginess. "As the bread cools, however, those starches begin to slowly regroup into a more ordered, crystalline structure again," writes Gritzer, "and it's this gradual return ('retrogradation') to the crystal state ('recrystallization') that causes bread to harden and grow stale." (Bread science. Who knew?)
So when you put bread in the fridge, the so-called recrystallization of the starches happens faster than it does at room temperature, and that's why bread goes stale in your fridge faster than it does on your counter.
But then how do you store bread on your counter so it's doesn't go stale or get moldy? Well, you can start by ending your obsession with pre-sliced bread. Buying bread in a whole loaf and only cutting off slices as you need them will help the whole thing last longer.
You should also take bread out of the plastic as soon as possible, even if it's pre-sliced, since the plastic covering encourages mold growth, explains Eric Kayser, a baker who owns Maison Kayser and author of The Larousse Book of Bread: Recipes to Make at Home, to Tasting Table. The best way to store bread then, whether it's artisanal or pre-sliced, is to store the loaf on your counter, either wrapped in a dish towel or placed in a paper bag.
Related: Does apple cider vinegar go bad?
And if you really don't think you'll be able to finish the loaf before it goes bad, you can always freeze bread. Martha Stewart recommends wrapping your baguette, or whatever bread you have on hand, in plastic bags and using masking tape to seal it. When you're ready to eat it, take it out of the freezer and toast it (though you should remember to take the loaf out of the plastic wrap, first).