I’ve seen a lot of people trying to bust the ‘myth’ that storing food in the fridge keeps it fresh for longer. Most of them are failing miserably. Not because the statements they are making are wrong, but because they fall prey to a common critical thinking mistake: failing to define our terms. Did you notice that I did not use the word fresh in the title? I asked whether storing your bread in the fridge will make it last longer. Do you think that’s a semantic difference or an important one?
Trick question. Semantic distinctions are very important when we are talking about defining our terms. Most people are saying that storing your bread in the refrigerator does not keep it fresh longer, but instead makes it go stale faster. I think that we can agree that state bread is not fresh bread. However, stale bread is also not bread that has gone bad.
What is Stale Bread?
Although stale bread seems like bread that has dried out and gone stiff and crumbly, the moisture level remains constant. It is the recrystallization of starch, irregularly bound to water, which causes bread to change texture and become what we call stale. Breads made with no fat or oil are more prone to becoming stale. So, French bread will become stale faster than a loaf of store-bought white bread, sliced or not.
Stale Bread Can be Brought Back
Stale bread, however, is still perfectly edible bread. It is not fresh simply because it is not fresh out of the oven. But it is also not bad. And, warming stale bread in the oven does a miraculous thing. It reverses the process, causing those crystalized starches to go back into their more flexible gel-like form. So, stale bread can be brought back from the brink. And, if your sliced bread has gone stale, what do you do? You put it in the toaster. See what’s going on here?
Did you know sliced bread was once illegal in the United States?
Putting Bread in the Refrigerator Causes It to Go Stale Faster
Like so many people are saying, putting bread in the refrigerator causes it to go stale faster, as the colder temperature speeds up the process. Incidentally, however, putting bread in the freezer halts the staling process altogether, so it is true that to keep bread for a long period of time, you can put it in the freezer, then take it out and let it thaw at room temperature.
Bread kept in the refrigerator that has gone stale may not seem very appealing, but it can be warmed in the oven and it will become soft again. Or sliced bread kept in the fridge is still great for toast. But, still, who wants stale bread?
The advantage of Keeping Bread in the Refrigerator
Well, stale bread is better than moldy bread. Stale bread is bread that has changed texture, but is still edible, and which can be brought back to a soft fresh-like state. Moldy bread is bad bread. Putting bread in the refrigerator means that it will not go moldy as quickly!
So, if you have a loaf of bread that you do not think you will be able to use before it starts to mold, putting it in the fridge will give you a longer time to use it, although you’ll probably end up toasting it or, in the case of loaf breads, heating big pieces of it in the oven before eating it. A French baguette is not likely to ever mold, it will just get harder and harder, so there is no big advantage to putting it in the fridge. Therefore, basically, if you have a moist bread that is bound to grow mold, you can put it in the refrigerator to make it last longer, although it will go stale faster.
I hope you see the point that I’ve made here. Bread that is not fresh is not the same thing as bad bread that has gone moldy. By failing to define terms, many people have been led to believe that you should never put your bread in the refrigerator. In reality, it depends! Sometimes it’s better to put your bread in the refrigerator than to end up wasting it because you do not eat it fast enough. Other times, putting bread in the fridge will just, yes, make it go stale faster. So it depends on the situation.