When you pick up a loaf of bread at a bakery or in the bakery section of the Piggly Wiggly or Harris Teeter, frequently it will come in a paper bag. It’s a bit strange, since sandwich loaves always come in plastic bags that you can simply reseal and store. When bread comes in a paper bag, though, it means either putting it in plastic when you get home, or risk the bread going bad quickly. So why do bakeries and grocery stores sell them in paper in the first place?
While some conspiracy-minded folks think this is so the bread will go stale more quickly making bread lovers fork over more of their hard-earned cash for fresh bread, that’s not quite the truth.
Normally the bread that comes in brown bags are those beautiful artisan loaves of sourdough or baguettes that are fun to bring on a picnic or serve at a dinner party. They are meant to be eaten within a day or two of purchasing, not stored in your cabinet for a few days. According to Food52, breads without added fat or sugar, like ciabatta or a baguette are at their peak for just a few days after baking. After that they will start to lose their flavor and become hard and dry (and perfect for French toast or bread pudding). That’s why Publix usually sells its bakery loaves in plastic bags—and why most sandwich bread comes in plastic. It’s designed to last awhile on your pantry shelves.
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So why sell in paper at all? Because paper lets air into the bag, keeping the bread dry and the crust crisp and delicious. If you store bread in a plastic bag, the moisture from the bread gets trapped in the bag making the crust soft. Storing in plastic will keep the bread fresh longer, but you’ll lose the crust.
Luckily, there are other storage options. Scientifically speaking, bread will go stale more quickly in the refrigerator because the low temperature dries it out. If you really love fresh bread, consider getting a ceramic bread box (or asking your grandmother if she has one to borrow). Food52 swears it has the ideal air circulation for keeping bread fresh without drying it out. Alternatively, simply sit your bread cut-side down in a paper bag. That will keep the crumb-side moist and the crust crisp. Alternatively, enjoy the bread fresh, and when you’ve had your fill, cut the remainder into slices, stick it in a bag, and keep in the freezer for fresh, crispy toast whenever you’re in the mood.