Bread is a beloved staple around the world. But whether you're into crusty French and Italian breads, dark and hearty Eastern European rye loaves, fluffy East Asian toasts or Middle Eastern flatbreads, we all face the same question: What is the best way to keep fresh bread? There are two options floating around: refrigerating your fresh bread or storing it at room temperature.
Refrigeration helps maintain the freshness of a lot of perishable foods, including dairy products, meat and many types of produce, but does refrigerating bread keep it from molding or getting stale? Or is bread more like tomatoes, which are best stored at room temperature?
It turns out that there are a lot of variables that play into what option is best for you, including where you live, the type of bread you're trying to keep fresh and your personal tastes. Read on for everything you need to know about whether you should keep your bread in the fridge or on the counter.
Mold and Staleness: The Enemies of Every Kind of Bread
Most of us are familiar with the trope about being in France and making daily trips to the boulangerie, but assuming you're living in the United States in the 21st century you are probably going to face the two things that cause bread to go bad: mold and staleness. That's especially true for homemade bread and the types of artisan breads you might buy from a local bakery. The kind of commercially made bread you buy at the supermarket typically contains preservatives to inhibit the growth of mold and keep the bread fresh, but even it will get moldy or stale eventually. While it's perfectly safe to eat stale, dried-out bread, moldy bread should never be eaten.
Should I Store Bread in the Refrigerator or at Room Temperature?
Although there's part of you that could probably devour an entire loaf in one sitting, you know that's probably not the best thing for your health, and you may find it helpful to save some for the rest of the household, so you are going to want to keep your bread fresh for as long as possible. As explained above, there's no one-size-fits-all answer about whether it's best to store bread in the fridge or at room temp, so we'll break down the pros and cons of each option below.
When You Should Store Bread at Room Temperature
Ask any baker, chef or food writer these days and, 9 times out of 10, they'll tell you that you should store any type of bread at room temperature and never in the fridge. The arguments against putting bread in the fridge are typically related to flavor and texture. Sarah Lioce, a former bakery owner, classically trained pastry chef and caterer in Rhode Island, says, "I don't refrigerate bread or bread products, like English muffins, as it makes them taste stale, even if brought to room temperature before serving." Indeed, scientific evidence shows that refrigeration changes the structure of the starches in bread, causing them to crystallize, which makes the bread hard (aka stale).
Crusty types of breads almost always benefit texturally from being stored at room temperature. You can really notice the deleterious effects when you refrigerate crusty breads like baguettes, ciabatta and focaccia. While these types of breads can go stale within a matter of hours outside of the fridge, putting them in the refrigerator will only make it worse. Country loaves, too, can suffer from being refrigerated. And even a homemade sandwich loaf can lose all its delicious qualities after being refrigerated, although it'll never be as bad as when you refrigerate a baguette.
When You Should Refrigerate Your Bread
While your crusty breads are probably best left out of the fridge, let's face it: not all the bread we eat in the United States is so precious and sophisticated that we have to go to great lengths to preserve its oven-fresh qualities. Your kid's peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for instance, doesn't necessarily have to be on freshly baked pain de mie. There are many times when you just want to make sure there is bread to eat that won't make you or anyone else sick. Refrigerating bread is your best option when the most important thing is to keep bread from going bad.
The refrigerator is a foolproof way to keep commercially made bread from getting moldy—one of the biggest threats to bread's eatability. And the sandwich loaf you purchase in the bread aisle at your grocery store won't really suffer much, if at all, from being stored in the refrigerator. The difference in taste is very mild to most consumers, especially when it comes to commercially made breads with added preservatives. If you're unsure, ask yourself if you've ever noticed that a loaf of Wonder Bread lost its gourmet nuanced flavors and textures.
If you know you won't be using your grocery store loaf within a few days, go ahead and put it in the fridge. Just keep in mind that the air in a refrigerator is typically dryer than it is on the counter, so keep the bread tightly sealed in its original plastic packaging or in another airtight container to prevent staleness.
In addition to the breads you might want to keep in the fridge, there are some specific varieties of bread that really do require refrigeration to prevent them becoming unsafe to eat within a day, and sometimes even within hours. Baker Sarah Lioce adds, "I refrigerate bread that is high in seeds and grains (i.e., Dave's Killer Bread) and homemade quick breads with eggs in the summer." Like we advise, she also takes her local climate and seasons into account and adds, "It is very humid in my area and refrigeration slows mold formation."
And when it comes to those crusty loaves best kept out of the fridge, keep in mind that not everyone's room temperature is the same. If you live in a warmer climate, your room temperature might actually encourage mold to start growing on your bread almost immediately. And if you live somewhere that gets a lot of humidity, storing your loaf on the counter is practically inviting mold to move in. Storing that crusty, chewy fougasse in the fridge might be the best option in those situations. You can always liven it back up by misting it with water and heating it briefly in the oven.
How to Keep Your Bread Fresh and Tasty Longer
In the Fridge
When storing any type of bread in the refrigerator, you'll want to take steps to prevent it from getting a stale texture, or becoming hard. Most breads already have some moisture in them, so there's no need to add any moisture to your refrigerated bread unless you like soggy bread. You just need to prevent as much moisture from escaping as possible. Plastic bags, like freezer bags and even the original packaging from the supermarket, can help with this, but they are still porous. If you decide to store bread in the refrigerator, it's best to store it in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out.
On the Counter
Preventing staleness is also a concern when storing bread at room temperature, but as we mentioned earlier, stale bread is still safe to eat. The big safety concern when storing bread on your counter or in your pantry is preventing mold from growing. A bread box is a great option many home cooks have used for decades to prevent mold growth and staleness. A good bread box has features that support air circulation, which prevents moisture that leads to mold, and it also keeps the bread covered enough so that it does not dry out from being exposed to air and light. And many contemporary models are actually quite attractive and come in many designs to suit your individual style.
If you live in a hot, soupy climate and are planning to eat your fresh bread within the next couple of days, another option is to look for inspiration from bakeries that have been having to combat these conditions for centuries. Haitian bakers have had to adapt French bread and pastry techniques to their Caribbean climate, and when many Haitian bakers emigrated to South Florida, they brought their recipes and storage tips with them. Most Haitian bakeries in Miami, for instance, will slide a warm loaf of Creole bread into a paper sleeve and hand it to you along with a clear plastic sleeve to store it when you get home. The paper bag absorbs the moisture, while the plastic bag you slide over it and the bread will prevent it from getting stale. You can do the same thing at home by wrapping your loaf with paper towels or a tea towel, and then storing it in a sealable freezer bag or other container.
In the Freezer
If you don't plan to eat your fresh bread anytime soon, freezing it will lock in the freshness as opposed to drying it out, which is what can happen when you refrigerate it. When you defrost it, it will taste almost shockingly similar to when you first bought it or took it out of the oven. A little time in a hot oven can revive its crispy crust, too. Breads that you purchase in the freezer section, such as Ezekiel Bread, should also be stored in the freezer.
While there are some breads, like baguettes and ciabatta, that taste better when left on the counter, there is nothing inherently wrong with storing bread in the refrigerator. Refrigerated bread will still be safe to eat, and depending on the type of bread you store in the fridge, it will taste just fine. And if your biggest concern is making sure your bread doesn't grow mold, refrigerating it is the best and safest way to store it.
Check out more bread storage tips here, including advice on how to store your bread in the freezer so you can enjoy it later.