Updated: May 15
There's nothing more delicious than a piece of lovely fresh bread but however much we love it, whether a slab of tangy sourdough or a slice of Hovis, we still throw loads of it away.
Bread is reported to be the UK's most wasted food item estimated at around 900,000 tonnes each year, or a whopping 24 million slices every day! But there are ways we can avoid this with careful storage and clever ideas for using up those leftover loaves.
Recently we've noticed that almost half our home food recycling consists of bakery items so we've been wondering the best way to store it to reduce food waste. After some research and much conflicting advice we discovered some useful facts.
Contrary to popular belief, bread shouldn't be kept in plastic which keeps moisture in but also creates mould and changes the texture from soft to chewy. Far better to wrap it in paper or cloth to allow it to breath, and keep it somewhere cool such as a lidded bread bin.
Its no accident that traditional and artisan bakeries sell their breads in paper and in countries such as France and Italy, natural cotton or linen bags are commonplace. Bread is considered a valuable part of their culinary heritage and as such is prized for the wonderful food it is so they clearly must know what they're talking about!
Cloth bags are now widely available and are fast replacing plastic containers for bakery storage - another great way to cut that unnecessary plastic usage. Look for bread sold in paper or buy directly from an independent bakery, better still try making your own. Using modern fast acting yeast a simple loaf can be rustled up in as little as a few hours.
As well as thinking about how you store it, where you keep your bread will affect its quality too. Baked goods should never be kept in the warm as this will only speed the growth of mould. and even if wrapped in paper or cloth, will be likely to dry out and become hard very quickly.
Many people, finding themselves short of space, plonk their loaves on top of the fridge or in a warm spot next to the oven or hob, but with its existing moisture content this encourages mould spores to grow even more quickly. Having said that, don't be tempted to put it in the fridge either as this causes a reaction in the gluten and creates very hard and stale bread very fast indeed
Dark flours such as rye and sourdough loaves keep better than most soft breads and the larger the loaf the better it keeps.
Artisan and hand-baked goods tend to go harder and dryer quicker than the mass-produced shop bought ones due to the absence of preservatives, flour improving agents and other chemical additives that help them retain moisture but tend to reduce their overall flavour. Far better to keep it real and enjoy something wholesome, healthy and delicious than a light and wet, fairly flavourless loaf.
Baguettes and rolls generally start to lose their freshness after only a day or so but can be crisped up easily using a hot oven and a little water, or the brown paper bag method:
How to revive your loaf -
Place your bread or rolls in a paper bag and fold over the end to lightly seal. Dampen slightly all over the bag with cold water, but not so much as to penetrate inside to the bread.
Place in a moderately hot oven for 5-10 minutes. This will revive and crisp it up without directly wetting the bread.
When starting a loaf always try and retain the crust so it can act as a 'cap' on the end and help keep it soft. To prevent larger loaves from drying out start using it by cutting into the centre.. This way it will take longer for the air to reach the middle to cause it to go stale. Keep both ends tightly together to avoid all moisture loss and wrap well.
The best way to preserve bread for longer than a matter of days is to freeze it. Sliced and ideally frozen separately (although who really has room for that!), the newly frozen slices can then be stacked together and sealed in an airtight container or wrapped up well to avoid freezer burn. If it's possible to freeze slices before storing in this way, it does help avoid what is considered one of the most common causes of household accidents - nasty hand injuries from frantically trying to separate slices of bread with a sharp knife!
Using up unwanted bread
Leftover bread has many culinary uses. It can easily be whizzed in a food processor to make breadcrumbs then added to burgers, falafels, meat balls, nut roasts, tarts and stuffing or toasted and used as a versatile crumb coating for fishcakes and chicken or for mixing with grated cheese and topping off veggie crumbles and pies. Start a freezer breadcrumb habit and you'll never be short of crumbs ready to use!
French sticks have a notoriously short eating life, often dry and hard the day after buying, but who doesn't love a slice or two of homemade garlic bread? Make a large batch of well seasoned herby-garlic butter, divide into small portions and freeze. Whenever you have a leftover baguette that's past its best, transform it into delicious garlic slices to accompany your pasta - quick, easy, cheap and waste-free.
Whole bread slices are great for combining with eggs, spices and fruit for chunky bread pudding or sweet rolls and buns make an excellent alternative for traditional bread and butter desserts. For the occasional treat, consider that old childhood favourite, 'Eggy bread', (or French toast).
Simple French Toast -
Whisk an egg with a tablespoon of milk and place in a shallow dish. Lay a slice of bread in flat and just enough to coat one side, then quickly turn over to coat the other. Avoid soaking too long as this will make the bread too soggy to fry. Melt some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the bread and fry gently until golden brown and firm. Serve with either ketchup or sprinkled lightly with sugar and cinnamon - delicious and wholesome too!
Stale bread comes alive when toasted or cooked - cube and shallow-fry chunks to make quick and tasty croutons to have with soups or toast slices slowly in a cool oven for an easy alternative to crispbread that's versatile and delicious with dips.
As well as eating,, stale bread can be useful in other ways:
Widely thought unsuitable, bread is still considered a useful food source of energy for birds, especially in winter when other food is scarce. The RSPB recommends brown over white and soaking it as dry bread is very hard to digest, If possible, combine it with other leftover scraps such as bacon rind (only if unsalted) and other meat fats and in the breeding season, ensure its crumbled small so as not to be a choke risk for baby birds.
If you have a garden pond, or a nearby river, offer the fish the occasional treat with a couple of handfuls of crumbled bread. Bread is fine for both ducks and fish as long as it doesn't make up the bulk of their diet, and as with birds, brown is a more nutritious choice. The odd slice of bread chopped and added to your dog's main meal is a good way to add fibre and calories for a hungry dog without the need for expensive dry biscuit.
According to Country Living magazine, bread is a great chemical-free household cleaner for stains. A squashed ball of white or rye bread will lift dirty marks and stains from all sorts of places: wallpaper, tins and cupboards, for mopping up spills, wiping out grubby areas, cleaning and polishing furniture... Dab gently rather than rub. Interesting fact - before conventional rubbers, moist bread was the original eraser for graphite pencils.
Bread is also an efficient way to soak up oily stains. Just lay a slice over the grease and gently press.
A piece squashed into a ball and pressed onto a surface where broken glass has been cleared will help collect any tiny fragments that can't be seen.
Medicinal remedies -
According to the site Fluster Buster, bread is a lifesaver when it comes to fixing calluses and other various foot ailments. For calluses and corns, soak a piece of bread in apple cider vinegar, then simply place on the callus. Tape the bread in place, cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit overnight. Softener, smoother feet by morning.
For boils, again soak a piece of bread, this time in some milk, then apply to the affected area, tape in place, and allow it to dry overnight — this will help drain out the liquid.
According to The Farmer's Almanac, you can also use bread for a poultice for splinters. Soak some bread in cool milk, press out the milk and apply the bread to the affected area, secure with tape and let sit for a few hours or overnight. In no time the splinter will have risen close to the surface of your skin for easy removal, or, if not too deep, it may have come out from your skin completely.
Preparing Food -
Using bread that is past its best can be a good way to keep cake from also going stale. Place a slice against the cut surface of the cake and store in a tin. The remaining moisture in the bread will prevent the cake from drying out so quickly.
Skim excess fat off the top of your soup or gravy by gently dragging a piece of bread along the surface to absorb the oil, and discard.
But the best use must surely be this great idea for reducing onion tears: spear a piece onto your knife and push up to the hilt. It will then absorb the excess vapour from the onion and thus reduce your tears!
Hopefully these tips will help you reduce your bread waste and give you a few new and interesting ways to enjoy your daily loaf!