On Saturday I made some pretzels. Today I tried to eat the final leftover one. It was beyond edible. It was with a heavy heart that I threw this lightly-chewed, rock-solid knot into the bin. I haven’t done that for ages!
Earlier this week I wrote a (not especially positive) post about Gregg Wallace’s Inside the Factory documentary, highlighting a few areas in which I felt it was misleading and unhelpful. But one thing I really did find eye-opening was the section on bread waste.
According to the documentary, 24 million slices of bread are thrown away in the UK every day. 32% of bread bought is binned, and 16% of the bread we bin is entire loaves. That’s a total of £90 million worth of bread a year.
In a country where so many people are experiencing huge levels of food poverty, such waste is criminal!
And yet it’s so easy to do. I know that when I used to buy bread from supermarkets, I would think nothing of buying a few different items: some loaves, tortilla wraps, rolls. Invariably I would either get to the end of a week and find I had not eaten enough of it and it had gone mouldy, or I would eat more than I actually needed to, which wasn’t great on the waistline!
Since I’ve been making my own bread, I’ve wasted far less. Partly because I know how much work has gone into it, partly because I’ve got far more savvy about how to store and use the bread, partly because I plan what I’m likely to use better, and partly because I probably eat less bread now than I used to, opting for quality over quantity.
But even if you don’t bake your own bread and you do eat supermarket loaves, there are still a few things you can do to make sure you don’t waste bread unnecessarily:
The way you store bread will affect its lifespan. According to the documentary, 9% of people keep bread in the fridge, which actually makes it go stale 6 times faster than bread kept at room temperature. First tip… don’t do that!
Storing bread in plastic bags makes it go soft, and in hot plastic bags the condensation makes it mould. Paper bags in a bread bin work well. I often just wrap mine up in the tea towel I’ve used to cover the bowl during the proving process. Try to keep the open end covered, and if you’re one of those people who don’t like eating the heals, keep them and press them against the cut end to stop the air getting to it.
Bread freezes well! Often I will make two loaves; one of which I keep fresh, and the other I freeze. Cut it up before you freeze it, and it’s really easy to break off a couple of slices as and when you need them. Then you can toast it from scratch, or even make a frozen sandwich and take it to work. By the time your lunch break arrives, it will have thawed and will be as good as new.
Just try to remember how long the bread’s been sitting there. I ate a piece from my freezer the other day that had been sitting there for months and had picked up every flavour going from the other herbs I kept in there! I try now to keep bread frozen for no longer than a month.
If you have left over bread, why not turn it into bread crumbs? You can put slightly stale bread into a food processor and make up fresh crumbs. Or toast it first, to make drier breadcrumbs. Then you can use these for a whole host of recipes, and can freeze them for a month or so.
Bread that’s slightly too stale for a sandwich may still be fine for toast, so don’t throw it away. In fact, this is where sourdough really comes into its own, because it will typically last longer than regular yeasted bread, and so when other loaves deserve to be relegated to the bin, sourdough will make brilliant toast.
If you’re baking your own bread, adding a glug of olive oil to the recipe, or some softened butter, will make the bread last maybe a day longer. French bread doesn’t last long at all and is designed to be eaten on the day, but ‘fattening’ it may extend its life a little further.
There are plenty of ways to recycle stale bread. In addition to making breadcrumbs, you could make croutons, or bruschetta, or panzanella.
Or if you bake your own bread, keep the ends and use them to make a new loaf. James Morton has a recipe for Revival Bread in his Brilliant Bread, where essentially he tears up 150g of old bread and soaks it with 300ml water, before leaving it in the fridge overnight and using that as the base for your next day’s loaf. It’s a great cost-saving approach, and it adds a lot of flavour to subsequent loaves.