The Great Bread Experiment

During my third year of university I shared a tiny one-floor student house with two male housemates. Being that the guys a) only cooked with their student loan cheques came in and b) tended to leave raw chicken thawing all over the counter, we didn’t really share food or cooking duties. We each had our own cupboards to store food, and we shared a fridge. The sopping wet dregs of uneaten bagged salad weren’t the only things rotting in our house; with each of us cooking for one (and generally lacking experience in the kitchen), spoilage was rampant.

I’ll never forget when we returned after the three-week Christmas break that year to start our second semester. My roommate yanked open his cupboard to refill it with freshly purchased groceries, and was met with a bread bag full of hairy, blue mold. It covered every surface of a now indistinguishable loaf of white bread. Without the telltale red and blue Wonder bread circles on the side, Loaf of classic white Wonder Breadyou’d deny it was ever food.

I think my words were “Well, what did you expect?” thinking back to his rotten salad that plagued our fridge. He looked up at me, dumbfounded, and said “Bread goes bad?

You could chalk that up to a 21-year-old man not knowing his way around the kitchen, but in an eerie case of déjà vu, a friend who’s been staying with us made a similar comment a few weeks ago. A usual eater of white grocery store bread (which contains preservatives), he brought home a fancy artisan loaf one day to eat with soup. I watched it get stale for three days before slicing and freezing it. The next morning, he snippily asked me “where’s that bread I bought?” expecting it to still be fresh on the counter.

These interactions have been percolating from the back of my mind for a while now. I started wondering what bread should look like as it ages. What should we expect? And how much of a difference do preservatives (and other additives like dough conditioners) really make that much of a difference? How do they change the natural lifespan of a humble loaf?

With those questions in mind, I’ve crafted a very grade-8-science-project experiment. What will happen to different types and makes of bread over the days and weeks after they’re baked?

The great bread experiment

I plan to compare:

  1. Commercially produced white bread (i.e., Wonder Bread)
  2. White sandwich bread baked in the grocery store (and often not labelled with ingredients)
  3. Fancy $7 “artisan” white bread from the speciality shop
  4. Homemade white bread

I’ll put one heel of each bread in a plastic bag, and the other in paper bag for two weeks. Then, I’ll repeat with 100% whole wheat. Maybe I could find a time-lapse camera?

 “Compared to many foods, bread contains relatively little water, and so it often dries out before it becomes infected by spoilage microbes. Keeping bread at room temperature in a plastic bag allows moisture from the staling starch granules to collect on the bread surfaces and encourages the growth of potentially toxic molds…” – Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

I always thought:

  1. Bread made with preservatives goes moldy.
  2. Bread made without preservatives gets stale.
  3. Preservative bread will stay moist and “fresh”-looking longer than the non-preservative bread

But we shall see how much of a difference moisture makes.

This could get ugly – stay tuned!


  1. That sounds like an interesting study.


  1. […] Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting these bad boys through the gears to see how they stand the test of time: when they become inedible, when they dry out and when they mold. Here’s the playbook: The Great Bread Experiment. […]

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