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For some reason I always thought bread boxes were supposed to be wood, and that some property of wood helped keep bread fresh. Like a cigar box, perhaps. But after looking for a bread box, I see that many are plastic and metal. Before I buy a bread box, I should probably understand what exactly I'm purchasing.

What is a bread box for, and do all types of bread boxes accomplish the intended purpose?

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So we don't have to say, "Well, bigger than a one-foot, closed-end, rectangular prism." –  Ocaasi Aug 13 '10 at 9:06
    
related : cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/61/… –  Joe Oct 4 '10 at 14:21
    
@Ocaasi: I thought it was so we could say "put that in your bread box" –  intuited Jan 1 '11 at 20:08

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In my experience, they're best at concentrating mold spores, and hiding away unsightly loaves.

While chic, and quite popular in the days before plastic bags, they're not much use now. Pretty much the same as the "pie safe"

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You make a good point -- if you've had bread go moldy in a bread box you must clean it thoroughly. Otherwise, any additional bread that goes into it is likely going to sufer the same fate. But unless you're in a high-humidity area, I'd expect the bread to go stale before molding. (and stale bread can be turned into french toast, croutons, bread pudding, etc.) –  Joe Aug 13 '10 at 12:35
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@Joe: Yea, I live in a very humid area. Mold is our big issue. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 13 '10 at 15:21
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Thanks, I wasn't sure whether "freshness" equated to "non-moldy". Makes sense that if something goes moldy in there, you're going to end up with a mold farm. –  indiv Aug 14 '10 at 5:18

A bread box is intended to keep bread fresh. The materials don't matter that much.

A bread box keeps bread fresh by trapping moisture to prevent the bread from drying out. The tighter the seal on the bread box, the better it performs this function.

Additional Reading:

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Needed to add, you want some ventilation to prevent mold. –  tohecz Apr 11 '13 at 14:59

The wikipedia article about breadboxes states:

They were a more common household kitchen item until bread started being made commercially with food preservatives and wrapped in plastic. Breadboxes are still used by many people to store commercially purchased bread, but are used more especially by people who bake bread at home.

And that they also

protect their contents from mice and other pests.

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Probably better to get rid of the mice instead of purchasing a bread box! I have a bread box called a refrigerator. –  user17763 Apr 10 '13 at 13:15

They're intended to provide a cool, controlled place to keep the bread away from direct sunlight and most pests, to reduce the rate of moisture loss, and reduce the likelihood of the bread getting moldy.

I'd personally avoid metal in areas with high temperature swings (daily, not yearly) because I'd be concerned with changes in temperature outside causing condensation inside the box. If you have air conditioning and don't have it cycle on/off during the day, this likely isn't an issue.

Some people don't actually like the wooden bread boxes, because the smell of the wood used can transfer to the bread. It's possible that the nature of the wood, if it were unsealed, might help to regulate the humidity of the box (absorb a little if it's too high, give a little back if it's too low), but from what I recall (and it's been more than 15 years since I've used one), all of the ones we had were vented, so I don't know how much this is actually an issue. (it's possible that not all are vented -- in looking online, some of the metal ones claim to be air-tight ... I'm not sure how I feel about that).

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If you have trouble with humidity then a breadbox is probably not that helpful - you'll probably want to keep your bread in the fridge. But the fridge actually makes bread go stale faster, so if you're in a fairly dry area a bread box can be very useful for keeping bread fresh. I think it's more effective than just tightly sealing the plastic bags, but I haven't done any studies.

Also I personally like it for corralling my bread products (loafs of bread, buns, bagels, etc.) so they're not just strewn about the kitchen. It also contains crumbs, and I find it easier to clean than a pantry shelf, since you can just hold the box over a trash and shake. They're also useful for any snacks you like to keep easily accessible, since those can be make an otherwise clean kitchen look messy.

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