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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 :… – 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
up vote 15 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
@Joe: Yea, I live in a very humid area. Mold is our big issue. – Satanicpuppy Aug 13 '10 at 15:21
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. – yo' Apr 11 '13 at 14:59

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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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
@user17763, refrigeration does unpleasant things to most breads. Either store them at room temperature, or freeze them. – Mark May 16 '15 at 7:22

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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Don't keep your bread in the fridge for goodness' sake. You lose a lot of flavor and freshness by doing that. It speeds decomposition of certain aspects of the bread even if it does make it last longer. A bread box is meant to be used to keep bread fresh and great tasting for 3-6 days which is about the longest u can expect fresh bread to last. There is a balance of powers happening within that box and the balance is not to be messed with.

There is ventilation and moisture retention. The ventilation comes from the small intentional gaps in the bread box. The moisture comes from the bread. That moist environment is fine because you want to have moist bread. Too much moisture isn't good either—which is why if you live in a moist climate you should get a large bread box and don't overstuff it. The more bread in the box, the more moisture in the box. If you live in a dry climate you could probably get away with a loaf, several bagels, and a few buns and not have any trouble but in a moist environment—that's asking for trouble.

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This doesn't really add anything that isn't already addressed by other better written answers. – Ross Ridge May 15 '15 at 5:50
@RossRidge The broad points are the same, sure, but it does mention a few other details (e.g. don't overfill) and emphasizes the ventilation more than any answer does. Especially after the edit cleaned up the language, this seems like a good answer, and there's nothing wrong with the fact that it repeats some of the main points - any good answer would. – Jefromi Jul 15 '15 at 23:57

I majored in Bread Science at the University of Northhampton, near Oxford and from a purely British perspective, all your answers are wrong. Bread is meant to be consumed on a daily basis, ie. as in the Lord's prayer, "give us our daily bread. Any bread worth eating should be consumed ASAP and so there is no reason to own a "bread box." because there will be no bread left to be stored.

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Does British bread spoil faster than bread in other countries? – Erica Nov 9 '15 at 0:07

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