If you always finish your sourdough bread on the same day that it’s baked, you’re one of the lucky few, as most people have to store their bread! The environment in which you keep your sourdough dictates how long it stays fresh, whether it’s store-bought or homemade. There are a lot of misconceptions and wrong practices in storing bread, so let’s see how to store sourdough bread to keep it fresh for longer!
The best way to keep sourdough bread fresh is to wrap it in a cotton bag or large tea towel. This lets it breathe which keeps the crust nice and crusty, whilst reducing airflow so it doesn’t dry out. Always store bread in a cool, dry place. To keep sourdough for long periods use the freezer!
What happens when sourdough bread is stored?
There are several different factors that impact the shelf life of sourdough bread.
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- Mould can grow
- Flavour is lost, making bread taste flat and boring
- Soft textures, turn dry and dusty
We can combat dryness by toasting or frying sourdough bread. But most home bakers prefer to extend the life of their bread as long as possible. This way it can be used for sandwiches or slathered with butter!
What is the difference between drying and staling?
The difference between drying and staling bread is a little confusing. When bread dries, it doesn’t change from its original state. Internal moisture is lost through evaporation, yet the crumb structure still remains intact. This makes the bread hard and taste dry, but prevents mould growth!
On the other hand, bread staling is caused by the starch coagulating back into its original, pre-baked state. As this occurs a water molecule is lost in each starch chain. The crumb becomes less gelatinized and moisture migrates from swollen starch granules into airy pockets within the bread.
The result of starch reforming is that the texture is diminished. What may have been a light and fluffy loaf can be hard and dense as it turns stale. These migration processes continue to take place until there are no more water molecules left for this type of reaction to happen. Bread that has gone stale will be hard and dry on the surface.
To see the effects of staling, wrap a slice of bread and place it in the fridge. See how its texture changes in just a few hours!
How mould appears in bread
Mould spores grow best in damp, warm conditions in a non-acidic environment. There are a few ways we can slow down mould growth in bread:
- Provide sufficient airflow to take away excess moisture produced through staling.
- Store the bread in a cool environment by selecting a dark, cool place at home.
- Increase the acidity of the bread.
After a loaf is baked, it changes from being slightly acidic, to more pH neutral. Increasing the fermentation time of sourdough bread produces more organic acids. Using a starter when it’s at its peak will also provide more acid. Sourdough sold in some places contains vinegar (acetic acid) as they reduce bulk fermentation time by including an acid to the recipe. These methods will improve the keeping quality of sourdough bread.
How to make bread fresh for longer
There are a couple of tricks for how to make bread fresh for longer. If you follow the tips below, you won’t have to worry about your sourdough lasting as long as it could!
1. Don’t slice it straight away
The cooling process is important for sourdough bread. You should not slice it right away after taking it from the oven. This will result in moisture escaping through the cut area which ruins the crust and makes the bread dense like a brick. Bread will stay much fresher if you keep it whole and slice when you use it.
2. Reduce the airflow
To make your bread fresh longer, you should reduce the airflow. Airing out your bread will help remove the moisture from it. Covering with foil or plastic wrap will also help reduce airflow, which will keep its moisture for longer. This can work well for a couple of days but also creates the perfect environment for mould to develop.
Wrap sourdough bread in a cotton bag or tea towel to provide just enough airflow for the bread to “breathe”.
3. Use a bread box or cupboard
Keep your bread at room temperature in a bread box or cupboard. Bread boxes are designed to keep bread fresh and crisp for longer periods of time. It allows the bread to have air circulation. But, like wrapping it in a tea towel, they prevent external factors from affecting the bread’s moisture level too much.
Putting your bread in a cupboard is another way to store it without letting it go stale fast. This reduces the moisture from escaping and the bread will concentrate on the staling process.
4. Don’t put it in the refrigerator!
Unlike the common belief, putting your bread in the refrigerator will actually decrease its shelf life. The coldness inside your fridge causes moisture from bread to condense on its surface. This results in mould formation, whilst starch reforms at a much faster rate in this environment!
How to freeze homemade sourdough bread
- After taking your freshly-baked sourdough bread out of the oven, let it cool first.
- Once it’s cool, wrap it up in a clear plastic bag and seal it with tape.
- Write the type of bread it is and today’s date on the bag and put it in the freezer.
- When you want to eat it, after taking it out you’re going to thaw it. Let it come to room temperature. Somewhere between 3-8 hours depending on how big your bread or slices are is perfect.
- Once it’s reached room temperature, wrap it up whole loaves in aluminium foil. Heat your oven to 220C (430F) and bake for 5-10 minutes. This will restore its original crisp texture.
If you're going to just eat small portions, take out your bread knife and cutting board, and have it sliced before you freeze it. This will save you up time and resources by just having to thaw the portions you need.
Can I keep bread in a sealed plastic bag?
Sealing sourdough bread in plastic bags or wrap will keep it soft, but will make it go mouldy quickly. For soft bread or rolls, the best way to keep them soft is to store them in a sealed bag. Homemade soft sourdough bread can be stored in a sealed bag for 2-3 days before mould sets. You can put a piece of celery in the bag to increase acidity which prevents mould from setting in too early.
Pros and cons of sealing bread in a plastic bag:
- If the sealant is thin, oxygen can permeate through. This allows mold spores from inside of the bag outwards onto your prized loaf when left for too long.
- One factor we must consider when using plastic bag packaging is the type of plastic itself. It can be either low density polyethylene or high density polyethylene. As its name suggests, low density polyethylene allows moisture to escape. While high density polyethylene is moisture-proof, it prevents bread from drying out fast.
Frequently asked questions on storing sourdough bread
Can I freeze bread to keep it fresher for longer?
Absolutely! You can freeze your bread without a problem. In fact, a freezer is the best way to store bread for a long period of time. Freezing will help preserve the moisture content inside the bread. Making it last longer and fresh for consumption even when you take it out. Just make sure it’s well wrapped to prevent freezer burn!
Should I put my sourdough bread in the refrigerator?
No! It may be the usual preserver for any kind of leftovers we consume, but a refrigerator is not the best way to store sourdough bread. Because of the moisture retention properties and its cool temperature, starch accelerates its rate of coagulation. This makes the bread stale much faster than it would at room temperature.
Can I vacuum pack bread?
Vacuum sealing bread would be a good way to store your bread for an extremely long time. As it’s sucked out all of the air, nothing can go in and out of it. This can be great for bread slices too! But it’s not really environmentally friendly, and a sheet of laminate costs the same as it does to make a loaf of sourdough! So is it worth it?