I said vacuum.
April 19, 2010 1:10 AM   Subscribe

I suck the air out of bags of bread before I twist-tie them back up. Weird or practical? Or a bit of both?

I don't slobber all over the bags or anything and I'm pretty much the sole user of said bread, but I've convinced myself the less air the better, and without the pesky expense of one of those as-seen-on-tv vacuum guys.

Go ahead and try it. I've had a bag of Aunt Hattie's bread in my pantry for about a month now and it's still in pretty-soft-and-no-mold shape. (Though theirs has an inner bag that I think really helps too.)

Anyone else do this? Or am I alone in my quest, the freshest of breads doing ever-so-little to cushion my descent into madness?
posted by disillusioned to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure it helps - most mold/fungi require oxygen to survive, so the less air, the less oxygen, and also the less mold growth.

More importantly, however, your Aunt Hattie's bread contains calcium propionate, a preservative/mold inhibitor. If you stored all-natural bread without any preservatives in your pantry, it will probably start getting moldy within a week.

That's why I always put my bread in the fridge -- it lets me buy good, healthy bread without worrying too much about having to use it up soon.
posted by suedehead at 1:26 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suck the air out of bags of bread before I twist-tie them back up. Weird or practical? Or a bit of both?

FWIW I've never heard of anyone doing this. And unless you vacuum seal it, I can't help but think there's still a reasonable bit of air in there.

Nthing the bread-in-the-fridge suggestion (or freezer, then microwave or toast as needed).
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:28 AM on April 19, 2010

I remember my dad telling me my grandma used to do this. According to Dad, it did keep the bread fresher. Then again, he grew up in a pretty big family, so loaves of bread didn't have much of a chance to sit around and get mouldy.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:41 AM on April 19, 2010

Unless you are a commercial vacuum, you are putting a bit of moisture into the bags because your wet mouth gets that damn close to the bread.

Bread + moisture=bad

Why not do an experiment?
When you get sliced bread, you always need 2 slices right?

Do your suck trick on one bag where you get one slice.
Don't do your suck trick on the other bag where you get the other slice.

Keep them both in the same place. See which one gets moldy first.

Also...if you ever want to not live by yourself, you should stop doing what you are doing...but I am interested in your results. Please memail me with them.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:53 AM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Wouldn't it be better to just gently press as much air as possible out of the bag with your hands? Taking care to not crush the bread, of course.

I've never quite understood why people don't normally refrigerate their bread anyway.
posted by kmz at 2:46 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a question for…… Science~! (seconding hal_c_on's answer above)
posted by msittig at 2:53 AM on April 19, 2010

The amount of air a microbe needs to rot your bread is very small.

The bread is full of holes.

The holes are full of air.

If you sucked enough air from the bag to make a difference, the bread would be mashed flat.
posted by fake at 3:15 AM on April 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Weird and impractical. Not that you should necessarily stop doing it. Lots of people in this world do a lot of things that are far weirder and less practical. Still. Weird.
posted by The World Famous at 3:19 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Uh, I sometimes squeeze the air out of a bag to create a partial vacuum. But suck the air out?

No. That's weird.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:00 AM on April 19, 2010

I just squish the air out with my hands just before I seal it.

No idea if it's any better for the bread but it takes up less space in the freezer.
posted by mr_silver at 4:01 AM on April 19, 2010

I do it too, with bagels. I also don't know if it makes any difference.
posted by twoporedomain at 4:32 AM on April 19, 2010

Most of the "baked fresh in the store" bread (Kroger) and the fresh loaves locally (Zingerman's Bakehouse, Whole Foods, Plum Market) around here put their bread in paper bags with a type of cellophane window with micropores to let the bread breathe. I don't have a bag here to read the printed reasons they offer that this helps keep bread fresh/er for a couple of days.

Nthing the fact that you can't possibly suck enough air out of the bread to make a difference. Our family employs the model used by most of the world. We buy just enough bread to last us a day or two. A great disservice was done to America when Otto Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicing machine. I like sliced bread as much as the next person, but this made it possible for commercial bakeries to ship mass produced, preservative-laden soft sponge commonly called "bread" here.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:37 AM on April 19, 2010

Weird or practical? Or a bit of both?

Just weird. Cut it out.
posted by pracowity at 4:46 AM on April 19, 2010

It's weird and scientifically impractical (if anything, you're introducing moisture and microbes), but, for some reason, sounds sort of....fun.
posted by emd3737 at 5:01 AM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

In middle school a "latchkey kid" friend of mine showed me how she blew into the bag of cheese before putting it back into the fridge; there had been some confusion in the air-and-mould message, and a great deal on the germs one. I was horrified and resolved to never leave my own children unattended at home.

My take is that this is not far removed as far as food preservation and ick factors go.
posted by kmennie at 5:13 AM on April 19, 2010

Like everyone else, I seriously doubt that it could make any difference to how fast your bread goes mouldy; the bread itself is full of air and moisture to feed anything that wants to grow.

However, I might be persuaded that it does something to keep the bread from drying out. Bread (like pretty much anything else that's porous) constantly exchanges water molecules with the air around it, as some water evaporates from the bread while some water condenses on it and gets absorbed. In warm, dry environments there will be more evaporation than condensation, so the net movement will be out of the bread, which will go stale. In cool, humid environments there will be less evaporation than condensation, so the net water movement will be into the bread, making it damp.

The rate at which water condenses into the bread will be controlled by the temperature (which your plastic bag won't change) and the humidity of the air around the bread.

In most houses (fairly warm and dry) the bread will tend to dry out, i.e. go stale. However, if the bread is inside a plastic bag, the water that evaporates can't just drift away. Instead it stays trapped, making the air around the bread more humid and therefore increasing the rate at which water vapour condenses back into the bread. This would slow down the bread's net loss of water to the air. So if you imagine one loaf left out and one in a small bag with little air, water would evaporate from both at the same rate (because they're at the same temperature) but more water would condense on and be absorbed into the one inside the small bag (because it's surrounded by a higher humidity).

So... lots of air moving around your bread = evaporated water drifts away, bread dries out. Little air, held close to your bread = evaporated water kept close, to go back into the bread and keep it soft.

Of course, this is using the usual scientists' trick of imagining a perfect system. The real picture is complicated because modern breads generally have fats (oil, butter) added to keep the bread soft, beacuse they don't evaporate easily. Various proteins can also be added (e.g. milk powder can make a loaf softer) for the same effect, hiding the impact of the water leaving the bread.

This is why home-made bread goes stale quickly in the fridge (dehumidifyer in a non-icing fridge will keep the air in there very dry, making the bread dry out faster) but most shop-bought breads won't (they rely on fats and preservatives, not water, to stay soft).

I'm not sure whether sucking the air out of your bag is enough to make this difference, but I know that keeping bread in a plastic bag keeps it soft for longer than a canvas bag, which in turn keeps it soft for longer than just leaving it out on the kitchen table. In my kitchen, anyway.

When you buy bread with little perforated windows to let the bread breathe, this is to keep the crust crunchy. The crust is crunchy because it's so dry. It's much drier than the air (and the rest of the bread), so those perforated windows are to let water vapour from the bread to escape. Otherwise it would be held next to the crust, get absorbed and make the crust go soft faster.

...Otto Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicing machine.
And there's my obscure fact for the day. Thanks!
posted by metaBugs at 5:19 AM on April 19, 2010

I don't do this for bread before storing it in the microwave (is that weird?), but for anything else, like cheese in a ziploc before going into the fridge, or even meat I'm going to freeze, I suck the crap of out that bag! Oh, and I also do it when I make a sandwich for lunch, and I suck so much air out the bread does indeed flatten a bit, but when I open it back up, it magically re-inflates, AND the sandwich hasn't shifted around at all, so it's like I just made it fresh at my desk!
posted by Grither at 5:23 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents do this for bags of apples they are storing for the winter. But for apples you can actually get the bag to be quite taut around them, as they aren't spongy like bread. I believe there's enough of a difference that they bother to do this for dozens of bags of apples...

Don't let people put you off if the results please you.
posted by Tapioca at 5:27 AM on April 19, 2010

I keep my bread in the microwave. I'm single and a loaf lasts me a whole week.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:42 AM on April 19, 2010

My mum has baked bread for as long as I can remember and tends to half her loaves and pop them in the freezer after bagging & sucking the air out with a straw.
posted by i_cola at 5:46 AM on April 19, 2010

I just came into say that I don't think it's weird and I do it with almost everything but raw meat. I like doing it for the space saving qualities of not having a bunch of air left in the bag and because I'm just anal about some things.
posted by kthxbi at 5:51 AM on April 19, 2010

@fake If you sucked enough air from the bag to make a difference, the bread would be mashed flatawesome.
posted by plinth at 6:11 AM on April 19, 2010

I've never quite understood why people don't normally refrigerate their bread anyway.

The refrigerator is the worst place to store bread. Bread goes stale much faster at refrigerator temperature than it does at warmer or cooler temperatures. If you're likely not to finish a loaf of bread before it becomes moldy, freeze half the loaf for later. A thawed frozen loaf is dramatically superior to a dry refrigerated loaf.
posted by Ery at 6:23 AM on April 19, 2010

I do it too. Never mind the haters.
posted by Iteki at 6:26 AM on April 19, 2010

Yeah, I do it too, and it does seem to help. I don't know if things last longer, but they certainly get less of that stale taste. Also, this seems to help the brown sugar keep from hardening up as fast too.
posted by forforf at 7:01 AM on April 19, 2010

Put it in a cloth bag in a nice cool bread-bin with a heavy lid.
posted by howfar at 7:02 AM on April 19, 2010

Just a comment of solidarity. I'm a lifelong breadbag sucker and will be until the day I die. Screw the haters.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2010

It's not weird and not abnormal; both my roommate and I do it. For me it's more about taking up less room on the counter/in the cupboard and not so much about preservation.
posted by talkingmuffin at 8:04 AM on April 19, 2010

Just wanted to chime in and join the "not weird" camp. I don't do this with my bread specifically, but often suck the extra air out of ziplock bags before storing things in the freezer. Carry on!
posted by bobafet at 8:08 AM on April 19, 2010

suedehead: That's why I always put my bread in the fridge -- it lets me buy good, healthy bread without worrying too much about having to use it up soon.

Don't do that! Here's an excerpt from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (but you should already know this – breadboxes are not meant to fit in a fridge):
Storing Bread: Avoid the Refrigerator Staling proceeds most rapidly at temperatures just above freezing, and very slowly below freezing. In one experiment, bread stored in the refrigerator at 46F/7C staled as much in one day as bread held at 86F/30C did in six days. If you're going to use bread in a day or two, then store it at room temperature in a bread box or paper bag, which reduces moisture loss while allowing the crust to remain somewhat crisp. If you need to keep bread for several days or more, then wrap it well in plastic or foil and freeze it. Refrigerate bread (well wrapped_ only if you're going to toast or otherwise reheat it.
posted by halogen at 8:44 AM on April 19, 2010

Argh, the next section is essential:
Bread Spoilage 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 bad allows moisture from the staling starch granules to collect on the bread surfaces and encoutages the growth of potentially toxic molds, especially blue-green species of Aspergillus and Penicillin, gray-white Mucor species, and red Monilia sitophila.
So, lose the plastic bags and get a bread box – sucking the air out doesn't sound particularly hygienic anyway. There are tons of non-hideous ones out there.
posted by halogen at 8:59 AM on April 19, 2010

Although I hate bags of bread cluttering up the freezer, this article says that freezing (and toasting) bread is also good for lowering the glycemic index of bread. Unfortunately, he doesn't cite the study he quotes.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2010

I suck the air out of everything going into the freezer in order to minimize freezer burn (using a drinking straw if it's for someone else). I squeeze the air out of breadbags in the cupboard so they take up less room.

Possibly weirder semi-derail: I roll down the top of the bread bag as I consume the loaf so that it's easier to get to, and tidier. I learned this by watching Charlie at The Tasty in Harvard Square.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:40 AM on April 20, 2010

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