Why Are Baguettes Shaped The Way They Are?

A timeline and interesting facts about one of France’s most iconic foods.

Image by Mae Mu via Unsplash

Arguably one of the most recognizable foods in the world, the baguette is a staple of French cuisine and culture. The long, thin bread is often pictured in popular shows and movies – like Emily in Paris – and sold in cafés across the globe.

Contrary to what its popularity might suggest, the modern-day baguette has only existed since about the 1920s.

Slightly older precursors to the modern baguette can be traced back to the 18th century. Bakers were developing different shapes, styles, and colors of bread. Though they began as common grain products, the elongated breads were named as “flutes” and designated as luxury products since they did not keep well. Later, flutes made by Parisian bakers –or screvée flutes – were uniquely marked with the trademark incisions common to baguettes today.

In addition to the characteristic grooves, there were other changes made to the bread over time. The Directory of the Parisian Bakery set requirements for bakers to make lighter baguettes. With changes in industry, the way that bread was produced in France changed along with it. In the early 1960s, new methods to control fermentation were developed that allowed bakers more leeway to decide when they would bake their products. Evolving technology and a push for mass production also influenced bakers to product baguettes that were thinner.

Consumer expectations were also an influential force in the development of the modern-day baguette. These may not have impacted shape and density as much as they affected the ingredients used to make the bread. Throughout recent history, consumers became concerned with having no additives in their food and to have bread that would be compatible for specialized diets, like keto, paleo, and vegan lifestyles.

Image by Bas Peperzak via Unsplash

This covers a very broad timeline of the evolution of thin breads that have been available in the country and in neighboring regions. Though there is very clear and definitive development in recent history, the exact origin of baguettes is not universally agreed upon.

There are a few popular myths as to where baguettes originate. First is that Napoleon requested that bakers produce bread that was easy for soldiers to carry in their uniforms. The shape of rounder or thicker breads would be uncomfortable for the soldiers to keep in their uniforms leading to the long, thin shape.

The second myth is that baguettes were made to address a widespread food shortage. They were to be a “bread of equality” and be available to the poor and the rich.

Another myth is that baguettes were created to dissuade metro workers from carrying knives with them to work to cut their bread. Baguettes are thought to be made easier to tear by hand for this reason.

Image by Miti via Unsplash

There is also belief that since there was time when bakers weren’t allowed to work from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., they needed to modify recipes to be able to have time to bake breads before they opened up shops. Of course, there are also the influences for neighboring countries that could have culminated in France.

There are so many things to love about the baguette, and even though no one really knows where they started from, you’ll never have a problem finishing one!

Jade Hargrove

Jade is a Georgia native who has enjoys trying new foods, podcasts, and long car rides with friends. She hopes to one day travel to every French-speaking country in the world to experience the different dialects and cultures that can be found around the world.

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