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320 eaten every second: 6 key facts about the French baguette

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AFP/The Local France - [email protected]
320 eaten every second: 6 key facts about the French baguette
Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

While berets and strings of garlic around the neck might be more stereotype than reality, long loaves of bread are still seen tucked under arms all over France on a daily basis.

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Here's everything you need to know about the quintessentially French loaf. 

1. The French can't get enough of it

According to data site Planetoscope, some 10 billion baguettes are consumed every year in France - some 320 every second.

When France was in its strictest lockdown for the pandemic in 2020, it made sure to keep bakeries open as an essential business. And as anxious consumers around the world stockpiled toilet paper, the French thronged bakeries for baguettes, fearing a shortage of their daily bread. 

READ ALSO: Baguettiquette: Weird things the French do with bread

2. It's the only respectable street snack in France

The French generally don't snack while walking down the street – except the croûton

Nibbling le croûton, the French term for the 'end' or 'crust' of the baguette, is something of a ritual in France.

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After work, French people will typically pass by a boulangerie to pick up a fresh baguette to bring home for dinner. When they arrive at home, the croûton will often be missing (because it has been eaten).

READ ALSO: How to snack (or not) like a French person

3. But the golden era of bakeries seems to be bygone

When nominating the baguette for UNESCO world heritage status in 2021, the French culture ministry did draw attention to the steady fall in the number of boulangeries around the country, especially in rural areas.

 "In 1970, there were 55,000 artisanal bakeries (one for every 790 residents) compared with 35,000 today (one for every 2,000), often in favour of baguettes produced industrially," it said.

Paris bucks this trend though, with the number of boulangeries in the city seeing a sustained rise in recent years - 94 percent of Parisians live within a five-minute walk of a boulangerie.

France even has a National Competition for the Best Baguette of French Tradition. Here's one of the 2019 finalists preparing his bread. Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

4. The baguette has a mysterious history

The baguette, despite being a seemingly immortal fixture in French life, only officially got its name in 1920 when a new law specified its minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 centimetres).

The rest of the history is rather uncertain.

Some say long loaves were already common in the 18th century; others that it took the introduction of steam ovens by Austrian baker August Zang in the 1830s for its modern incarnation to take shape.

One popular tale is that Napoleon ordered bread to be made in thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.

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Another links baguettes to the construction of the Paris Metro in the late 19th century, and the idea that baguettes were easier to tear up and share, avoiding arguments between the workers and the need for knives. 

READ ALSO: The French eating habits the world should learn from

5. Bakers are very competitive

Wander down any French high street and it won't be long before you see a bakery proudly boasting about its contest wins.

There are hundreds of these competitions every year organised on a local, regional and national level and offering prizes for the best baguette, and proud winners often decorate their shop windows with the trophy, to entice in customers.

The winner of the best baguette in Paris gets, in addition to a cash prize, a contract to supply baguettes to the president's home for a year - so if you're offered a sandwich while visiting the Elysée, you can be sure that the bread will be good.

6 But is it a tradition?

One thing that frequently confuses foreigners is the difference between a baguette and a tradition. They're both long, think loaves of bread but the tradition will typically be 10-20 cents more expensive.

The difference lies in the recipe - to be counted as a tradition, it must be made using only flour, yeast, salt and water - the recipe specified in the French government's 'bread decree' of 1993.

If you're splashing out the extra few centimes for a tradition, the baker will often ask if you want it bien cuit or pas trop bien cuit - ie whether you prefer a darker colour and crispy crust or a loaf that is a little less well done.

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Anonymous 2021/03/27 07:57
Baguettes as recommended by dentists throughout France.

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