320 eaten every second: What you need to know about the French baguette

320 eaten every second: What you need to know about the French baguette
Photo: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP
France has chosen the baguette as its candidate for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status. Here's five things you need to know about that most quintessential of French symbols.

1. The French can’t get enough of it

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

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 last spring, 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.

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 generally 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

However, in its UNESCO nomination, the 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.

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.

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. But it may soon getting renewed glory

With all this in mind, perhaps the only surprise is how long it has taken for the culture ministry to submit the baguette for consideration to UNESCO, the government said it had on Friday.

UNESCO confers the status of intangible heritage, which must involve a specific community of practitioners, on around 100 very different things around the world each year.

It will pronounce its decision in late 2022.

France selected the baguette from a shortlist that also included Paris’s iconic rooftops and the Biou d’Arbois harvest festival in the Jura department.

This year’s list included sauna culture in Finland, a lantern festival in South Korea and a grass-mowing competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


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