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The French Baguette is Officially Recognized and Protected by UNESCO: Here’s Why

UNESCO dubbed French baguettes to be culturally significant and protected

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The French baguette has joined the list of UNESCO’s culturally-protected foods, in great company among Neapolitan pizza, Arabic coffee and Belgian beer. These foods are recognized by UNESCO as being culturally significant and essential to French culture. This is especially poignant now, as UNESCO reports that 400 French bakeries have closed every year since 1972. However, 10 billion are sold in the country each year, many coming from large chain stores.

This recognition from UNESCO will hopefully remind everyone to appreciate the impact and important baguette’s have on their economy, society and culture. UNESCO Director General, Aundrey Azoulay, tells CNN:

“This will make people realize that this regular baguette that they know very well, is something precious. It comes from history and it has character and it’s important to make the public aware of this, to be proud of it.”

When the UNESCO list was pronounced in Morocco, President of the French Bakers’ Confederation, Dominique Anract, addressed the meeting by saying, “The baguette is a living heritage which follows us through life. When a baby is teething, his parents give him the tip of a baguette to chew on. When a child grows up, the first errand he carries out on his own is to go and buy a baguette at the boulangerie” (bakery). He added, “For our elders, buying a baguette at the boulangerie is sometimes their only daily social contact.”

“A French way of life.”

France’s former Minister of Culture, Roselyn Bachelot, tweeted shortly after approving the French baguette for UNESCO’s recognition, “50 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives. A French way of life.”

More than 400 years of practice and a whole revolution have gone into the making of the modern day French baguette. Its origination dates back to 1839 when August Zang used a steam oven to produce bread with a crunchy crust with a wonderfully fluffy interior. This recipe gained popularity in 1920 when a French worker’s law was passed that prevented bakers from starting work before 4 a.m. To make up for lost time, bakers made long, thin baguettes that were qucker to cook. 

Most artisan bakers regard baguettes as one of the hardest breads to make, while others claim that French baguettes aren’t necessarily complicated to make, but require almost perfect factors such as freshness of the yeast, the temperature of your kitchen, humidity and more. 

Plus, baking baguettes requires a few days worth of commitment. You need four days alone to make the levain starter you’ll need to bake your baguette, but then you add on preparation time, about four hours to rise the dough and 20 minutes to bake it. 

A genuine French baguette will be hard on the outside with a crisp, golden crust with a soft inside. If you squeeze your baguette and it returns to its original shape, it’s regarded as perfect.  

Why is French bread so much better than (some or most) American bread? For one, France has the French Bread Law of 1993 which has strict rules a true French bakery must adhere to in  order to call itself a genuine boulangerie. Bread must be made on-site with no pre-made dough, a baguette must weigh 250-300 grams and be 55-65 centimeters long, and the ingredients must only include flour, salt, yeast and water – no preservatives. 

Another defining characteristic of a true, good French baguette is the long fermenting period. Additionally, French flours are weaker than those milled in the U.S. and don’t contain bromate or malt. All these differences are what make French baguettes stand apart – in fact, much of the U.S.’s French bread is not baguettes, but more closely relate to Vienna bread according to Gareth Busby of Busby’s Bakery School. 

A Rising Problem

Earlier in 2022, one of the biggest producers of store-bought bread, The Leclerc group, cut prices of baguettes for four months to combat inflation. While great for consumers, this angered farmers, bakers and millers, who could not compete. Jean-Francois Loiseau, head of The National Association of French Milling, says that what Leclerc is doing is shameful.

“We’re trying to keep up jobs and quality, there’s a price for that,” the head of the ANMF millers’ association, Jean-Francois Loiseau, told AFP. “We have to pay people properly, those who plant, harvest, who gather the grain and make flour, those who make the bread.”

This changed, however, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The New York Times reports that the price of wheat in France has increased more than 30 percent since then, which is driving up the price of a loaf of bread.

To celebrate French baguette’s indoctrination into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, cook this French Onion Soup with Bacon & Cheesy Baguette.