Thursday, 5 July 2018

Sliced bread (1928)

Lightly toasted sliced bread circa 2009
Introduced June 1928

There’s a common phrase “the best thing since sliced bread”. But have you ever considered exactly what time period that refers to? Yes? Well, wonder no more… because sliced bread is ninety years old this month. Apparently.

It’s a product you are possibly familiar with, having been around for thousands of years, presumably with a great deal of uneven sawing and cursing along the way. Having the bread pre-sliced not only made it easier, but it made bread more popular too.

All this convenience has to be a good thing, right? No downsides and all that? Well, bizarrely in 1943 the United States made sliced bread illegal.

Of course if you eat sliced and unsliced bread you might have spotted one downside with the sliced version – it dries out more quickly. Unsliced bread is protected by the dry crust, but when you slice it you expose the moister interior to the atmosphere. To protect sliced bread from drying out, it needs to be wrapped and in 1943 that meant using waxed paper.

They take this very seriously in Chillicothe, Missouri
Claude R Wickard - head of the War Food Administration – decided that the waxed paper could be better used for something else. Aircraft carriers, tanks and atom bombs perhaps. In New York, local bigwig John F Conaboy tried to clamp down on illegal sliced bread sellers even harder. You might suspect that neither Mr Wickard nor Mr Conaboy prepared much in the way of food in their households. The ban was finally lifted in March 1943, presumably after the Manhattan Project said they were more concerned about wonky sandwiches than saving waxed paper.

The city of Chillicothe, Missouri has a website dedicated to the product launched in their town, which also appears to have been created in 1928. Today both sliced and unsliced bread are commonly available in most food stores.

A few years after the ill-advised ban on sliced bread, the Second World War also produced another kitchen helper – the microwave oven. As far as many households were concerned, that really was the best thing since sliced bread.

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