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Bread and Bagels Best Kept Out of the Fridge

July 13, 1998|ED BLONZ

Dear Dr. Blonz: I enjoy bagels and use them for sandwiches. I tend to buy a few at a time and store them at home. I have tried storing them in the refrigerator, but they never taste the same. To see whether it was only bagels that have this problem, I tried the same with bread. Same result: It gets hard! What is it about refrigeration that ruins bagels and bread?

--S.Q., Newark, N.J.

Dear S.Q.: It seems altogether reasonable to think of refrigeration as a way to keep bread fresh. After all, many bacteria and molds--all spoilers of bread--tend to grow slower at cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, refrigerator temperature has a unique effect on bread that actually works at cross purposes to what you are trying to accomplish. There is a better way, but first let's find out why the refrigerator is ruining your bread.

Bread goes stale when its starch undergoes a change in structure. There are actually two types of starches in bread. Over time, each starch changes from a random to a more rigid arrangement. The first starch becomes rigid as the freshly baked bread cools from oven temperature to room temperature. If you have baked bread, you may have noticed that right-out-of-the-oven bread has a soft, almost marshmallow-like texture that makes it difficult to slice. If the bread is allowed to cool a bit, though, the first starch sets up, the bread gets structure and the loaf slices normally.

The settling of the second starch takes up to a week. As this starch changes, the texture of the bread shifts from soft to hard, or, as we call it, stale. Although stale bread has a dried-out appearance, loss of moisture is not the complete explanation--a loaf will turn stale even in a well-sealed, unopened package. Time and temperature, it turns out, are the key.

Refrigerator temperature (40 degrees Fahrenheit) causes the second starch to settle faster. That makes storing bread via refrigeration a mixed blessing. Your bread doesn't get moldy because the cool temperature slows the growth of spoilage microorganisms, but the bread loses its softness and goes stale in about a day.

Freezing may provide a solution. Freezer temperatures not only inhibit mold, but also stop the settling process of the second starch. If you are unable to get through your bagels, consider putting them in the freezer. If it is bread you are concerned about, split the loaf after purchase and store half in the freezer. Whatever you store, always make sure the package is well sealed.

Dear Dr. Blonz: Is there something in asparagus that makes my urine smell? My husband doesn't have the same problem.

--G.A., Nashville

Dear G.A.: Asparagus, garlic and onion are members of the lily family. These vegetables all have sulfur-containing compounds that can give rise to distinctive odors. In the case of asparagus, though, the peculiar odor isn't noticeable in the raw vegetable. Rather, it comes from metabolic byproducts that are present in the urine after the asparagus is eaten. These harmless, yet malodorous, compounds do not appear to be produced in everyone.

* Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or e-mail to ed@blonz.com. Personal replies cannot be provided.

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