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A typical wooden breadbox.

A breadbox (chiefly American) or a bread bin (chiefly British)[1] is a container for storing bread and other baked goods to keep them fresh. They were a more common household kitchen item until bread started being made commercially with food preservatives and wrapped in plastic. Breadboxes are still used by many people to store commercially purchased bread, but are used more especially by people who bake bread at home. Newer ones are usually made of metal. In the past they were often made of wood or sometimes pottery (pottery breadboxes are also called bread crocks). Old breadboxes can be collectible antiques.

Breadboxes are most commonly big enough to fit one or two average size loaves of bread—about 12 inches wide by 6 inches high and deep (30 cm x 15 cm x 15 cm).

Working theory[edit]

Bread does not go stale by "drying out"—stale "dry" bread weighs the same as moist "fresh" bread, indicating almost no loss of water. Bread goes stale through a process of retrogradation, in which the starch transposes to a crystalline form in the presence of the water contained within the bread itself. The process speeds up at cooler temperatures,[2] such as under refrigeration, and thus bread stored at room temperature remains fresher for longer periods than refrigerated bread[citation needed]. (Frozen bread, however, traps the moisture as ice, and prevents the staling process.)[3]

Breadboxes are thus designed to:

  • Keep their contents at room temperature, prolonging edible storage time.
  • Have a lid loose enough to allow airflow, reducing condensation, which helps to prevent the formation of mold
  • Have a lid tight enough to protect their contents from mice and all other pests, including ants and flies.

As a saying[edit]

The most common reference to breadboxes is the phrase "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" when trying to guess what some surprise object may be.[1] This question was popularized by Steve Allen on the American game show What's My Line? where he initially asked the question on 18 January 1953. It remains a popular question in the parlor game 20 Questions.


  1. ^ a b Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  2. ^ Cereals in breadmaking: a molecular colloidal approach, Ann-Charlotte Eliasson, Kåre Larsson, CRC Press, 1993, pages: 128-129, ISBN 0-8247-8816-8, ISBN 978-0-8247-8816-2
  3. ^ Freeze, Don’t Refrigerate Your Bread