Staling, or "going stale", is a chemical and physical process in bread and similar foods that reduces their palatability - stale bread is dry and hard.
Mechanism and effects
Staling is not simply a drying-out process due to evaporation. One important mechanism is the migration of moisture from the starch granules into the interstitial spaces, degelatinizing the starch. The starch amylose and amylopectin molecules realign themselves causing recrystalisation. This results in stale bread's leathery, hard texture.
Bread will stale even in a moist environment, and stales most rapidly at temperatures just above freezing. Bread stored in a refrigerator will have increased staling rates.
Many classic dishes rely upon otherwise unpalatable stale bread. Examples include bread sauce, bread dumplings, and flummadiddle, an early American savoury pudding. There are also many types of bread soups such as wodzionka (in Silesian cuisine) and ribollita (in Italian cuisine). A sweet dish is bread pudding. Cubes of stale bread can be dipped in cheese fondue, or seasoned and baked in the oven to become croutons, suitable for scattering in salads or on top of soups. Slices of stale bread soaked in an egg and milk mixture and then fried turn into French toast (known in French as pain perdu - lost bread). In Spanish and Portuguese cuisines migas is a breakfast dish using stale bread, and in Tunisian cuisine leblebi is a soup of chickpeas and stale bread.
Stale bread can be used to "stretch" meat in dishes such as haslet (a type of meatloaf in American cuisine) and garbure (a stew in French cuisine). It can be a subsidiary ingredient in dishes such as fattoush (a type of salad in Levantine cuisine). Stale bread can be used as a base for dips such as skordalia (in Greek cuisine), or substituted with another ingredient.
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- Gray, J.A.; Bemiller, J.N. (January 2003), "Bread Staling: Molecular Basis and Control", Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2 (1): 1–21, doi:10.1111/j.1541-4337.2003.tb00011.x
- Xie, Feng (1998). The study of bread staling using visible and near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (PDF) (Ph.D.). Kansas State University. Retrieved 2014-08-25.