French Baguettes Just Scored a Major Victory

The beloved bread has been awarded new protections by UNESCO.

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French baguette sliced with butter
Photo: L Jones (Shutterstock)

France brings many (stereotypical) images to mind: overly long art films, beret-wearing poets, and creamy brie spread thickly atop a slice of baguette. Now, the iconic loaf that could double as a police baton has received a special honor: Like the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Palace of Versailles, the French baguette has received UNESCO heritage status, CNN reports.

So what does this mean? Are baguette bakers protected from greedy developers turning their boulangeries into luxury condos?

Not exactly. The honor is more of a symbolic one, with UNESCO—the arts and culture arm of the UN—adding the French staple to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which aims to protect and preserve culturally significant traditions and crafts in an era of increased globalization and mass production. It’s not the first food to be included, either: Neapolitan pizza, kimchi, and Arabic coffee have all received the honor as well.

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UNESCO head Audrey Asoulay told BBC that the baguette “celebrates the French way of life” and shouldn’t be forgotten by Gen Z. “The baguette is a daily ritual, a structuring element of the meal, synonymous with sharing and conviviality,” she said. “It is important that these skills and social habits continue to exist in the future.”

While the baguette is unquestionably foundational to French cuisine, it has actually been on the decline in recent decades. BBC reported that France lost nearly 20,000 bakeries over the last 50 years as consumers’ shopping habits shifted away from smaller bakeries and toward larger grocery stores, where the baguettes are mass produced rather than hand-crafted. The concern among bakers led France to officially file for UNESCO protection early last year, although CNN reports the initiative had been in the works for six years prior as the country put together its proposal.

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“This title would comfort bakers and encourage the next generation,” French bakery owner Mickael Reydellet told Reuters in February 2021.

The baguette has also faced increasing competition from another yeasty rival. Sourdough, which exploded in popularity during the COVID lockdown in 2020, has experienced a renaissance, leaving other traditional varieties in the dust. As chef Jon Davis of LA’s La Brea Bakery told Bake magazine in May, “Bread is back—because of sourdough.”

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Of course, there is no need to pit these two complex carbs against each other. As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you’ve got the time, there are plenty of recipes you can follow to get the best of both worlds with your very own sourdough baguette. Bon appétit.