Sliced bread was not that great for three months

Slicing bread yourself is not only tedious, it also results in uneven slices. The bread slicing machine, first marketed in 1928, was an incredibly useful invention and took the country by storm so that in just five years, about 80% of bread was sold pre-sliced. The phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” has become a cliche, so much so that one wonders whether a similar saying existed before it and, if so, what the equivalent product of comparison was.

But during World War II, the overzealous person in charge of war time food supplies actually banned sliced bread for reasons that had dubious merit.

In 1943, Claude R. Wickard, the head of the War Foods Administration as well as the Secretary of Agriculture, got the bright idea to ban pre-sliced bread in America, which he did on January 18, 1943.  The specific reasons behind this aren’t entirely clear, though it was about conservation of resources, particularly generally thought to have been about conserving wax paper, wheat, and steel.

None of these reasons held up. The US had a two-year stockpile of wheat, there was no shortage of wax paper, and it was not clear that much steel would be saved. The outcry against the ban was so great that he reversed his policy after just three months.


  1. Who Cares says

    My parents still have a bread slicer at home. Gets out of the cupboard twice a year with Easter and Christmas for bread. At other times it doubles as a sausage/meat/cheese/vegetable slicer. Pretty simple, V shape to keep whatever contained, two rails to move the cutter so you can vary the thickness, a hand crank to power the guillotine. And if people want to know if it is sharp, my fingers say yes :p

  2. blf says

    One of the best culinary investments I made was a serious bread knife. I’ve long cut up my bread however i want it cut up (which doesn’t always mean slices (regular or not)), and since I frequently buy bread with rather hard crusts (not a “requirement”, it just happens), the usual(?) thin / floppy bread knife doesn’t work, is dangerous, or gets stuck. Frustrated, I eventually located a thick heavy stable bread knife (you cannot bend it!) which works except when the bread has gone all (brick-)hard… which is not a stale of bread that has any normal use I am aware of. Cost a fair amount and I’ve had it since the beginning of this millennium, still defeating bread without much bother.

  3. mnb0 says

    “The bread slicing machine, first marketed in 1928, was an incredibly useful invention”
    Disagreed. The slices the machine produces are too thin to my taste.
    Of course American bread is hardly edible anyway, especially for Dutchies like me. It has way too much sugar and salt.

    My favourite consists of two self-sliced (hence thick) pieces of (very dark) Alinson bread with a thick (also self-sliced) piece of matured cheese and a piece of rye bread in between.

  4. lochaber says

    I just use a chef’s knife -- If you keep it reasonably sharp, it will cut bread (even crusty bread) just fine, and not generate near as much crumbs as a typical serrated bread knife. It’s not too difficult to cut a nice, even slice out of it, but it does take some attention to detail as well as a bit of practice.

  5. flex says

    blf @2 wrote,

    except when the bread has gone all (brick-)hard… which is not a stale of bread that has any normal use I am aware of.

    No uses for brick hard bread? Surely you jest!

    Throw it into the blender and make it into breadcrumbs. Then you can add it to soups as a thickener. Most gazpacho recipes even call for breadcrumbs as a thickener, but using it in place of corn starch for thick stews is my favorite. You can also take the breadcrumbs and use them for breading on fish, chicken, or mushrooms. Add a little dry seasoning of your choice (tarragon for chicken, lemon zest for fish, and thyme for mushrooms is my suggestion), as well as salt and pepper and you’ve got a great breading.

    I’ll also throw a chunk of rock hard bread into a cup of bullion for a lunch which is quick and filling. 3 minutes to bring a bullion cube to boil, then add chunks of bread (which you may have broken apart with a hammer), and in another minute you’ve got a meal. It takes longer to make ramen.

    My wife sometimes teases me about how I save even stale bread, so I know where blf is coming from. And I don’t save all my old bread, once I reach a stock level of about 8 cups of breadcrumbs I’ll give the old bread to the chickens. But there are plenty of uses for stale bread.

  6. robert79 says

    I love bread, but I’m not a huge bread eater, I live by myself and like a (preferably thick) slice for breakfast, and I don’t lunch heavy (usually some soup or a salad). This means that even half a loaf takes me a week.

    With sliced bread, I end up throwing away part of my half loaf, it either gets way too dry or goes moldy. While unsliced bread (admittedly, I use thicker slices so I go through it slightly faster) at the end of the week I can toast whatever I slice and it’ll still be tasty.

    And seriously with a good breadknife and a breadboard, it takes a fraction of a second to cut a slice!

  7. anat says

    For years we mostly baked our own bread. My husband received a pile of bread-baking cookbooks from a friend who had tried to operate a bakery but couldn’t make it work out economically, thus we ate a huge variety of breads, and obviously we sliced them ourselves. But now we stopped eating gluten-containing grains for assorted reasons (the most serious of them is that either gluten or one of the associated molecules seems to have been a major driver of my husband’s psoriatic arthritis). We both miss bread, but the gain in health is worth it.

    The way to deal with supermarket-bought sliced bread is to freeze it, then release the desired number of slices and toast them. But it was hard to find a bread that wasn’t horribly sweet -- in our area bread by ‘Dave’s killer bread’ has some decent varieties. Costco used to sell an unsliced whole-grain bread that was baked in their own bakeries -- I liked it because it had a proper crust and wasn’t sweet. Then they switched to some white variety, so we gave up on them.

    TMK in Israel to this day most bread is sold unsliced. There is (was?) the so-called ‘uniform bread’ which was government-subsidized and was somewhere between white and whole-grain. Starting from the 1990s with the Russian immigration there was an explosion of varieties of Russian/Ukrainian style bread, which comes in dark round loaves, unsliced -- and was wonderful.

    So to me quality bread comes unsliced, and I never understood what was so great about sliced bread.

  8. Mano Singham says

    robert79 @#6,

    Like anat @#7, I too freeze bread.

    I buy sliced bread and put it in freezer immediately. When I want bread, I take out the number of slices I need and keep them on a plate and cover them. In about 30 minutes, the bread is ready to eat and tastes like fresh bought bread. The bread keeps for weeks in the freezer, so no waste.

    If I want toast, the frozen bread slices go straight into the toaster over and come out just fine.

  9. fentex says

    I put bread in my refrigerator because no matter how hard I scrub and apply bleach I can’t get rid of a colony of mould hiding somewhere around my bread bin that quickly infects any bread I have.

    By the way the best thing since sliced bread is lanoline in tissues.

  10. John Morales says

    When I was a lad in Spain, the only couple of times I saw sliced bread I found it rather exotic. We had what the English call ‘bagettes’ — crusty outside, soft inside.


    I buy sliced bread and put it in freezer immediately. When I want bread, I take out the number of slices I need and keep them on a plate and cover them. In about 30 minutes, the bread is ready to eat and tastes like fresh bought bread.

    That’s… kind of sad.

    Seriously, if you find defrosted frozen bread tastes like fresh bread, you’ve seriously missed out on one of the pleasures of life.

  11. chatt says

    I get sliced whole grain bread and keep it in the freezer, but i have to wrap each loaf in four extra bread bags to keep it from getting freezer burn.

  12. blf says

    flex@5, Thanks for the reminder about the style of gazpacho which includes bread… similar to what you say, when I make that style, I grind up the brick-hard bread with the food processor (much safer, easier, and faster then attacking it with any knife!). I’ve done the bullion thing as well, but that’s not my cup of, er, bullion. So yeah, whilst I wasn’t jesting (I honestly couldn’t think of any uses for bricked bread when I wrote @2), you’re very much correct, it does have it uses. Thank you for the correction !

    Amusingly, I just returned from the morning outdoors market, where I bought a tonne (or so it seems!) of fresh veggies — with an eye towards making some gazpacho, albeit probably a spicy variety sans bread (as I have hot chilies, garlic, etc., but no bread at all at the moment).

    I tend to use stale — as opposed to brick-hard — bread for stuff like pan perdue and croutons; the bread knife easily deals with stale bread. I try not to let the bread go stale (much less dry into a brick!), but as others have mentioned, am somewhat erratic in my bread consumption, some baguettes and most of a loaf one week, and perhaps the remains of that loaf over the next week or so…

  13. blf says

    I forgot to add… I can’t stand breaded fish. Seafood covered in crumbs is an abomination unto Nuggan, Nero, and Neptune. (I suspect my intense dislike comes from assorted dishes where the breading soaks up grease, so what you find up with is what was perhaps a decent fish now overcooked and dripping with grease, and covered with goo, also dripping with grease, and — usually — way too much salt. It does not have to be that way, but seems to have been so often that way that I now avoid such dishes out of halibut.)

  14. John Morales says


    the style of gazpacho which includes bread

    What? If it doesn’t have bread, it’s not gazpacho.

  15. Katydid says

    @anat: Some Costcos (not mine, but a nearby one) carry Carbonaut bread. It’s low-carb so it’s got to be low-wheat. I had some at a friend’s house; it appears to have chia seeds and an assortment of other seeds and nuts and reminds me a lot of the bread I ate as a child living outside the USA.

    I’ve read and heard anecdotally that people in the USA who can’t eat bread can often eat it in non-USA countries. The thinking is that it may have to do with the wheat used or else the conditioner used to make the bread riser faster than it normally would. In any event, the combo of wheat-plus-sugar affects many people’s health for the worse. Glad you found out what was triggering your husband’s health.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of American bread--to me, it’s so sweet and cake-y that you might as well wrap a Twinkie around some meat and have the same result. For awhile there was a French bakery nearby that made the most amazing olive bread. I also liked their lemon-and-rosemary bread. They didn’t use sugar--just flour, water, salt, and yeast (plus whatever fruit/herb).

  16. says

    Slicing bread yourself is not only tedious, it also results in uneven slices.

    Tedious? Seriously? Taking a knife and getting a slice of bread takes a couple of seconds. I understand that children or disabled people have problems slicing bread for themselves, but just how lazy does an average person have to be to perceive slicing bread as tedious… Makes me wonder how such people successfully manage to brush their teeth or comb their hair…

    Also, why do people even care if slices of bread are uneven? Do they become inedible or poorly tasting or what?

    Sliced bread must be sold wrapped in plastics. It must be stored in plastics to prevent it from drying. All that plastics does not get recycled. In addition, bread that gets sold already sliced is typically baked to have greater volume and thus results in lower quality. When people have to slice their own bread, they notice if it is full with air and thus harder to slice. When bread is already sliced, people pay less attention to its quality. Thus manufacturers compete to make the biggest loaf of bread with the smallest amount of ingredients. The resulting loaf of bread sure looks big, but its weight is minuscule and it is full with air.

  17. says

    Andreas, you could try being a bit less judgemental. Don’t try being more condescending, I doubt you could manage even if you tried.

  18. flex says

    blf wrote,

    with an eye towards making some gazpacho, albeit probably a spicy variety sans bread (as I have hot chilies, garlic, etc., but no bread at all at the moment).

    Sounds delish. My wife prefers gazpacho without bread, and without chunks, so I’ll make it with just some cubano peppers, cucumber, garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, salt, rice-wine vinegar, and lots and lots of olive oil. All the diced veggies go into a bowl, and get liquified with the immersion blender. Then the salt and vinegar is added. While blending continuously, the olive oil is added to make an emulsion. I end up adding about 2 cups of olive oil for about a half-gallon of soup. No exact measurements, gazpacho is made to taste so I’ll keep adding salt, vinegar, and oil until it tastes right. Rich, thick, creamy, and very filling. With that much oil in it, a cup is a meal.

  19. says


    Giliell, you could try accepting that not every person on this planet likes the same food as you like. You are welcome to eat whatever bread you enjoy, but don’t expect me to sing praises about how awesome certain kinds of your favorite foods are. Also, don’t expect me to be happy about plastic pollution. If you are happy to make the Great Pacific garbage patch bigger with your contributions, that’s your choice, but not everybody wants to participate in trashing the planet.

    By the way, if you were to write in online comments that my favorite foods taste like trash, unlike you, I wouldn’t get offended about the fact that not everybody shares my preferences.

  20. says

    Andreas, you need to stop fantasising about what you think people have written and learn to engage with what they have written. I haven’t even said anything about whether or not I like sliced bread.
    You call people lazy and throw in some happy ableism (how those people manage to brush their teeth) just because you don’t understand why people might need or want something. That’s not an attitude that demonstrates a willingness to learn and understand.
    But yeah, I’ll take personal responsibility for the great Pacific plastic patch. 😂

  21. blf says

    flex@20, That’s almost exactly what I do when making breadless-gazpacho, main difference being no salt and I use balsamic vinegar (the local Italian deli / shop has an extensive range, more than they do of olive oil!). And you’re right, lots and lots (and lots more to be sure) olive oil. Oh, and a variety of onions. I’ll sometimes add avocado or whatever else is lying about. Usually a mix of difference sorts of tomatoes, again, depends on what’s lying about. Main problem is to keep the batch suitably small (due to lack of space in the refrigerator more than anything else); 2 litres at the very most (your half gallon), and that’s overdoing it a little bit. And as you say, all by eye & taste with a dash of experience…

    Switching gear, @17: Sliced bread must be sold wrapped in plastics.
    Nope. Were I so inclined to, the local bakery would slice my bread (with a machine). It would still be put into a paper bag, just like when it’s unsliced.

    Another gear change, @18: I’m one of those who could only find edible bread in the States in bakeries (usually local independents). If your bakery was “French” then it also used tonnes of butter (possibly literally as well as figuratively); and yeah, no sugar, excepting some sweets.

  22. John Morales says

    blf, you miss the point.


    On March 8, 1943, the ban was rescinded. While public outcry is generally credited for the reversal, Wickard stated that “Our experience with the order, however, leads us to believe that the savings are not as much as we expected, and the War Production Board tells us that sufficient wax paper to wrap sliced bread for four months is in the hands of paper processor and the baking industry.”[10]

    Basically, the sliced bread being spoken about is not sliced at the point of sale, but during the manufacturing process, and then packaged. Once sliced, it goes stale far quicker unless stored in an impermeable medium; plastic these days, wax paper back then.

  23. flex says

    @blf #23,

    I tried a number of vinegars before settling on a brewed rice-wine one. I think the rice-wine vinegar gives the soup a crispness and freshness which helps accentuate the tomato/pepper flavours while a balsamic gives it an earthiness and richness which brings out more of the garlic goodness. But using a lighter vinegar means adding some salt. Both vinegars are tasty, but I find the crisp flavour more refreshing in the heat of a Michigan summer. It goes without saying that your tastes may be different than mine. While I normally don’t make gazpacho in the autumn, maybe I’ll try it sometime with balsamic. I can see a balsamic style being nice when the mean temperature is around 65 degrees (18 Celsius for the rest of world), but I haven’t tried it.

    On that note, however, I’ve visited the British Isles four times in my life, and three of those times the temperatures were around 25C. So while my sister lives in Blighty and complains about the cold weather all the time, I’ve never seen it. (We visited once over Christmas, and that was depressing. She lived in Leeds at the time and sunrise at 10AM and setting at 3PM was not an experience I would like to repeat.) During our honeymoon in Scotland in 2013, it only rained twice in the two weeks we were there. I’m beginning to think the reputation of the British Isles for dampness is a myth. 😉

  24. Holms says

    #21 Andreas
    If you do not have any interest in the subject under discussion, you do not have to reply to it. Some people were talking about slicing bread, something they find irritating. You don’t find it irritating. Big deal.

  25. Katydid says

    @23: regarding the French bakery; it was owned and run by people who were French. It was a hole-in-the-wall sized shop that sold bread and some desserts. The ingredients listed for the bread was just flour, water, yeast, and salt, plus herbs/spices/fruits where it applied. I have no idea what was in the desserts. Then they left.

    Some grocery chains such as Wegman’s and Whole Foods also have pretty good bread; some sliced, some you slice for yourself (if you ask them to slice it on a machine, they will). As a general rule, if you don’t want sugar and a ton of preservatives in bread in the USA, you have to search carefully.

  26. sonofrojblake says

    @Holms,26: don’t bother. AA’s M.O. is to affect irritation at everything other people do, condemn them for it, then come over all indignant when called on it, insisting that everyone else is of course perfectly entitled to their wrong, stupid, offensive opinions /behaviours. You can’t hope to reach through that much anger.

  27. blf says

    flex@25, Thanks for the suggestion with explanation on a possible vinegar to use. I made the breadless-gazpacho today, albeit not quite according to intention: Due to the previously-mentioned limited refrigeration (volume) space, it wound up with more onion (several varieties) and less tomato & hot chilies than anticipated, albeit lots of garlic, plus some MUSHROOMS! and avocado. Lots of olive oil, of course (I had to open a new bottle). But instead of a more “earthy” balsamic, I used a less intense white wine & grape musk vinegar (typically used with seafood). Tasting indicates it’s working great, albeit it’s not too tomato-ey, unsurprisingly. Now cooling (I made it too late for any of today’s meals, which means I “had” to go out and have an Encornet grillé and Tartare de boeuf à l’italienne instead, along with a wonderful vin rouge Bourgogne).

  28. John Morales says

    I love it how, in a post about sliced bread, people talk about breadless (and, apparently saltless) gazpacho. Next: cheesless pizza, vegetarian roast beef dinner.


  29. flex says

    blf @29, now you’re making me jealous. I’ve been renovating a bathroom and I’m at the tiling stage, so my time and energy for cooking is low. But your tea sounds wonderful. I love a good beef tartar. Which reminds me of a story. We were in Dingle in Ireland a few years ago and the Chef’s Table included steak. (I love to eat at the Chef’s table. It’s the food they want to cook so it’s usually excellent.) We were asked how we wanted it cooked, and we said, “medium-rare”. The chef’s eye’s lit up and he said, “I can’t even get my father to eat a steak properly cooked since the Mad Cow scare.”

    I don’t know if you grill, but I learned a little trick for grilling steak from reading Tournedo recipes, if you wrap the steak in bacon the edges of the steak cook at the same rate as the center. So you don’t get the situation where the edges are overcooked while the center is undercooked (and you can eat the bacon too!).

    @John Morales, I reckon after about 20 comments in a thread no one else is reading it. So it can go any direction the conversation ball takes it. And I had some delicious cheeseless pizza when I was stationed in Turkey, they used eggs in place of cheese. 😉

  30. anat says

    Regarding plastic pollution (Andreas@18, 21): I doubt sliced bread in Europe, North America, or Australia is contributing meaningfully to ocean plastic pollution. See Where does the plastic in our oceans come from? Countries where rivers are well managed keep their plastic waste on land, where perhaps sometime in the future some process will be invented to do something with it.

  31. John Morales says

    @John Morales, I reckon after about 20 comments in a thread no one else is reading it. So it can go any direction the conversation ball takes it.

    A self-contradictory claim, with the first premise evidently falsified.

    And I had some delicious cheeseless pizza when I was stationed in Turkey, they used eggs in place of cheese.

    You had a delicious something that was called pizza, but it wasn’t pizza.

    (Right now, I’m drinking a delicious breadless tuna sandwich made from Scotch and Coke)

  32. John Morales says

    Sure, Dunc. Decaffeinated coffee, non-alcoholic beers are a thing, too.

    Call them coffee, call them beer.

    Meanwhile, here’s how my grandma actually made gazpacho, back in the 1960s:

    Ripe tomatoes, finely chopped; cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped; onion, roughly chopped; capsicum, finely chopped; garlic, finely chopped, olive oil, a decent bit, a good splash of wine vinegar (no sickly sweet stuff, actual vinegar), and salt. Thrown into suspension in cold water, with bits of ice from the freezer roughly broken up between cloth with a hammer.

    And a fair bit of chunky, stale bread. Actual bread, not sliced bread. 2-3 cm chunks.
    Maybe 1/4 of the ingredients, other than the water.

    But then, she was only an Nth generation Spaniard following tradition, not some cluey foreigner; what would she know!

    The bread was part of it, added body. In fact, that was often the reason to make it: to use up the stale bread. But again, what would she know.

    (Next — Cocido Madrileño without chick peas or morcilla!)

  33. John Morales says

    Regarding ripe tomatoes; may I say, I have seen how supermarket and even regular grocers’ tomators are sourced: pick them green and hard, store them and transport them, and then wait until they get red from ageing before selling them. They turn red and soften, but they are… well, shitty, to be kind. But hey, they’re red and not too crunchy; forget about that hard shell under the skin, forget about the white pith that never developed.

    (I feel sad for the current generation; worse still for things like strawberries and stone fruit — a similar process applies)

  34. Dunc says

    Did you even read the first link? Just in case you didn’t, it clearly explains how the oldest historically attested forms of pizza did not (and still do not) feature cheese -- according to “Nth generation [Italians] following tradition, not some cluey foreigner”. What would they know?

    Repeatedly and confidently restating your ignorance does not make you right.

  35. John Morales says

    Yeah, I read it, Dunc. Fine, cheeseless pizza is a thing.

    Now, about gazpacho… tell me about how it traditionally has no bread. And no salt.

    (Eventually, we will get to bread, the non-presliced variety, right?)

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