Feature: bread


The smell of freshly baked bread is known the world over. In supermarkets they pump out the aroma of baking bread deliberately to entice shoppers to buy and when we take said bread to 35,000ft our expectations are riding high. But in reality we often get something quite different and if we are flying in Economy most of the bread is unimaginatively the same – small round balls of doughy denseness.

But why? Every country in the world has its own speciality breads and most even have regional special breads that are interesting and enticing. Flatbreads, pretzel bread, yeasted bread, sourdough bread, soda bread, all should be possible but getting something that really works in the air seems to be a challenge for airlines and airline caterers alike.

It is fair to say any bread going onboard has to be fairly resilient to withstand the chill chain that is airline catering. Passenger trays are put together well in advance and the standard flow-wrapped bread, along with its spread/butter, is kept cold until delivered to the passenger in their seat. The result is the rock hard spread that is unspreadable and the bullet rolls now so synonymous with airline travel.

That said things can be better and the quality of your serving does rather depend on which bit of the aircraft you sit in. In Economy it is all pretty samey airline to airline – small, round and bullet like, sometimes oblong, in white or brown, with only a few of the more foodie airlines paying any attention to this onboard staple at all.

But further forward things are changing. An experience largely reserved for passengers in Business and First is warmed bread and that does make an enormous difference both to the taste and the sensory experience – whetting the appetite and giving a sense of fresh quality. In First most carriers offer a personal basket of selected breads from the best bakers in their area, served warm and that warming really does improve it.

In the early days of airline travel most bread was warmed and served in baskets and was part of the service wherever you sat, but the mass catering requirements of today’s travel, costs and the fact that for security reasons crews can no longer have sharp knives to cut bread onboard, have dragged quality down.

Some good news though is that many airline caterers are now investing in their own new bakeries which will hopefully bring marked improvements for bread lovers.

And let’s hope that includes the gluten free among us too. This dietary requirement has become something of a phenomenon in recent years as a lifestyle choice or medical necessity and as a coeliac myself (a person who can’t eat wheat, barley or rye) who previously loved bread, and even owned a bakery, I know going gluten-free can be a real challenge. Much gluten-free bread is just ghastly, but there are some really great ones out there which taste just like regular bread. Caterers need to work hard to seek these out, just as they do to find the best regular bakeries. The onboard gluten-free bread I’ve had isn’t great, if offered at all. If you are a buyer choosing these, please do be sure to eat some yourself, and not just one bite – eat all of it and you may start making some very different choices.