How on Earth did the French baguette make it to UNESCO Cultural Heritage list? Even its origins are unclear!

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadDec 01, 2022 | 15:18

How on Earth did the French baguette make it to UNESCO Cultural Heritage list? Even its origins are unclear!

French baguette is now a UNESCO Cultural heritage food. Photo: @EmmanuelMacron/Twitter

When you hear of UNESCO World Heritage, you will automatically think of places like the Taj Mahal, Hampi, the Great Wall of China, or Machu Picchu. But would you think of… say the French Baguette? Oui, that stick-shaped bread with extra letters and that French-sounding name. 

Well, you should, because the French Baguette just got added to the list of UNESCO Heritage list and no, is not your uncle's WhatsApp forward. 


First, answering the obvious question:

But how is bread a UNESCO World Heritage? We are all aware of the UNESCO monuments, but there is also a separate list called UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage which seeks to identify unique culinary and other cultures from various countries. 

  • It was set up in 2003 and there are now 600 items recognised as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage including Kumbh Mela in India, traditional Chinese tea making, Kimchi or Kimjang from South Korea and North Korea, Belgian beer, and more. 

The humble baguette: UNESCO announced on November 30 that the "artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread" was added to the list. 

  • UNESCO said that the baguette "celebrates the French way of life". Indeed, what is France without a baguette and a baguette without the French! 
The baguette is a daily ritual, a structuring element of the meal, synonymous with sharing and conviviality. It is important that these skills and social habits continue to exist in the future.
- UNESCO chief Audrey Asoulay
  • French President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the milestone while in the US on a visit, waving a baguette. Macron has tried to get the baguette added to the UNESCO list since 2018. 

250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives...
- Emmanuel Macron

What does it mean? It means that all baguettes other than French baguettes are added to the list of war crimes. Okay, that's a meme!

  • An item getting added to the UNESCO heritage list ensures that cultural and historical knowledge is not lost to time. 
  • A crispy and soft comfort for French bakers who face stiff competition from assembly line-made baguettes. 
  • Even though over 16 million baguettes are produced in France every day, independent artisanal bakeries are closing down at a fast rate. 
  • AFP reports that since 1970, the total number of artisanal bakeries has decreased from 55,000 to 35,000. 

Criticism: Of course, the alleviation of the French baguette to the UNESCO list has attracted its fair share of criticism too. One historian asked why there is no focus on preserving more urgent cultural matters like those in Afghanistan. 

Origins of the baguette: So, what is the cultural significance of this much-talked-about bread?

  • Baguette literally means a wand or a baton and some say its origins go as far back as the 17th century. 
  • Reports say that the type of bread originated during the time of Napoleon. It was created by bakers in Napoleon's army who made a less bulky version of the traditional loaf, in a longer and slimmer shape so it could be baked quickly on the battlefield. 
  • But another theory states that the baguette was the creation of a Viennese bakery in Paris during the 1830s.
  • Some reports say the baguette originated not too long ago. In 1900, during the construction of the Paris Metro, an engineer ordered longer loaves of bread for labourers working on the site to prevent the use of knives and hence fights using knives. 
  • Others say the baguette was the result of a 1919 law that barred bakers from working from 10 pm to 4 am, requiring the use of yeast-based "flute" kind of bread instead of the traditional sourdough, for faster production. 

Despite the stories, the baguette seems to have entered the mainstream French lifestyle in the 1920s. Dominique Anract, the president of the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries, has this to say about the baguette's cultural importance: 

When a baby cuts his teeth, his parents give him a stump of baguette to chew off. When a child grows up, the first errand he runs on his own is to buy a baguette at the bakery.
- Dominique Anract, President, National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries

Do you want to try baking a baguette? It is made out of just four ingredients - flour, water, salt and leaven and/or yeast. It should be 80 centimetres or 30 inches long, and weigh just about 250 grams. 

Last updated: December 01, 2022 | 15:18
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