Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and UNESCO has now inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette
(Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

The French baguette – one of the country’s most abiding images – was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

READ ALSO French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

Here are some of the more popular theories:

Napoleon’s Bread of War
The oldest tale has the baguette being kneaded by bakers in Napoleon’s army. Less bulky than a traditional loaf, the long slim shape of the baguette made it faster to bake in brick ovens hastily erected on the battlefield.

France’s most famous man of war was preoccupied with getting his men their daily bread.

During his Russian campaign in 1812, he toured the ovens daily to sample the day’s offering and ensure the crusty batons were being distributed regularly, according to historian Philippe de Segur.

He also had portable bread mills sent to occupied Moscow, but the setbacks suffered by the Grande Armee in one of the deadliest military campaigns in history ended his bid to export the doughy staple.

Viennese connection
Another theory has the baguette starting out in a Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Artillery officer and entrepreneur August Zang brought Austria’s culinary savoir-faire to Paris in the form of the oval-shaped bread that were standard in his country at the time.

According to the Compagnonnage des boulangers et des patissiers, the French bakers’ network, Zang decided to make the loaves longer to make them easier for the city’s breadwomen to pluck from the big carts they pushed through the city’s streets.

Breaking bread
Another theory has the baguette being born at the same time as the metro for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

People from across France came to work on the underground and fights would often break out on site between labourers armed with knives, which they used to slice big round loaves of bread for lunch.

According to the history site, to avoid bloodshed, one engineer had the idea of ordering longer loaves that could be broken by hand.

Early rising
In 1919, a new law aimed to improve the lives of bakers by banning them from working from 10 pm to 4 am.

The reform gave them less time to prepare the traditional sourdough loaf for the morning, marked the widespread transition to what was called at the
time the yeast-based “flute”, which rose faster and was out of the oven in under half an hour.

Standardised at 80 centimeters (30 inches) and 250 grams (eight ounces) with a fixed price until 1986, the baguette was initially the mainstay of wealthy metropolitans, but after World War II became the emblem of all French people.

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Loreen wins Sweden’s Melodifestivalen a decade after Eurovision triumph

Sweden's 2012 Eurovision winner, Loreen, stormed to victory in the Melodifestivalen song contest on Saturday with her song Tattoo, meaning she will represent Sweden once again at this year’s Eurovision contest in Liverpool in May.

Loreen wins Sweden's Melodifestivalen a decade after Eurovision triumph

Loreen, whose real name is Lorine Zineb Nora Talhaoui, got the most points from both the international jury and the public on Saturday night, scooping 177 points from the public, compared to just 138 for the runners-up, Norwegian twin duo Marcus and Martinus.

Loreen broke into tears of happiness after the scale of her victory became clear on Saturday night. 

“What’s happening?! I can’t believe it’s true,” she screamed as the program leader Fara Abadi approached her.

“I am so thankful to the Swedish people and I promise to do my absolute best,” she said as went up on the stage to sing her winning entry one more time.

“It feels great to be able to stand there and represent Sweden, it’s me and Zlatan!” she joked to the Expressen newspaper later on Saturday night.  

Loreen won Eurovision in 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, with Euphoria, a song which has been played more often on steaming services, radio and TV than any other Eurovision song over the past decade. 

Her performance in the Melodifestivalen qualifying round in Malmö at the end of February was interrupted by a stage invasion, but she made the final nonetheless.

The singer currently has the best odds from bookmakers for a Eurovision victory. If she pulls it off, she will be the second person in Eurovision history to win the contest twice, joining the current holder of this honour, Ireland’s Johnny Logan.