December 7, 2022

The world-famous French baguette has been granted UNESCO status as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

UNESCO included “the artisanal know how and culture of baguette bread” alongside other cultural emblems such as Chinese tea, Tunisian harissa sauce and Serbian sliivovica plum brandy (rakija).

The precise origins of the baguette have been lost to history, though the distinctive long form and cooking style emerged in the first half of the 19th century.

Some accounts have attributed its creation to the arrival of Viennese bread in Paris in 1830, others to labourers looking for bread that was easy to eat during work. Even Napoleon forms part of the myth, with theories saying he wanted something easier to carry for his soldiers.

By 1920 the baguette gained official recognition, alongside its name. Its design was standardised at 80cm in length and with a weight of 250 grams. Until 1986 even its price was capped.

The National Confederation of French Bakeries and Pastries (CNBPF), led the application, which began in 2017.

The CNBPF said French President Emmanuel Macron gave his “full and complete” support and called the baguette “250 grams of magic and perfection.”

“This is a recognition for the community of artisan bakers… The baguette is flour, water, salt, yeast and the know-how of the craftsman”, said Dominique Anract, CNBPF president.

UNESCO grants baguette heritage status
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Approximately 320 baguettes are eaten each second in France and over 6 billion a year, according to the Observatoire du Pain.

However, changes to eating habits, threats to rural locations and now the cost-of-living crisis have seen the number of bakeries decline.  

According to CNBPF research there were 55,000 artisanal bakeries in 1970, one per 790 inhabitants. Now there are 35,000, or one per 2,000 inhabitants.

The CNBPF said the application was to raise awareness of the wealth of the expertise related to the preparation of the baguette and the importance of passing it on to future generations. The listing was structured around both the artisanal know-how and the culture of the baguette bread.

Catherine DUMAS, Senator of Paris and President of the Support Committee for the UNESCO candidature, said the listing “reflects a daily social practice that sets the pace for French life and transcends social categories, age groups and geographical boundaries.”

“It enhances the value of the artisanal bakery and, beyond that, the entire industry (farmers, millers, yeast and salt producers). Finally, it protects our baguette, a national marker of French identity, well anchored in our territories.”

Its traditional means of production was cited in the UNESCO submission, including its baking with just four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast/leaven.

“Each baker obtains a unique product” said the application. “Baguettes require specific knowledge and techniques: they are baked throughout the day in small batches and the outcomes vary according to the temperature and humidity.”

The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee, which forms part of the same organism that grants UNESCO World Heritage Status, was started in 2003 to “safeguard intangible cultural heritage and make recommendations on measures for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage,” according to its charter.

The committee convened over five days in Rabat, Morocco to choose the list. Over the years other iconic cultural icons and events include Congolese Rumba, Irish Hurling and Belgium’s “Beer Culture.”

The Baguette was France’s second entrant to the list in 2022, alongside Bear Festivities in the Pyrenees, which it jointly shares with Andorra.  

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