Finnish Airport Bread
Earlier this week I was in Finland for Euro Food Water 2012, the interestingly-named gathering of scientists from academia and industry that are interested in the science of water in food. Although the meeting is relatively small, there was lots of interesting water activity research presented, and I enjoyed both the meeting and the people that were there. Helsinki is a nice, clean, orderly, and interesting Scandinavian city where in June, there are only a couple of hours of darkness.
At the airport on my way out of Finland, I caught sight of something I’d never seen at an airport souvenir shop: bread. A small black loaf of bread that looked to be burnt to a crisp.
For some reason, I saw this as a water activity-related event. With the way gift shops are stocked, it’s unlikely they’d be willing to sell something with as short a shelf life as regular bread. In fact, the bread proudly advertises its 10 week shelf life on the bag. I tested the water activity – 0.818 aw units. This is much lower than you would see from a regular bread product, which typically is at 0.92 or above. Still, mold can grow on this bread – it will just take a really long time.
Interestingly, my French colleage Laurent ate a piece and said – “oh – it’s pain d’epices” a French cousin of gingerbread. Gingerbread has a long shelf life, particularly the stuff they sell at Ikea for making Gingerbread houses, which is below its glass transition temperature – in other words, it’s crispy. In general, products that are crispy at room temperature last a long time, with the exception being fatty snacks like potato chips that go rancid over time (because of the fat).
In any case, the bread itself has a pleasing flavor, but is very dense and dry, with a strong sweetness. The dryness and sugar both contribute to the water activity being so low, and giving the bread a long shelf life. It really didn’t taste bad, especially for something that has a crust that is completely black.