The French Baguette Receives UNESCO World Heritage Status

By: Patty Rasmussen  | 
French baguettes
Freshly baked baguettes, like these on sale at a Parisian bakery, are now listed among many other intangible cultural inductees worthy of protection. Chesnot/Getty Images

The French baguette is a type of bread so iconic it has its own emoji. So, it stands to reason that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, would place the baguette, along with the "artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread," on its 2022 Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Being part of UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage inscriptions, which already includes about 600 traditions from more than 130 countries, means recognizing the country's heritage and its importance in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of increasing globalization. In this case, it's France's baguette.


The French baguette is now part of a long list of new inscriptions for 2022, which includes everything from beekeeping in Slovenia and traditional Al Sadu weaving practices in Kuwait to safeguarding Furyu-odori Japanese dance rituals.

Why Protect the French Baguette?

The why is easy. The baguette is the most popular form of bread produced in France. Each day, bakers produce more than 16 million baguettes, adding up to nearly 6 billion baguettes a year.

A baguette, for those who don't know, is a long loaf (the name means "baton" or "wand" in French) with a caramelized crust and chewy exterior. The interior is airy and light with large irregularly shaped air pockets known as alvéolage.


French law already preserved the integrity of the baguette in 1993 when it set out strict rules by which traditional baguettes must be made.

According to this French law (Décret Pain), traditional baguettes can only contain four ingredients: flour, salt, water and leaven/yeast. They must be between 21 and 25 inches (55 and 65 centimeters) in length and about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 6 centimeters) in diameter. They also can only rest (or proof) on the site where they are baked.

Each baker and traditional French bakery (boulangerie) use their own specific knowledge to mix, knead, rest/proof the dough and make the distinctive cuts on top of their baguettes before baking, so while there are standards, every baguette is different.


The Time to Protect the Baguette Is Now

French baguette
Sami Bouattour won the 2017 Best Baguette of Paris contest. He then went on to become baker for French President Emmanuel Macron. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Despite the baguette's popularity, France has lost more than 400 artisanal bakeries a year since 1970, as supermarkets haven taken over baking duties from traditional boulangeries, especially in rural areas. In 1970, there were 55,000 artisanal bakeries in France; today there are closer to 35,000.

Both the U.N. agency and the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries hope the recognition for baguettes will spark a revival in quality artisanal baking.


The French government plans to create an artisanal baguette day calling it Open Bakehouse Day for citizens to better connect with this delicious part of their heritage. And perhaps, if more people appreciate the beloved baguette, it will slow the loss of the local boulangerie.

French Minister Olivia Grégoire said she was delighted with the UNESCO announcement. "This decision contributes to the influence of French savoir-vivre, traditions of sharing and conviviality, and the know-how of our artisan bakers," she said in a press statement. "It is a recognition of the culture of the baguette that it is up to us to preserve, to protect, to ensure the transmission of this heritage.

Baguettes and the bakeries that bake them have a rich social history in France. Bakeries are neighborhood gathering places and proximity to bakeries is a top selling point for many home buyers. Babies and toddlers are often given the heel of the loaf, called le quignon, to chew on when they are teething, and young children are sometimes entrusted with a couple euros to walk to the boulangerie to purchase baguettes or other baked goods.