Bored and stressed, Americans turn to baking during quarantine

Interest in sourdough bread and other baked goods have jumped since the lockdowns began.

Published: April 11, 2020 1:16pm

Updated: April 11, 2020 7:25pm

Long known for their tendency to prefer easier, quicker, ready-to-eat meals, many Americans---quarantined in their homes as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country---have turned to a surprising pastime to help quell their boredom and isolation: Baking. 

A notable artisanal baking economy has significantly expanded in America in recent years, with most cities hosting a renaissance of sourdough bakeries and pastry shops. Long a hallmark of San Francisco chic, sourdough in particular has become ubiquitous throughout much of the United States, at least in city centers where the young have increasingly flocked for tech jobs and lavish restaurant scenes. 

Yet the coronavirus pandemic has put much of American public life, particularly eateries and other dining establishments, on temporary hold, with strict social distancing requirements and limits on the number of people allowed in one place largely clearing out public spaces for the time being. Yet there are signs that Americans have turned to their own kitchens to fill the culinary gaps to which they've become accustomed. 

Google data indicate that interest in sourdough has skyrocketed since mid-March, when the lockdowns began rolling across the United States from California outward. Searches for baking have also shot upward, eclipsing even the recent busy seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Muffins, cake and cinnamon rolls have also piqued Americans' interests since last month.

Those trends are also reflected in data reflective of consumer behavior: Nielsen reports that purchases of baking yeast spiked by over 600 percent near the end of March. And well-documented reports from across the country indicate that shoppers have been clearing supermarkets of flour.

Part of that may have been panic-buying, which gripped the American food economy in the early days of the coronavirus's spread here but which has since died down. Yet much of it is likely driven by a desire of consumers to make something out of their mandatory time at home.

Notably, this new ad-hoc legion of bakers seem overwhelmingly drawn to trickier and more intricate forms of home cooking: Many of the most popular forms of quarantine baking involve yeasted food and/or food that rises---bread, cakes, pastries---while searches for cookie and pie recipes have remained relatively stagnate. 

Whether this newfound baking craze will maintain after the lockdowns are lifted remains to be seen. Americans have historically been averse to much cooking: Historical Pew data indicates that only around a third of American citizens enjoy cooking much at all. The uptick in home baking may very well represent little more than the extra time most Americans have suddenly found themselves with, and that when the shutdowns end, their lives---and their ovens---may very well return to the pre-pandemic normal. 

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