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What is Irish soda bread?

Irish soda bread

Irish soda bread – or just soda bread, if you prefer – is a type of quick bread that uses baking soda as a leavener. While this may not seem like much of a revelation these days due to the prevalence of baking soda in all kinds of recipes, it was a boon to bakers in Ireland in the mid 1800s. At that time, Ireland did not have a strong tradition of yeast breadmaking because, unlike many other European countries, the country did not produce much of the high-protein (hard wheat) flour necessary for making good yeast breads. When baking soda was introduced to the country, it pretty much replaced yeast. It produced a reliable rise in the oven, made tasty loaves of bread and would work perfectly with the softer Irish flour.

Soda bread has four basic ingredients: flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt.  The reaction between the buttermilk and baking soda produces bubbles of carbon dioxide, causing the dough to rise. The breads are fairly dense, moist and hearty (and satisfying for a cold and damp climate!). Moving beyond the basic elements, they can be flavored in any number of ways. Today, the breads often contain additional ingredients, like sugar, butter, currants or caraway seeds to enhance the flavor and texture of the bread. It is best served the day that it is made, when the crust is crisp from the oven, with plenty of salted Irish butter.

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17 Comments
  • Elyse
    March 10, 2009

    I love knowing about the history behind a bread! I’m totally craving Irish Soda Bread right now. I think I may just have to go make some!

  • Tim Mitchell
    March 10, 2009

    What a cool thread. My wife is from County Meath but lives in Epsom, Surrey. She has always gone on about Irish Soda bread, something that I had never even heard of.

    I tried it on my first trip to see my in-laws. It was lovely. With a pot of tea always on the go and some Irish soda bread, it formed a memory that I will always treasure.

  • Jenni
    March 10, 2009

    I love Irish Soda bread. It’s one of those things that I know is very easy to make, but I only have it if my mom makes it. It tastes better that way!

  • dawn
    March 10, 2009

    a slice of irish soda bread with a good smear of room temp. butter on top is pure heaven to me

  • Ginny
    March 10, 2009

    I’ve always wondered about the origin of Irish Soda Bread. Does that make me a food nerd? Thanks for clearing things up for me.

  • Hillary
    March 10, 2009

    Thanks for the explanation and the yummy photos! Happy almost St. Patrick’s Day!

  • Lisa
    March 11, 2009

    Great explanation. Thanks!

  • Keith
    March 17, 2009

    I am Irish and we do not make soda bread in the oven. It is flour, salt, sour milk, and baking soda. You mix this like a corn bread and cook it on top of the stove in a heavy fry pan on low heat. I prefer a cast iron skillet, watch the bread and turn it over when it is brown on the bottom about 5 to 10 minutes. after about 5 or 10 more minutes it is ready to be turned out unto a cooling rack. My dogs sure loved it. This is a old Irish receipt from my ancestors..

  • Nicole
    March 17, 2009

    Keith – Good point! Irish soda bread comes out very well when it is made in a skillet, too. In fact, I just made some recently: http://bakingbites.com/2009/03/skillet-scones-soda-bread-farls/

  • Rick
    March 19, 2009

    Soda bread is awesome on that cold winter day with a nice stew. Great article explaining how Irish Soda bread came about.

  • W. Grosse
    May 12, 2011

    I thought the ‘soda’ was actually soda like tonic water.
    it never occured to me that it was the baking soda that this bread is made. You learn something everyday !
    I agree with lisa ….great explanation!!!!!

  • […] come to learn that authentic Irish soda bread is only made with flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt.  For me, however, it isn’t the […]

  • […] bread is one of my favorite things to make when I want a quick loaf of bread fresh from the oven. Soda bread gets its name from the fact that it is leavened with baking soda, rather than with yeast. This […]

  • […] bread is one of my favorite things to make when I want a quick loaf of bread fresh from the oven. Soda bread gets its name from the fact that it is leavened with baking soda, rather than with yeast. This […]

  • […] True Irish Soda Bread only contains flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk or sour milk, but Irish American variations of this delicious bread start springing up on blogs everywhere at this time of year. Sweeter soda breads are popular here, like the Oats and Honey Irish Soda Bread with Raisins from Nic at Baking Bites or Irish Soda Bread Muffins from Kitchen Parade. My Own Sweet Thyme serves Irish Soda Bread and a Fine Irish Cheese for a less sweet version. […]

  • […] humble bread has survived centuries of time because it is simple, frugal and just plain delicious. Traditional soda bread has only four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda and […]

  • […] Irish soda bread is a type of quick bread that uses baking soda as a leavener. They’re easy loaves to make  because the basic recipe has just four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. This simple ingredient list also means that it is quite easy to put your own twist on the classic loaf. As much as I enjoy a plain soda bread when it is slathered with butter and jam (or used to sop up gravy after making a roast), I also like it with some variation. Raisins are a great way to sweeten up soda bread, and adding oatmeal or oat flour makes for a more tender, flavorful loaf. I usually make one big loaf and cut it into slices, but this time around I opted to make individually sized Mini Irish Soda Breads. […]

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