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.

17 comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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.

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

  7. Great explanation. Thanks!

  8. 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..

  9. 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/

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

  11. 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!!!!!

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