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Why is Irish Soda Bread So Special and Popular?
April 17, 2020
Irish Traditions
Discover Why Irish Soda Bread is So Popular In Ireland and America
Learn why Irish Soda bread is so popular in Ireland and why it’s a mainstay side in meals.
  • How to serve soda bread
  • What makes soda bread different?

Every Irish home, cafes, and restaurants are baking this quick bread. It’s internationally renowned for both locals and tourists alike.

Irish soda bread is one of the most familiar St. Patrick’s Day novelties. Every Irish home, cafes, and restaurants are baking this quick bread. Nothing is more authentic than the green beer and a soda bread soaked in Irish cream to remember the day.

The thing is, Irish soda bread is not only famous during St. Patrick’s Day. It’s internationally renowned for both locals and tourists alike. So popular that when you think of Ireland, all you think about is the soda bread.

Food is deeply entrenched in the Irish culture, and soda bread is a diet staple. The people of the Emerald Isle have been baking this bread since the 1840s. And up to this day, you will find many households whipping up a loaf of Irish Soda Bread. For one, this is an easy bread to make without any kneading or rising needed.

Want to know how Soda Bread became a mainstay on the Irish dinner table?  This article will explore the reasons thatmade this Irish baked good so special and popular in Ireland.

What is Soda Bread?

Soda bread is a quick bread consist of four essential ingredients: flour, salt,buttermilk, and baking soda. Some variations of its recipe may have sugar,eggs, butter, citrus, or raisins to enhance the flavor of the bread, but it's necessary foundation are the four ingredients.

Looking into the history of Irish soda bread, it’s surprising to find out that soda bread is not originally Irish. The Native American Indians actually invented baking with potash, an earlier version of the baking soda. Two recipes of soda bread were published in the late 1700s in the United States. It took a few years before the Irish began using baking soda.

It has become an Irish bread out of necessity. During the Famine years, people need to find ways to make bread out of the ingredients that they have. Ireland has a brutal climate, a sweltering summer season, and cold winters. Such conditions allow them to grow only soft wheat, a kind of grain that does not do well with yeast.  

Then came baking soda. The sodium bicarbonate is more affordable than yeast and non-perishable. It’s a particularly useful ingredient for families who are making ends meet during the Great Hunger. When baking soda is combined with buttermilk, the reaction forms carbon dioxide on the dough, giving it a lift to rise. Thus, they are called aerated breads. So, the Irish began making breads in their homes using flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda.

Unlike in Britain and other parts of Europe, the Irish can afford to bake in their homes as fuel is abundant. Even poor farmers can cook their bread in open hearths. The traditional soda bread is cooked in a cast-iron pot with a lid called “bastible” put directly on the fire. Historically, soda bread is the main staple in 19th-century Irish households, and making bread is part of their daily activities.

Soda bread is not perishable; it can last up to three days at room temperature and inside a tight container.

What Makes Soda Bread Popular and Different?

The popularity of soda bread in Ireland came about when people got access to baking soda, a cheaper alternative to yeast. Since the flour available in this country does not hold well with yeast (soft wheat is the type of grain that grows here), baking soda became a kitchen staple. And because it is relatively inexpensive and had a long shelf life, many households keep them handy so that they can make their bread.

Aside from baking soda, buttermilk is another ingredient abundant in many Irish homes. This is a by-product in making butter, and when mixed with bicarbonate soda will make the dough rise. With all the ingredients readily available, the Irish can make soda bread any time.

Soda bread is also easy to make. It glossed over the kneading step and went directly from mixing to panning. The consistency is between the batter and the dough. It is too stiff to slump over the edge of the pan but sloppy enough not to.

It became popular in Ireland because it was the answer to the famine. What they find in soda bread is making something expensive (the white flour) with something cheap (the buttermilk) and replacing something slow (the yeast, you have to wait long for the dough to rise when you use it) with something fast,in the form of soda. The Irish don’t have to waste time kneading the dough;they only need to scrape it into the pan and cook.

Soda bread recipes have evolved and have crossed the Atlantic many times over. You can now find it in many cafes and hotels as regular breakfast fare. Two hundred years later, and many people around the world still enjoy soda bread.

How to Serve Soda Bread

The popular Irish tradition to enjoy soda bread is to pair it with a hearty meal of stew or roast. It is also not surprising to find the Irish people eating their soda bread with their pint of Stout or Guinness. Soda bread is a hearty and delicious baked treat that you can pair with almost anything.  

It is served warm with butter and marmalades for breakfast and afternoon tea or with a delicious soup for lunch. If you fancy a sandwich, soda bread’s mild flavor can be paired with any filling you desire. Be it Swiss cheese, corned beef, or any cold cut.

Final Slice

Thanks to the farmer’s markets popping up in many neighborhoods, artisan bakers have an avenue to sell their goodies. You can buy soda bread from them or why not make your own. The tradition of making soda bread has passed on. All you need are the essential ingredients and start mixing them. Don’t forget the X cross on top. Some say it’s to ward off evil, but the truth is it will help bake the inside of the bread thoroughly.  



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