The origins of Irish soda bread

Feb 10, 2020

Soda bread is an iconic Irish bread and we are proud to champion it! We offer a range of Irish flours to make soda bread from scratch plus eight soda bread blends for even easier baking. Soda bread along with Irish stew, Barmbrack, Irish whiskey and dark porter stout has become one of the traditional foods associated with Ireland. In Ireland the term ‘brown bread’ is commonly used to refer to soda bread and export bakers will tell you that in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day, international demand for Irish soda bread grows dramatically.

So, how did it all begin? Soda bread was first made in Ireland in the Victorian era – after sodium carbonate (a precursor to today’s sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) was first produced in 1791 by Frenchman Nicolas Leblanc.

Following the arrival of baking soda, soda bread began to grow in popularity. Irish-grown wheat that was, at best, marginally suitable for making yeasted bread was perfectly suited to the new soda-raised bread. With this new ingredient, bread could be made with locally grown and milled wheat and buttermilk (at the time a byproduct of butter or cheesemaking). This breadmaking process was quick and simple and the ingredients were cheap, so it was a popular choice. During the Irish famine, in 1845, soda bread became a staple food. Everyone could make soda bread at home, as it could be cooked in a pot, over the fire and there was no need to have an oven. This traditional cooking method resulted in the distinctive rounded loaf shape that is often associated with classic soda bread today.

Until around the second world war, most soda bread was made at home, in hotels or restaurants. As a bakery product, soda bread was looked down upon by many professional bakery businesses in Ireland. It was almost impossible to get a bakery-made soda bread in the 19th and early 20th century in Ireland as they only made yeasted breads. Today, soda bread is popular with home bakers and commercial bakers alike.

Kells is proud to be part of the Irish soda bread story. We started milling wheat from Irish farms, that work especially well in soda bread, seven generations ago and continue that tradition today. Whether you choose one of our flours or soda bread blends you will get a great product with fantastic provenance and a superior taste.

For more information on the different Kells flours and blends, suitable for making soda bread, see our feature A choice of classic Irish soda breads or ask Kells for further details. You can also follow us on LinkedIn.