When you think about traditional Irish food, a few things probably come to mind: hearty stews, black pudding, cottage pies, potatoes. But no Irish meal is complete without some soda bread.
If you’ve never tried it before, you may be asking “what does Irish soda bread taste like?” Some people may be put off by how strange this bread looks compared to regular bread, especially considering its dense, unique texture. But rest assured, this classic Irish staple is as delicious as it is filling.
The taste of Irish soda bread is mild, similar to the flavor of a biscuit. Its crust is dense and crumbly, and the bread itself is soft and tender inside.
What makes Irish soda bread special?
Irish soda bread recipes didn’t begin to circulate in Ireland until the 1830s when baking soda was first introduced to the country. This was a time when famine was widespread, so food had to be made with the cheapest, simplest ingredients possible.
Traditional Irish soda bread was made with only four basic ingredients: baking soda, salt, wheat flour, and sour milk. Since yeast wasn’t easy to find, combining the baking soda and milk acted as the leavening agent and allowed the bread to rise.
These days, sour milk is replaced with buttermilk, but the process is still the same. The unique, dense texture of soda bread is a result of the buttermilk and baking soda reacting to each other, which forms bubbles of carbon dioxide in the dough.
Is there a difference between Irish soda bread and regular bread?
The main difference between Irish soda bread and regular bread is the ingredients. Typical bread is made with yeast, whereas soda bread uses baking soda as its leavening agent. This allows soda bread to be made quicker and easier than yeast bread since the temperature of yeast bread must be actively monitored.
This is true of sourdough bread as well. A lot of people think soda bread and sourdough bread are similar because of their dense textures, but there’s a significant difference between the two.
Like regular bread, sourdough bread uses yeast as a leavening agent. Sourdough rises as gasses are released from the fermentation of its yeast and bacteria, while soda bread rises from the interaction between baking soda and the acids from the buttermilk.
How are you supposed to eat Irish soda bread?
Like most bread, Irish soda bread isn’t meant to be eaten on its own! Traditionally, families in Ireland used soda bread to mop up the last of their stew or simply ate it with butter or jam.
Today, there are thousands of recipes for delicious, distinctive soda bread. With additions like nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits, your soda bread can be eaten on its own or as a flavorful accent to a full meal.
Do people in Ireland still eat soda bread?
They do! You can’t walk down the streets of Ireland without smelling the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked soda bread wafting from a bakery or home. Many Irish families pass down cherished recipes through the generations, as the baking of soda bread is considered a time-honored tradition.
They’re so serious about soda bread that there’s even a Society for the Preservation of Soda Bread dedicated to encouraging modern bakers to keep the tradition of Irish soda bread alive! According to their website, anything other than flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk makes your bread a “tea cake.” Keep that in mind next time you set out to prepare a more traditional Irish soda bread!
Is Irish soda bread healthy?
Since soda bread is made with buttermilk and baking soda, it can actually be ideal for people on yeast-free diets. It’s listed by BBC Good Food as one of the top five healthiest types of bread, along with sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, and Ezekiel bread.
When searching the store for healthy bread, make sure to choose bread made from unrefined, wholegrain flour. The fewer ingredients listed on the label, the better. Essentially, you want to find the shortest ingredient list with only ingredients that you recognize and no added vegetable oils or sweeteners.
For the healthiest option, opt to make your Irish soda bread at home with wholemeal instead of standard white flour.
How long does Irish soda bread stay good for?
The shelf life of bread varies wildly depending on both the type of bread and how it’s being stored. Generally, the length of time it takes for bread to mold comes down to a few different factors:
- Whether it’s homemade or store-bought
- The temperature it’s being stored at
- The method of storage
It’s no secret that store-bought bread tends to take longer before getting moldy. That’s because store-bought bread is usually packed with preservatives and different chemicals that help prevent mold growth. Since soda bread made at home doesn’t have added preservatives and is made with perishables like eggs and buttermilk, the shelf life is drastically reduced.
Regardless of whether your soda bread is homemade or store-bought, it’s important to store it properly. Temperature and your storage method are crucial here. If you store your bread on the counter at room temperature, the shelf life will be anywhere from three to seven days depending on if it has preservatives. You can double the shelf life by storing it in an air-tight container in the fridge or you can keep it mold-free for up to six months in a freezer.
Irish soda bread is a delicious staple with a long history of tradition. Whether you’re preparing a hearty Irish meal for a loved one or simply looking for a healthier type of bread, Irish soda bread is worth a taste!