The Story of Irish Brown Bread

The story of Irish brown soda bread

This delicious soda bread blend was produced by the Mosse family of Kilkenny who have been milling on the banks of the River Nore for seven generations. We hope that you enjoy the bread as much as we do.

The preparation of soda bread was once a common sight in Irish country kitchens. There were many variations in the recipe; traditionally soda bread was made from just four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, bicarbonate of soda and salt. It was just this simplicity and wholesomeness that lent the bread its unique charm. From humble origins, Irish soda bread has come to be known as one of the finest bread types in the world, and a celebrated symbol of Irish cuisine.

Bicarbonate of soda was first produced by a French chemist in 1791. However the principle of mixing acid and alkaline ingredients in bread to produce a raising agent was already being used by the Native Americans. In Ireland buttermilk, the residual liquid which remains after butter has been churned, was used in soda bread as the acid to cause the reactionw ith the alkaline bicarbonate of soda. So why was it in Ireland that the method of baking bread with bicarbonate of soda took hold and became as widely popular?

Well, there were two main reasons. First and foremost, the Irish climate produced a ‘soft’ low protein wheat flour, which did not work well with yeast. Secondly, the nineteenth century was a time of great hardship for much of the Irish population, and bicarbonate of soda was a more affordable raising agent. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, soda bread became the everyday staple in Irish homesteads. The baking method allowed for great versatility in how it was served. The bread could be sweet or savoury and with the addition of ingredients, it could be made “fancy” for special occasions.

The preparation of soda bread became so ingrained in Ireland’s way of life that it developed its own folklore. The most distinctive mark on the bread is the cross, cut into the dough prior to baking. Parents used to tell their children that the cross allowed the fairies to escape. Others believed it was a blessing to ward off mischievous spirits so that the bread wouldn’t burn in the pot.

For many Irish children, their first experience of baking was at their mother’s side during the preparation of the daily soda bread. Today, it remains at the heart of Irish homes, still an integral part of the diet, and a living tradition.