What exactly is soda bread and how do you make it?

Right around March, you might start to notice soda bread appearing on the menu at many pubs, cafes, and bakeries. According to The Kitchen Project, while soda bread is commonly thought of as an Irish food, it did not actually originate in Ireland. 

The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread claims the method of using soda ash to bake bread was introduced by Native Americans in the 1800s. The Native Americans used pearl ash combined with an acidic ingredient to make flat cakes they baked on hot rocks. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread points to a recipe from 1836 as the earliest mention of soda bread in Ireland. They assert the reason soda bread became so popular in Ireland came down to poverty. 

At the turn of the 20th century, other parts of the United Kingdom had begun to prefer yeasted breads made with hard wheat flour, so the Irish were stuck with the soft wheat flour that was left over. The Kitchen Project explains that flour made from soft wheat is very difficult to bake traditional yeasted bread with, as it has little to no gluten, but as it turns out, it lends itself beautifully to the soda bread recipe.

Soda bread has a simple and easy recipe

St. Patricks Guild claims traditional recipes for soda bread contain only flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt, and have a slightly sour taste. They suggest that many of today's versions include raisins, sugar, butter, or seeds to create a more complex flavor, but those ingredients were not traditionally used. 

Historically, soda bread was baked on a griddle or in an iron pot, creating a hard crust with a dense interior. The James Beard Foundation describes soda bread as an easy quick bread that can be riffed on with many different add-ins to suit the baker's personal taste. Fine Cooking agrees, calling soda bread a simple loaf and offering a traditional recipe containing only four ingredients that can be done on a baking sheet. 

A recipe published by The New York Times Cooking suggests soda bread is best eaten still warm from the oven, with salted butter. One thing is for sure — whether you decide to bake traditional soda bread or use a more modern recipe, soda bread is a quick and easy way for even the most novice baker to make bread.