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Story Behind Irish Soda Bread

Contrary to popular belief, soda bread did not originate with the Irish. It originated with the Native Americans before European colonization. Native Americans made “soda bread” using ash (a forerunner to baking soda) instead of traditional leavening agents like yeast. Soda bread was adopted in Ireland in the 1800s due to increased poverty and hunger after the potato famine. Irish soda bread required few ingredients, making it an economical choice for staple breads. Baking soda also produced a more consistent result for increased efficiency and reduced waste during those trying times. Original Irish soda bread recipes contained nothing more than flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. Legend has it that, in some areas of Ireland, a cross was cut on the top of the Irish soda bread with a knife to ward off the devil and protect the household. Families generally had kitchens with open hearths instead of ovens, so the soda breads that developed were baked on griddles or in iron pots. This resulted in a loaf that was dense, slightly sour, and with a hard crust. Today's versions sometimes include ingredients like butter, sugars, raisins, or seeds to enhance flavor. Traditional Irish soda bread is heartier than most yeast breads. Irish soda bread pairs well with soups and stews.