What Is the Difference Between White & Brown Irish Soda Bread?


Some Irish bakers will tell you that there's no such thing as "brown soda bread." In Ulster, for example, brown soda bread is known as wheaten bread. But whatever you choose to call it, the difference between white and brown soda bread is in the flour. Brown soda bread uses wholemeal, and white uses white flour. In both cases, expect a thick and tasty bread perfect for mopping up stews.

Lowdown on Brown

  • The basic ingredients for any soda bread are flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda. The soda acts in place of yeast to make the bread rise. It reacts with the buttermilk, creating gas bubbles that get trapped in the dough. In the case of both white and brown soda bread, the dough doesn't rise as much as it would with yeast. The wholemeal flour in brown soda bread creates a denser loaf than the white variety.

When White is Right

  • In Ireland, white soda bread was only served on special occasions, according to 'The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.' Brown soda bread is the more traditional version in Ireland, enjoyed as a daily bread to eat with meals. Seeds, bran or wheatgerm are sometimes added to the brown variety. White soda bread variations more commonly include raisins or dried fruit. This twist may have started as a sweet treat during harvest time for Irish farm workers on their way to the fields.

Taste and Texture

  • Much like the difference between yeast-leavened white and brown bread, different types of soda bread have different tastes. Brown Irish soda bread has a coarse texture with a more malty, deep and wheat-rich flavor. White Irish soda bread is lighter, though still doughy compared to standard loaves. It lacks the wheaty flavor of the brown version. Both have the distinctive soda taste that gives the bread its name.

Mix And Match

  • While brown and white Irish soda bread have their differences, but some recipes try to combine the best of both. Adding a little white flour to a brown soda bread recipe can lighten the heavy consistency of the brown loaf. For example, a recipe from Dochara.com suggests using 4 cups of wholemeal flour and 2 cups of white flour to make a lighter bake. The result lacks the density of a pure brown soda bread.

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