Is Sourdough and Soda Bread the Same Thing?


Many of us get confused with the difference between sourdough bread and soda bread, and wonder if they are the same thing. It’s a surprisingly common question that I get asked when somebody discovers I hold sourdough baking workshops.

So, is sourdough bread the same as soda bread? Most definitely not. Soda bread is actually a type of quick bread. A bread that doesn’t use any kind of yeast in it to help it rise. Sourdough Bread on the other hand is the complete opposite. It uses a naturally occurring yeast as it’s raising agent which takes many hours to ferment and turn into bread.

So if soda bread has no yeast in it, how does it taste and feel like bread when eaten? Well, it does indeed share some characteristics to conventional bread, which we will go into below.

What is Soda Bread?

Soda bread, as mentioned earlier, is a type of quick bread that contains four main ingredients.

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Buttermilk

The reason why it doesn’t need yeast, is because it uses baking soda as it’s raising agent, which reacts with the lactic acid found in buttermilk to produce carbon dioxide bubbles, which raise the bread.

This reaction happens very quickly, which means the dough can be baked in the oven almost as soon as it is made, hence the term ‘quick bread’.

Soda bread is not the only type of quick bread. Other common and well known quick breads are:

  • Banana Bread
  • Cornbread
  • English muffins

The reason many get mixed up with soda bread and sourdough bread is due to the similar sounding names, but there are in fact some other similarities between the two breads.

Similarities and Differences Between Soda Bread and Sourdough Bread?

The dough in both soda and sourdough bread contain lactic acid. Sourdough uses its naturally occurring yeast which has lactic acid in it, while soda bread uses buttermilk. The reactions from both breads produce carbon dioxide bubbles which help the bread rise.

The yeast in sourdough work on the bread dough at a very slow rate. It uses the process of fermentation by consuming the starches and sugars in the flour. The fermentation process releases carbon dioxide gases and alcohol while also developing its gluten structure. The result being a slightly soured developed flavor with a moist chewy interior texture.

Soda breads reaction with lactic acid however, is instantaneous. The buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and gives off carbon dioxide gases as soon they have contact with each other. The process is a quick chemical reaction and does not use fermentation to turn it into bread. This makes soda bread have a much milder flavor with a more biscuit like texture.

Soda Bread Uses Softer Wheat Than Sourdough Bread

Soda bread and other quick breads tend to use softer wheat varieties like pastry flour, or all purpose flour, as the gluten in the flour is less important for the rise of the bread.

Sourdough on the other hand, will tend to be made with flour from harder wheat varieties, such as strong white flour. This is because the gluten in hard wheat is of a higher content, and gluten development is important in sourdough bread for the rise and structure of the bread.

The biggest advantage of traditional soda bread is that it is super quick to make. Once the dough is mixed, it’s simply a matter of shaping it and baking it.

Although sourdough bread takes the same level of effort as soda bread to make, the difference is that it will take a certain amount of planning to make sourdough bread due to the waiting time for fermentation to take place.

Which Bread is Better for You? Soda or Sourdough?

The main fundamental difference between the two breads is the fermentation process that comes with making sourdough bread. This process has a multitude of benefits that any other bread simply doesn’t compare to. Here are just a couple of benefits of sourdough bread when compared to soda bread:

Lower Glycemic Index – Because the fermentation process consumes the starches and sugars, the bread has a much lower glycemic index than other breads, leaving you fuller for longer (This means the body sugar levels stay more stable, which is good for your health).

It’s More Nutritious and Easier to Digest – The structure of the flour and the gluten is broken down into easier to digest forms, which also releases more of its nutrients at the same time, and making them more easy to absorb by the body. (For more information read my article “Is Sourdough Bread Good for You? 7 Things You Need to Know”

As you can see, although soda bread may be ‘quick’, sourdough bread has many additional benefits that come with the wait.

Is there a Sourdough Soda Bread?

It does sound like a bit of an oxymoron to have a ‘Sourdough Soda Bread’ because both sourdough and soda bread are leavened with different agents. And traditional soda bread doesn’t have any type of yeast in it. But I had a look at the definition of soda bread:

“An Irish quick bread leavened with baking soda, usually made with buttermilk.”

According to Dictionary.com

The definition clearly calls it a quick bread. So even if you made a sourdough bread, that included baking soda and buttermilk, you technically still couldn’t call it a quick bread unless you baked it with minimal to no proving time. In which case, it wouldn’t be sourdough.

The only ‘quick’ sourdough recipes are ones that only use sourdough starter, with no extra flour to ferment. (As the sourdough starter alone is already fully fermented).

That leaves you with 2 options:

  1. Find a way to use sourdough starter only, without adding any extra flour.
  2. Make a sourdough bread that is similar in texture and flavor to soda bread, and uses similar ingredients.

Option 1 is pretty difficult to do in the case of soda bread, as you can’t get the consistency of soda bread dough using just sourdough starter. It would be way too runny to shape before baking.

That leaves us with option 2. Technically, you couldn’t call it a quick bread because you would have to ferment it for enough time to get the health benefits from it.

But if we could make a sourdough bread recipe, that also includes baking soda and buttermilk, we’ve covered two thirds of the definition of soda bread!

So if you love the taste and texture of soda bread, and would also like the benefit of sourdough, all is not lost!

You can incorporate some sourdough starter into a traditional soda bread recipe, and ferment it for long enough to get the benefits of sourdough before baking it.

Your recipe should come out similar to a traditional soda bread recipe, but with the addition of a mild sourdough taste in the background.

Sourdough Soda Bread Recipe Suggestion

Here’s a quick recipe for a traditional Irish soda bread that has been converted to a sourdough version:

For more recipes take a look at my recipe section!

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup sourdough starter

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix together.
  2. In another bowl add the buttermilk and starter. Mix with your hands until the mixture is smooth with no lumps.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, and mix until a slightly sticky dough is formed (should only take about 20 seconds). You may need to add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky.
  4. Leave to ferment for 6 to 8 hours.
  5. When dough is fully fermented, preheat oven to 400F.
  6. Shape the dough into a large ball and place onto a greased baking sheet. Flatten the dough down slightly onto the tray.
  7. Use a dough scraper or a knife to make a large deep cut across the middle of the dough in two directions to make an ‘X’ across the dough ball.
  8. Bake the bread in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown, and sounds hollow when tapped at the bottom.
  9. Cool on a wire rack before enjoying with some butter and honey!

Related Questions

Can you make any type of bread into sourdough?

Generally speaking, any type of bread that contains yeast can be converted to sourdough with a few minor adjustments to the recipe. Sourdough starter would be used instead of yeast in the recipe, and the flour and water content would need to to be adjusted accordingly.

Can you make any type of quick bread into sourdough?

Most quick bread recipes can be converted to sourdough with some adjustments to the recipe.

Aysha

I've been baking sourdough bread at home for years now and have had a journey full of successes and failures. This has given me great experience in understanding what makes a good bake!

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