The evolution of bread

In 2018, archaeologists found the crumbs of what is believed to be flatbread around a fireplace at a Natufian hunter-gatherer site called Shubayqa, located in north eastern Jordan. It’s believed to be around 14,400 years old. After analysis, the bread was discovered to be made from wild cereals like barley, einkorn and oats.

Today in Jordan, people make bread called arboud, or “Shepherd’s Bread”,  as a pre-dinner snack. Made with just three ingredients—water, flour andsalt—arboud is common in this mountainous part of Jordan where herds of goats and sheep scale ravines and peaks. It doesn’t need much fuss: ten minutes spent baked in the ash on each side, and it’s ready to be consumed, just like it was done 14,500 years ago.
Bread contains those same ingredients today as it did then too – water, flour, salt, and now also yeast for a risen loaf.

Of course, in Ireland, we are very familiar with Irish Soda bread. it is thought that the reason that soda bread was so popular in Ireland intially was because it didn’t require yeast, which was relatively expensive. Also, yeast bread took time for the bread to prove and rise, whereas soda bread could be made very quickly. It was also better suited to the type of flour which was available at the time. 

Commercial bread baking continues to this day with bakeries across the country, many of which can trace their history back over numerous decades. It is estimated that there are over 560 bakeries in Ireland today.  The market size, measured by revenue, of the Bread & Bakery Goods Production industry is €914.3m in 2023 with 7,587 people employed!

According to the Central Statistics Office, “A loaf of bread cost 5.5d (5 and 1/2 pence) in 1938 when the average industrial wage was £2 6s 4d (2 pounds, 6 shillings and 4 pence). Thus, a loaf of bread accounted for 1% of the average weekly industrial wage. In 1968, average weekly industrial earnings were £14 2s 5d and a loaf cost 1s 10.5d, 0.7% of the weekly wage. By 2000 average weekly industrial earnings were £364.80 and a loaf of bread cost 78 pence, accounting for 0.2% of the weekly wage.”

Our members have been around for quite a long time themselves, the bakeries that is! Ireland’s oldest bakery, Johnston Mooney & O’Brien has over 185 years of tradition baking bread in Dublin and was the first to introduce the ‘sliced loaf’ to Ireland. It was over fifty years ago that Joseph Brennan, Old Mr Brennan himself, baked loaves in a one room bakery in Fumbally Lane, Dublin. In 1953, Pat Higgins from Mayo arrived in Granard, Co. Longford and first set up a bakery in the back of his home serving the local community. Irish Pride has its bakery in Taghmon, Co.Wexford and records show that the first bakery there was set up in 1878. 

While there are lots of different breads available on the market now; brown, rye, spelt, seeded, brioche…everyone still loves their white sliced pan. Some things never change!


For more information you can visit:

Swift, John “The Bakers' Records.” Saothar, vol. 3, 1977, pp. 1–5. JSTOR,

Breaking Bread -