Barm Brack

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

barm brack (or barn brack) an Irish fruit bread containing dried fruit, peel, and something in the way of spice (one tradition being the use of caraway seeds). The name is generally spelled with an ‘m’, suggesting the original use of barm (the yeast drawn off fermenting malt) as the raising agent. However, as long ago as 1904 one authority was upholding the spelling with an ‘n’ on the ground that this was an Anglicized version of the Irish bairgain breac, two words meaning respectively ‘bread’ and ‘speckled’. This view was endorsed by Florence Irwin (1949), a sparkling, very Irish and authoritative writer, and indeed by the less sparkling but also authoritative OED. Whichever view should prevail, it seems clear that ‘brack’ represents an adjective, not a noun.