Rye bread is a type of bread made with various percentages
of flour from rye grain. It can be light or dark in color,
depending on the type of flour used and the addition of
coloring agents, and is typically denser than bread made
from wheat flour. It is higher in fiber than many common
types of bread and is often darker in color and stronger
While rye and wheat are genetically close enough to
interbreed (the resulting hybrids are known as triticale),
there are some substantial differences in the biochemistry
of wheat and rye that can drastically affect the
breadmaking process. A key issue is amylases - while
wheat amylases are generally not heat stable and have no
effect on the stronger wheat gluten, rye amylase remains
active at substantially higher temperatures.
Since rye gluten is not particularly strong, the main
structure of the bread is based on complex
polysaccharides, including rye starch and pentosans, and
the amylases in the flour can break down the resulting
structure, inhibiting the rise of the dough.
There are two common solutions: The traditional
manner, acidification, uses Lactobacillus cultures in a
naturally-derived sourdough starter to inactivate the rye
amylases, which cannot function in an acidic environment,
and to help gelatinize the starches in the dough matrix.
In areas where obtaining wheat has traditionally been
impractical because of marginal growing conditions or
supply difficulties, this has been the most important
technique to creating lighter breads.
As a byproduct of this intentional cultivation of lactic
acid and acetic acid from the sourdough bacteria, standard
baker's yeast is not often used, since Saccharomyces
cerevisiae is known to be rather intolerant of acid
environments. (Commercial yeast can, however, still be
used; recipes substituting citric acid or vinegar and
commercial yeast for the sourdough culture are sometimes
used in baking trades.)
In areas where high-gluten hard wheat is readily
available, on the other hand, the need for a complex
polyculture of bacteria and yeast can often be reduced or
removed by adding a large proportion of hard wheat flour
to the rye flour; the added gluten compensates for amylase
activity on the starch in the bread, allowing it to retain
its structure as it cooks. (The Jewish rye bread tradition
in the United States is based upon this mixing of grains.)
The use of high-gluten wheat flour also makes possible
multigrain breads, such as the "rye and Indian" bread of
the American colonies, which combined rye and wheat with
cornmeal in one loaf.
Pure rye bread contains only rye flour, without any wheat.
a dark, dense, and close-textured loaf, is made from
crushed or ground whole rye grains, usually without wheat
flour, baked for long periods at low temperature in a
covered tin. Rye and wheat flours are often used to
produce a rye bread which has a lighter texture, color and
flavor than pumpernickel. 'Light' or 'dark' rye flour can
be used to make rye bread; the flour is classified
according to the amount of bran left in the flour after
Caramel or molasses for coloring and caraway seeds are
often added to rye bread (in the United States, breads
labeled as "rye" nearly always contain caraway unless
explicitly labeled as "unseeded"). Rye bread recipes
typically include ground spices such as fennel, coriander,
aniseed, cardamom, or citrus peel. In addition to caramel
and molasses, ingredients such as coffee or cocoa (or even
toasted bread crumbs) can also be used for both coloring
and flavor purposes for very dark breads like
A simple, all-rye bread can be made using a sourdough
starter and rye meal; it will not rise as high as a wheat
bread, but will be more moist with a substantially longer
keeping time. Such breads are often known as black breads,
partly from their darker color than wheat breads (enhanced
by long baking times, creating Maillard reactions in the
crumb), and partly from their perceived lower social
status than the lighter, more expensive wheat breads.
The German Vollkornbrot (whole grain bread) is something
of an archetypical example, containing both rye meal and
cracked whole rye grains (which are generally soaked
overnight before incorporating into the dough). It is used
both as an appetizer substrate for such things as smoked
fish and caviar and as a sandwich bread. A very similar,
but darker, bread, German-style pumpernickel, has an even
darker color derived from toasted leftover bread and other
Due to the density of the bread, the yeast in the starter
is used at least as much for the fermentation character in
the bread itself as it is for leavening. Danish rugbrød
(rye bread), another archetypical example, is typically
made with sour dough, with either straight rye flour, or
mixed with whole and/or cracked rye kernels. Any breads
containing wheat flour is not considered rugbrød, but
white bread. A variety of seeds, such as pumpkin, poppy
and caraway, may be added for taste. Rugbrød is a staple
lunch food, typically eaten topped with cold or warm fish
and meats, cheese or any other cold cut.
As stated above, all-rye breads may have very long keeping
times, measured in months rather than days, and are
popular as storage rations for long boat trips and
outdoors expeditions. Such breads are usually sliced very
thin because of their density, sometimes only a few
millimeters thick, and are sold presliced in this manner.
It is fairly common to combine rye with other grains and
seeds. In southern Germany and Switzerland, for example,
it is not uncommon to find a variant of Vollkornbrot with
sunflower seeds instead of the rye seeds, and some
traditional recipes also substitute whole wheat grains for
the rye grains. In the colonial era in North America,
particularly in the United States, it became common to mix
rye and cornmeal in what was known as "rye and Indian" or,
if wheat flour was added, "thirded" bread; the resulting
bread, though less dense than a whole-rye bread, was still
heavier than the more expensive wheat-only breads that
later became commonplace.
In England, a mixed rye/wheat bread known as maslin (or
several other variants of the name) was the bread of the
peasants for hundreds of years, in contrast to the manchet
bread eaten by the rich.
Wheat-rye breads, particularly light rye (sissel) and
American pumpernickel, but also a combination known as
"marble rye", are very closely associated with
Jewish-American cuisine, particularly the delicatessen.
The bulk of the flour is white wheat flour (often a
less-refined form known as "first clear"), with a
substantial portion of rye mixed in for color and flavor.
The dough is often, but not necessarily, leavened, in
whole or in part, with sourdough, but sometimes uses a
small addition of citric acid or vinegar to achieve the
lowered pH needed to neutralize the rye amylases;
so-called "Jewish rye" is further seasoned with whole
caraway seeds and glazed with an egg wash, and is
traditionally associated with salted meats such as corned
beef, pastrami, and (outside kosher circles) ham.
High-gluten wheat flour can be used with rye flour to make
a dough suitable for bagels, as well. Jewish-style
American rye bread is sometimes referred to as "corn
bread" or "corn rye"; the term comes from the use of
cornmeal as a coating and handling aid and does not
necessarily imply the use of cornmeal within the dough
itself as in rye and Indian.
The Jewish-American variety has Eastern European
antecedents, including Russian-style brown bread and
Riga-style rye bread. In Scandinavia, similar breads are
made, some of which also include sweeteners and/or citrus
peel, as well as spices such as anise, fennel or cardamom,
when made for more festive occasions (such as in the
In Canada, Winnipeg-style rye bread does not actually
contain much, if any, rye flour. Instead, this Jewish and
Slavic influenced bread is made from from cracked rye or
coarse rye meal added to wheat flour, often flavored with
caraway and other herbs.
There are three different types of rye crisp bread: yeast
fermented, sourdough fermented and cold bread crisp bread.
Most of the crisp bread produced in Scandinavia is baked
following three to four hours of fermentation. Sourdough
crisp breads are used in Finland, Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland, Germany and India.
The third type of crisp bread is the so-called cold bread
crisp bread, essentially a type of hardtack (known in
Sweden particularly as knäckebröd), which is baked without
the addition of any leavening. The dough gets the right
texture from a foaming process, where air is incorporated
into the cooled dough, which also leads to the almost
white color of the finished bread. Crisp bread owes its
long shelf life to its very low water content (5-7%).
One of the largest producers of rye flatbreads, and one of
the most prominent in overseas markets, is the
Swedish-founded company Wasabröd.
Rye flour is sometimes used in chemically-leavened quick
bread recipes as well, either batter-type or dough-type
(similar to Irish soda bread). In such cases, it can be
used in similar applications as whole wheat flour, since
an egg matrix often provides the bread structure rather
than the grain's gluten.
Rye bread contains a large amount of fiber and only a
little fat. Rye bread does not create high spikes in blood
sugar as white bread and other breads do.
Dark rye bread became a staple which lasted to the Middle
Ages. Many different types of rye grain have come from
places all over Europe such as Finland, Denmark, Russia,
Baltic countries and Germany. In Finland, Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Denmark, Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, and Russia,
rye is the most popular type of bread. A common saying in
modern-day Alaska is "eggs on rye," which is an expression
used when something tastes delicious. In 500 AD., the
Saxons and Danes settled in Britain and introduced rye,
which was well suited to cold northern climates.
Rye is a popular bread for sandwiches. In the United
States, corned beef or pastrami on rye is particularly
popular; it is considered a classic element of
Jewish-influenced New York City cuisine. One common form
of this combination is the Reuben sandwich.