Rye flour is milled from rye grain, which was most likely domesticated in what is today Syria. Historians believe that this domestication occurred between 8000 and 6000 BCE. The grain would reach Europe around 4500 BCE.
It is believed that rye is an example of a phenomenon called crop mimicry. At first, it was not a food crop. It was unintentionally harvested with grains used for food such as wheat and barley. Wild rye is a perennial weed unlike annuals like wheat and barley. It only seeds in its second season so must plants were tilled into the soil at the end of wheat and rye harvests.
However, there are mutant plants that would seed in their first season and these were harvested with the wheat and rye. The result was farmers accidentally selected for these plants and domesticated rye.
Farmers in Northern Europe began cultivating rye because it could be grown in poor soils and could stand up to cold weather better than wheat. Wheat grows best in warm, dry conditions.
Bread made with rye flour was standard up until the 19th century when the softer and fluffier wheat bread became more popular across Europe. The popularity continued into the 20th century.
By the late 20th century, white bread had become the most popular type of bread all over the world. Only in the last decade or so has rye bread begun to see a resurgence. It is growing in popularity in fine dining restaurants and artisan bakeries.
Rye flour flavor profile
Rye flour is known for its distinctive sour taste, which comes from its long proofing time. The proofing time has to be extended because the gluten in rye flour does not behave in the same way as in wheat flour.
As a consequence, the dough does not rise as much so bread made with rye flour will be denser because there is less gas trapped in the dough. The reduced ability to rise is why bread made with rye flour requires a long proofing time.
Health benefits of rye flour
Whole-grain rye flour is particularly nutritious because of how much bran it contains. Bran is the outer layer of the grain that is packed with minerals, vitamins and fiber. The most widely used rye flour is whole grain rye flour and it has more bran than wheat flour. Rye flour can provide you with nutrients like:
- Vitamins: Rye flour is an excellent source of B vitamins including niacin, riboflavin and thiamin.
- Minerals: You can get essential minerals like iron, magnesium and phosphorus in high quantities from rye flour.
- Fiber: Rye flour is an exceptionally good source of dietary fiber.
A diet that contains a substantial amount of rye flour may help to treat or prevent health conditions like:
- Gallstones: A lot of the fiber in rye flour is of the insoluble variety, which has been shown to reduce the risk of gallstones.
- Cancer: Rye flour has various compounds that have been shown to fight cancer including its fiber, which is present in soluble and insoluble forms. Also present are polyphenols and saponins that may be beneficial for combating cancer cells.
The most popular use for rye flour is to make pumpernickel and other types of rye bread. It can be used in any recipe that calls for wheat flour but will work better if you combine it with wheat flour.