What Is Rye?

By: Jackie Martin    Last Updated: November 25, 2022       


What Is Rye?

If you love your crackers, beer, bread or whiskey, then you will have come across rye in one way or another.

Similar to wheat, rye is a popular edible grain that has been used for consumption for thousands of years. And it remains popular today. 

What Is Rye?

We find out what rye is, and what food products you can find it in.

What Is Rye?

The rye plant, known as Secale cereale, is part of a whole family of cereal grains which comes from edible grasses. It is part of the same family as wheat, millet, barley and sorghum.

What we commonly know as rye in food products is the seed that is harvested from the rye plant.

Rye can be grown almost anywhere around the world where it gets enough water and sunshine. It grows particularly well in  northern temperate climates.

The majority of rye farmers plant rye seeds in the autumn, and then harvest in the spring.

Types Of Rye

There is a large variety of rye that can be used for different purposes. Here are some of the most popular types of rye which are rye grains at different processing stages.

Rye Berries

The whole rye kernel is called a “rye berry”. Similar to wheat, rye grows in large fields, and the kernel is surrounded by a hull which protects it from the weather.

However, the hull is hard and indigestible, so it needs to be removed during the milling process.

Cracked Rye Or Rye Chops

Cracked rye is similar to steel-cut oats or cracked wheat. This means that the rye berry (the whole rye kernel) is cut or cracked into different pieces.

This makes the rye faster to cook, and it preserves its nutrients.

Rye Flakes

Rye flakes are similar to rolled oats. The rye kernels are steamed to soften them, and then rolled and dried. 

This process transforms rye berries into flakes which are ideal for porridge and baking. You can also use them as alternative to rolled oats.

Rye Used In Food

Rye Used In Food

Rye is one of the oldest grain in the world, and it has been used almost since the early days when humans started farming.

Today, you can find rye in many different foods, and even drinks. Here are some of our favorite rye foods.

Rye Flour

Rye flour is finely ground rye, similar to wheat flour. You can is it almost anywhere in baking, from crisp bread and sandwich bread to pretzels.

Rye Bread

While rye isn’t suitable for a gluten-free diet, it contains relatively little gluten, compared to wheat.

When both rye and wheat flour is used to make a bread, then the loaf rises better and it becomes fluffier.

This is also the base for marble rye bread which contains both of these different flours, rolled together and then swirled.

Rye bread can be made with dark or light rye flour.

Dark rye flour has a darker color than its light counterpart, and it’s also more intense in flavor. One popular example of dark rye bread is pumpernickel, which also contains cocoa powder, molasses and sometimes even coffee powder (see also ‘Is Pumpernickel Whole Grain?‘).

In comparison, light rye is much lighter in color, and it has a kind of airy and light flavor.

You can add almost any type of seed to rye bread as well to increase the flavors.

Rye Grain

You can also use the less processed rye grain in your breakfast cereal, cereal bars or other baked goods.

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is a little spicier than the traditional whiskey recipes, which are made from wheat, barley or corn (Check out Is Corn A Grain here).

In the US, rye whiskey is a specific type of whiskey which has been distilled with 51% rye, and the rest is made up with barley and corn.

US law carefully regulates the name “rye whiskey”. Rye whiskey which has been aged for less than two years is called “straight rye whiskey”.

Across the border in Canada, there aren’t any specific laws related to rye whiskey. Traditionally, Canadian whiskeys were made with rye grains (see also ‘5 Whiskey Grains‘).

However, today there are any different ratios between rye and corn permitted. Some Canadian whiskeys only contained very little rye, and they can still call themselves rye whiskey.

Rye Beer

Rye Beer

In rye beer, rye is used as an alternative to barley. The traditional “Roggenbier” brewed in Germany contains a minimum of 60% rye malt.

Most rye beers in the US vary, as they are mainly brewed by microbreweries and homebrewers. Some brewers push the hop content to the same level as an IPA, which then makes the beer into a so-called “Rye IPA”.

There are also other varieties of rye beers across the world, including the Finnish sahti which is made with rye, wild yeast and juniper berries.

What Does Rye Taste Like?

Most people consider rye to have a relatively intense flavor. Unless it is paired with another strong flavor, rye can be overpowering in taste.

This is the reason why light condiments, such as olive oil, isn’t ideal on rye bread. Instead, try mustard on rye bread, and you’ll get a balance of both strong flavors.

Rye also add spiciness to beer and whiskey. However, brewers must be careful, as rye can be a dominant flavor and should be used sparingly.

Saying this, when the rye is balanced with other strong flavors, then rye whiskey or rye beer tastes excellent.

Health Benefits Of Rye

Rye contains a number of important nutrients that our body needs to function properly.

Rye is rich in iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous. It also contains a good amount of manganese and protein.

As a rule of thumb, the darker the rye is, the more minerals and vitamins it contains.

Final Thoughts

Rye is a grain that can be used in the same way as wheat, as rye flour for baking, or brewing or even just to add to your cereal.

Although rye isn’t as popular anymore since the production of barley and wheat increased, rye still has many positive health benefits, thanks to its high fiber content.

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  1. It's interesting to know that rye would have an intense flavor according to most people unless it will be paired with another strong flavor. I wonder what its taste would be if I look for rye whiskey sales, since I have never tried that before. And it might have a different taste because of the alcoholic content they will be paired with.

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