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5.1.7: Rye Flour

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    Rye Flour

    Rye is a hardy cereal grass cultivated for its grain. Its use by humans can be traced back over 2,000 years. Once a staple food in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, rye declined in popularity as wheat became more available through world trade. A crop well suited to northern climates, rye is grown in the northern states such as the Dakotas and Wisconsin.

    Rye flour is the only flour other than wheat that can be used without blending (with wheat flour) to make yeast-raised bread. Nutritionally, it is a grain comparable in value to wheat. 

    The brown grain is cleaned, tempered, and milled much like wheat grain. One difference is that the rye endosperm is soft and breaks down into flour much more quickly than wheat. The bran is separated from the flour by the break roller. It is then further rolled and sifted while being graded into chop, meal, light flour, medium flour, and dark flour:.

    • Chop: This is the miller’s name for the coarse stock after grinding in a break roller mill.
    • Meal: Like chop, a meal is made of 100% extraction obtained by grinding the entire rye kernel.
    • Light rye flour: This is obtained from the center of the rye kernel and is low in protein and high in starch content. It can be compared to white bread flour and is used to make light rye bread.
    • Medium rye flour: This is straight flour and consists of all the kernels after the bran and shorts have been removed. It is light grey in color, has an ash content of 1%, and is used for a variety of sourdough bread.
    • Dark rye flour: This is comparable to the first clear wheat flour. It has an ash content of 2% and a protein content of 16%. It is used primarily for heavier types of rye bread.

    The lighter rye flours are generally bleached, usually with a chlorine treatment. The purpose of bleaching is to lighten the color, since there is no improvement on the gluten capability of the flour.

    Extraction of Rye Flour

    The grade of extraction of rye flour is of great importance to the yield of the dough and the creation of a particular flavor in the baked bread. Table 1 shows the percentage of the dry substances of rye flour by grade of extraction.

    Table 1 Dry Substances of Rye Flour by Grade of Extraction
    Substance 70% Extraction Rate 85% Extraction Rate
    Ash 0.8% 1.4%
    Fat 1.2% 1.7%
    Protein 8.1% 9.6%
    Sugar 6.5% 7.5%
    Starch 72.5% 65.1%
    Crude fiber 0.5% 1.3%

    Note that ash and fiber are higher in the 85% extraction rate flour, and starch is lower.  The starch level in rye flour is greater than that of wheat flour and is of more significance for successful rye bread baking.

    Rye flours differ from wheat flour in the type of gluten that they contain. Although some dark rye flours can have a gluten content as high as 16%, this is only gliadin. The glutenin, which forms the elasticity in the dough is absent, and therefore doughs made only with rye flour will not hold the gas produced by the yeast during fermentation. This results in a small and compact loaf of bread.

    Starches are far more important to the quality of the dough yield than gluten. Starch is the chief component of the flour responsible for the structure of the loaf. Its bread-making ability hinges on the age of the flour and the acidity. While rye flour does not have to be aged as much as wheat flour, it has both a “best after” and a “best before” date. Three weeks after milling is considered to be good.

    When the rye flour is freshly milled, the starch gelatinizes (sets) quickly at a temperature at which amylases are still very active. As a result, bread made from fresh flour may be sticky and very moist. At the other extreme, as the starch gets older, it gelatinizes less readily, the enzymes cannot do their work, and the loaf may split and crack. A certain amount of starch breakdown must occur for the dough to be able to swell.

    The moisture content of rye flour should be between 13% and 14%. The less water in the flour, the better its storage ability. Rye should be stored under similar conditions to wheat flour.

    Differences between Rye and Wheat

    Here is a short list of the differences between rye and wheat:

    • Rye is more easily pulverized.
    • Rye does not yield semolina.
    • Gluten content in the rye is not a significant dough-making factor.
    • Starch is more important for bread making in rye flour than in wheat flour.
    • Rye flour has greater water-binding capability than wheat flour, due to its starches.

    In summary, both wheat and rye have a long history in providing the “staff of life.” They are both highly nutritious. North American mills have state-of-the-art technology that compensates for crop differences, thus ensuring that the baker has a reliable and predictable raw material. Flour comes in a great variety of types, specially formulated so that the baker can choose according to product and customer taste.

    This page titled 5.1.7: Rye Flour is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by BC Cook Articulation Committee (BC Campus) .

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