Rye flour is both a pleasure and a challenge. It's a pleasure because it produces breads like old-school Jewish deli rye, German and Russian rye bread and French pain de seigle. It's a challenge because, when mixed with water, rye produces a dough that is both slippery and sticky, making it difficult to work with. That's because unlike gluten, which forms long, elastic chains, rye flour forms a viscous gel of complex sugars called pentosans.
Like gluten in wheat dough, this gel traps the CO2 produced by yeast. Unlike gluten, however, pentosans break down rapidly in the presence of the enzyme amylase, which occurs naturally in yeast and many grains. To counter this problem, bakers generally combine rye and other low-gluten flours with high-gluten flours or first clear flour.
Nutritionally, rye is rich in fiber, vitamin E, riboflavin, folacin and pantothentic acid. And unusual for a cereal grain, rye contains twice as much of the amino acid lysine as wheat, giving it one of the most complete proteins of all grains. And equally important, rye does all of this with only 75% of the calories, ounce for ounce, of wheat.
If you can learn to love its stickiness, rye is well worth the trip.
To help you explore the fascinating tastes and textures of rye, follow these links to recipes for:
Want to learn more about flours made from rye and other grains? Take a look at INSIDE THE JEWISH BAKERY'S bonus chapter on Non-Wheat Flours.