The protein content of rye flour is not used to define its baking quality.

Rye may not be an ancient grain, but it is a staple grain in many countries – and one that has enjoyed great popularity due to its unique flavor profile and functionality.

Bakers can use rye to add a different flavor, color and nutritional profile to breads and other bakery products that are traditionally made from other grains. Rye offers a unique flavor and also can neutralize strong flavors from other whole grains such as red wheat.

Rye has the same amount of bran, but more fiber than wheat. It also has a weaker gluten-forming network, which allows for flexibility in flatbreads and crackers.

Bay State Milling offers a variety of rye products, including flours in white rye, medium rye and dark rye. Whole rye options include flour/meal, flakes and cuts/cracks. There are a variety of particle sizes available, including coarse, medium, fine and extra fine – offering optimum functionality for every application.

Jay Freedman, product application specialist for Bay State Milling and a fourth-generation baker, points out that whole grain consumption is on the rise, and whole grain rye breads are flavorful and nutritious. “It’s definitely a trend, not a fad,” he says.

Rye flours are perfect for flatbreads, pizza, scones, muffins and deli sandwich breads. More retail bakeries are opening delis, so rye breads offer an attractive option for sandwich breads. And Freedman says that rye offers a flavorful option for sweet goods, too, particularly with products sweetened with honey and dried fruit.

Rye Flours

Bakers have access to several different types of rye flours. Rye flours are classified according to their color: white, medium and dark. It is also available as a whole grain product, referred to as rye meal. Unlike wheat flours, the protein content of rye flour is not used to define its baking quality.

For example, white rye flour is milled from the center of the rye kernel and corresponds to a patent grade. It is the whitest in color and will contain the least amount of bran. Medium rye flour is a straight grade and has a darker grey color. Straight grade flour is the flour produced when the majority of the bran and germ have been removed during the milling process and contains the entire starchy endosperm.

Dark rye flour is comparable to a clear flour grade which is the fraction of flour that was removed from the straight grade to produce patent flour. Dark rye flour is darker in color and higher in enzymatic activity because these flour streams originate closer to the outer bran layer. 

It should also be noted that there are no legal definitions for the terms white, medium or dark rye flour. Be mindful when making comparisons between brands or suppliers.

Rye Meal

Rye meal is whole grain rye flour. It is the “whole wheat flour” in the rye family. The extraction rate of rye meal is 100%, since the entire rye kernel has been reduced to flour (meal)—nothing has been added or taken away. The proportions of the natural constituents (protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.) of the rye remain unchanged. Since the bran and germ are partially removed during the milling process, light, medium and dark rye flours lack the full fiber and nutritional benefits of rye meals. 

Rye meal is available in various granulations, including extra fine, fine, medium and coarse. The finer the granulation, the less impact it has on the overall loaf volume. The most popular use is pumpernickel bread. In fact, rye meal is often called “pumpernickel.”

Usage Levels

Traditionally in the US, wheat flour is used in combination with rye flour to provide the necessary gas retention properties. A strong first clear flour, high gluten flour or strong spring patent flour is often used. This results in loaves with acceptable loaf volume and crumb texture. The stronger the wheat flour, the higher the percentage of rye flour it will tolerate.

Because of their different extraction rates, there is a limit to the type and amount of rye flour that can be used in bread production without appreciable loss in perceived bread quality. As a rule of thumb, white rye flours can be used up to 40%, the balance of the flour coming from wheat flour. Medium rye flours can be used up to 30% and dark rye flours up to 20%. These ranges should be used as guidelines only, since formulation and process play a significant role in determining the acceptable level of rye flour.

Because baking is a science and an art, incorporating rye flour or rye meal into your bakery products will require knowledge and experimentation. There are no concrete rules, but this information and these guidelines will point you in the right direction. For additional assistance, contact your local flour sales or technical service representative.