Bread is one of the oldest recipes known to man, and has been in use for at least several thousand years. It is unknown at what point rye bread came into being, but rye grain was introduced in about 500 CE when the Danes and the Saxons settled in Britain. This bread is made either entirely or partially with rye flour, and traditionally has a dark color, although many lighter varieties of light-colored rye have become common.
Pure rye bread contains only rye flour, without any wheat. It can be made with either of two types of rye flour: light or dark. The color depends on the amount of bran left in the flour once the grain has been milled. Rye bread is traditionally baked for a long period of time in a covered tin.
The rye grain itself is closely related to wheat, which is one reason why it lends itself so well to being made into bread. It grows very well in colder, northern climates such as those found in Russia and Northern Europe, making rye bread a common staple food of these areas. Care must be taken to prevent infection of rye fields by the ergot fungus, to which rye is very susceptible. When this fungus is eaten by humans, it can cause serious medical conditions, including hallucinations and convulsions.
A simple bread using just rye flour does not rise as high as wheat bread, but is significantly moister and remains fresh for longer, up to a period of months. This attribute makes the bread a popular choice for storage rations on long outdoor trips. In these circumstances, the bread is sliced very thinly because of its high density, and is sometimes sold pre-sliced in this way.
It is also common to combine rye with other grains and seeds. For example, in the United States, “rye bread” almost always refers to a bread that is a wheat-rye mix. This type of bread is given its strong and recognizable flavor from the presence of caraway seeds which are baked into it. The caraway seed is given this flavor by the oils present in it, making it a common spice in other recipes as well.
Rye bread in the U.S. is closely associated with Jewish-American cuisine, particularly the delicatessen. It is frequently used in sandwiches with salted meats such as pastrami and corned beef. This type of rye originally came from Eastern Europe, including some Russian varieties. It is also related to some Scandinavian breads which are made with spices like fennel and cardamom, and are common for use on special occasions.