Graphic with copy "Why Rye" and icon of a grain stalkOver the next few weeks, we're celebrating rye flour and all the baking possibilities it offers, from complex flavor to surprising versatility. Join us each week as we explore just why you should be baking with rye.

If you’re looking to add another dimension to your baking, look no further than rye flour. Milled from rye kernels (also called rye berries), the flour has a fresh, nutty flavor that distinguishes it from the wheat flour you likely use to bake. With all sorts of flavor and texture possibilities, it’s totally swoon-worthy. 

But! The wonderful world of rye can quickly get confusing. Scan a supermarket shelf, and you might become overwhelmed by the different names and colors printed on flour bags. 

White vs. dark rye? How does medium rye relate? And what in the world is pumpernickel flour?

Not to fear. We’re here to break things down and provide a guide to navigating rye flour. With this rye primer, you'll learn the difference between various flours and choose the one that best suits your baking needs. 

How rye flour is classified

First, it’s important to understand just how rye flours are categorized. Similar to wheat flour, different rye flours are determined by how much of the rye kernel — i.e., the endosperm, bran, and germ — is present. The more rye kernel there is, the darker the flour. This also means a more intense rye flavor and often a denser texture in your final baked goods. 

Several small bowls of various rye flours, next to a loaf of rye bread
Because the rye flour in the middle has a darker color, you can see that it contains more of the rye kernel. 

For reference, here’s a quick breakdown of the three parts that make up a rye kernel (and all other whole grains): 

  • Endosperm: the starchy center of the rye berry; comprises about 80-85% of the whole kernel
  • Bran: the fiber rich layer that forms the kernel’s outer skin; about 10-15% of the berry   
  • Germ: the nutrient-dense core at the very center of the kernel, which can sprout into a new plant; makes up only 2-3% of the berry 
     

A guide to rye flours 

Ease into things: White rye flour

White rye flour, as the name implies, is the lightest version of rye flour. It’s also sometimes referred to as “light rye.” In white rye flour, the bran and germ are completely removed, and the flour contains only the starchy endosperm of the rye kernel. Without that bran and germ to weigh things down, this flour can create light, airy loaves that are miles away from the dense, heavy rye breads you might be familiar with. This flour has just a subtle rye flavor, adding more of a pleasant hint of complexity than overwhelming rye taste. 

  • When to use: If you want a light crumb and understated rye flavor, use white rye flour in Sour Cream Rye Muffins

Sour cream rye muffins in a muffin tin

The best of both worlds: Medium rye flour

Medium rye flour contains more of the bran than white rye, leading to a darker color and more robust rye flavor. At the same time, it’s not weighed down by the germ or too much bran like darker rye flours, so it can still be used in delicate doughs or tender tarts. In a way, medium rye flour offers the best of all worlds in baking — it has the lighter texture and versatility of white rye, as well as the hearty, complex flavor of whole grain rye flours.  

Salted caramel nut tart with rye crust in the pan, with a plated slice next to it

A curious case: Dark rye flour

Here’s where things can get confusing. Dark rye flour can differ among producers. Usually, it’s milled from the entire rye kernel — all of the bran, germ, and endosperm — making it a whole grain rye flour. However, some dark rye flours have parts of the bran sifted out or contain little of the endosperm. Without a standard classification, different options can vary, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly what you’re getting. So if you’re looking for a whole grain rye flour, count on ...

Bowl of pumpernickel flour, with dark loaf of bread in the background
Pumpernickel flour has a darker color (and even a slightly purple hue!) than other rye flours, which leads to darker breads and baked goods. 
Whole wheat’s counterpart: Pumpernickel flour 

Pumpernickel flour contains all of the bran, germ, and endosperm of the rye kernel. As a result, it has an even darker color than medium rye and can alternately be known as “rye meal” or “whole rye flour.” With all the mineral-rich goodness of the whole rye berry, pumpernickel flour has an assertive, complex flavor that really shines through. This is also the kind of rye flour you’ll usually find in sourdough recipes, as it’s best for fermentation. Because the whole kernel is present in this whole grain rye, pumpernickel flour is coarser than white or medium rye and makes heavier baked goods. 

  • When to use: Pumpernickel is the key to dark, moist, aromatic breads like Pumpernickel Boule, where its deep flavor and gorgeous color make for a standout loaf.

Pumpnickel boule, sliced to show dark color

How to choose the right flour 

Some recipes are written for specific rye flours, like Spiced Rye Ginger Cookies, which use medium rye for the perfect balance of assertive flavor and chewy texture. 

Other times, it’s all up to you! As the baker, you can use the rye flour that provides what you’re looking for. Want strong, powerful rye flavor? Pick pumpernickel. Maybe you’re seeking a lighter texture? White rye is the way to go. And if you want both — complex rye flavor without a dense, heavy baked good — our Organic Medium Rye is your best bet. 

Bag of Organic Medium Rye Flour, next to a loaf of banana bread

As a result, if you only want to keep one bag of rye flour in your kitchen (I get it, pantries are only so big), we recommend sticking with our medium rye. Because it's so versatile, it can be used in almost any recipe calling for rye flour, from tender tarts to chewy cookies, and just about everything in between. 

Explore some of our favorite recipes for showcasing the flavors and textures of rye, and keep an eye out for more blog posts coming this month on why you should be baking with rye!

Rossi Anastopoulo
The Author

About Rossi Anastopoulo

Rossi Anastopoulo grew up in Charleston, SC, which is how she fell in love with biscuits. She geeks out over pie history and loves to bake anything that requires whipping egg whites.  

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