Ancient rye

The all-rounder in the bakery


Ancient rye is a 7,000-year-old grain variety, which originated in the Middle East. Because ancient grains often used to be sown on cleared areas, ancient rye is also known today as perennial rye or Waldstauden grain. In some regions, it is called St John's rye, since it was sown around Saint John's day (24 June).

Ancient rye originally grew as a weed in the wheat fields. As grain farming moved north, ancient grains were cultivated because of its winter hardiness and its low soil requirements, and eventually evolved into the grain we know today as ordinary rye.

Ancient rye almost fell into oblivion, since it has much smaller grains than conventional rye and its yield is therefore around 50 % lower. However, as it is an extremely undemanding, frost-resistant grain that grows on poor soils, even at 2,000 metres above sea level, it is attracting increasing attention in agriculture once again.


What ancient rye represents


•    botanical name Secale multicaule
•    monocotyledonous plant of the grass family
•    suitable for the production of many products, including breads and sweet baked goods
•    rich in fibre, protein, trace elements and B vitamins
•    earthy, slightly spicy flavour, which intensifies during baking

Thomas Miedaner and Friedrich Longin

Perennial rye is generally very fine-grained (...), a sign that the plant can only invest part of its assimilates into the grains. It therefore has a higher mineral/ash content and therefore significantly more fibre – up to 50% more according to some sources – than standard rye.

Thomas Miedaner and Friedrich Longin

„Unterschätzte Getreidearten – Einkorn, Emmer, Dinkel & Co.“ (Agrimedia Verlag 2012)


How ancient rye thrives


In contrast to today's cultivated rye, ancient rye is a perennial grain and is therefore mostly grown in multiannual cultivation. The grains are sown in the autumn or spring (originally around St John's day, June 24). In the first year, the green part is scythed before the earing stage and used as cattle feed. The plants produce new ones and overwinter. This approach means that up to 30 % more ears are formed in the following year. During that year, the ancient rye matures and can be harvested.

The plants grow up to two metres high, and are therefore particularly resistant to diseases: The ears are a long way from the ground, so that fungal spores raised by the rain cannot easily be transferred to the grain. This means that fewer pesticides are needed. Using fertilisers would also be counterproductive, since the stalks would grow too long and bend. 

According to scientists Thomas Miedaner and Friedrich Longin ("Unterschätzte Getreidearten – Einkorn, Emmer, Dinkel & Co.", Agridmedia Verlag 2012), a special ecological advantage of ancient rye is the powerful, fine root system, which penetrates the entire field profile. Because the plant is a deep-rooting, it leaves behind it soil that is particularly suitable for subsequently planted vegetable or grain crops. 


How to handle ancient rye


A high level of specialisation in the milling craft is needed for producing flour from ancient grains that is of high enough quality to be used in breadmaking. Ancient rye is mostly processed into flour and meal.


What ancient rye can be used to make


Ancient rye can be used as an additive for bread made of standard commercial rye as it adds an appealing darker colour and an earthy, slightly spicy flavour to baked goods. According Miedaner and Longin, it is recommended on the health food scene for increasing the fibre content of rye bread

The baking properties of ancient grains are not nearly as good as those of modern grains. It is therefore difficult to use only ancient grains in pastry recipes. To meet this challenge successfully, specially developed recipes and appropriate dough processing methods should be used.

Ancient grains can then be used to produce enjoyable, high-quality baked goods, which meet the needs of modern consumers. Meanwhile, several suppliers are supporting interested bakers with proven solutions to produce exclusive ancient grain specialties.