Rye, Secale cereale, is a cultivated cereal grain with a wide range of uses from baking to alcohol to ground cover.
Ancestors of the modern grain may be S. montanum, a wild species found in southern Europe and nearby parts of Asia, or from S. anatolicum, a wild rye found in Syria, Armenia, Iran, Turkestan, and the Kirghis Steppe. It seems to have coevolved with wheat and barley for over 2,000 years, found as a weed in fields of those grains until its independent worth was recognized. English and Dutch settlers brought it to the United States.
Less than 50% of the rye grown in the United States is used for grain production. The balance is variously used for livestock feed, and the remainder of harvested rye is used for alcoholic beverages, food, and seed. It is also useful as a ground cover, helping water retention and soil condition, and also believed to help control weeds. "It has been widely reported that residues of fall-planted, spring-killed rye reduces total weed biomass by 60% to 95% when compared to controls with no residue. Rye residue which remains at the soil surface can potentially modify the physical and chemical environment during seed germination and plant growth."
Rye adds a distinct flavor to baked goods, such as the many kinds of rye bread. Doughs made with rye flour are considerably stiffer than doughs using wheat flour alone, and need different kneading and rising methods.
Rye bread usually is a mixture of white and rye flours; rye flour alone has poor rising characteristics. Rye flatbreads may be pure rye.
Especially in the Middle Ages but to the present day, growing rye plants have become contaminated with the ergot fungus, which produces toxic alkaloids.
- E.A. Oelke, E.S. Oplinger, H. Bahri, B. R. Durgan, D. H. Putnam, J.D. Doll, and K.A. Kelling, Rye, Alternative Feed Crops Manual, University of Wisconsin Extension Service