It is an odd convention that rye flour is called “dark rye” and “light rye” rather than “whole meal rye” or “whole rye” and “white rye”. Maybe that is because rye flour is kind of “greige” (greyish-beige) and so the name “white rye” did not stick. Then again “white flour” is now exclusively used to identify wheat so maybe the marketing gurus thought that “white rye” would be too confusing. Whatever the reason, it is confusing and that is a shame because rye is an excellent flour. It has a totally different gluten from wheat or spelt, is high in all sorts of goodness, is a slow release carb, and an all round good sort. The German Bakery in Windsor has a whole treatise on rye pinned up outside their door!
So, what is the difference between dark rye and light rye?
“Dark rye” is not black or even dark brown. It’s a kind of “greige” colour with flecky bits of bran and germ in it. “Light rye” is also kind of “greige” but it is fine without the flecky bits. “Light rye” is the equivalent of white flour and “dark rye” is the equivalent of whole meal (whole wheat/spelt) flour – that is to say, “dark rye” has all the bran and the germ in the flour and “light rye” does not. When you bake with dark rye, your dough will be more absorbent (ie it will need more water) and it will bake into a loaf that is slightly smaller than if you bake with light rye flour: Just like a whole meal loaf will be slightly smaller than a white loaf, all else being equal.
The rich, brown colour of some rye bread (pumpernickel is the most famous example) is a result of molasses that is added to the dough. Molasses is dark brown and it turns the dough a dark brown. More molasses in the dough = darker brown dough.
Most supermarkets sell “dark rye flour” or just “rye flour” which is normally – but not always – “dark rye”. If you want “light rye” for a slightly lighter loaf, simply seive the flour, trapping the bran and germ in your seive and allowing the light “greige” rye flour to fall into the bowl. Use the seived out bits on cereal or in salad for a bit and you are done!
For a simple recipe for rye bread (made with dark or light rye flour) click here. For a recipe for Danish rye (made with light rye flour) click here. If you would like to learn more, we always teach students how to make rye bread in our Basic Bread course. Click here for more details and to book!