What Is the Difference Between Rye Bread & Pumpernickel Bread?

By Cassie Damewood

Rye and pumpernickel breads may look similar and have slightly similar tastes, but they're made differently and from different ingredients. They also have different origins. Their colors can vary, depending on the type and what types of flours and ingredients it includes. These dark, rich breads pair well with deli meats.


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Pumpernickel Bread


Pumpernickel is a conventional German rye bread made with 100 percent rye flour. The flour is coarsely ground to produce bread with a heavy, dense texture. Less traditional recipes call for the addition of wheat flour to lighten the loaf and help the bread rise. Instead of being baked, pumpernickel is cooked through oven steaming. The dough is shaped into loaves, placed into bread pans and surrounded in the oven by pans of boiling water. As the bread cooks for several hours at a low temperature, the starch in the rye caramelizes and turns the bread a deep brown color. Pumpernickel has a firm crust, moist interior and is frequently flavored with caraway seeds, a classic addition to both rye and pumpernickel breads.

Pumpernickel Types


Other than German pumpernickel, Austrian is the only variation. It contains a higher whole-wheat to rye flour ratio, so it is lighter and airier than the German type.

Rye Bread Characteristics


Rye bread is made from a mixture of rye and wheat flours and comes from Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. The wheat flour adds gluten to the bread dough, which makes it rise. Rye flour doesn't have enough gluten to make the bread rise on its own. Rye bread can be made from conventional yeast dough ingredients or from starter dough -- a small amount of raw dough saved from a previous bread-making session that contains live yeast to encourage rising in the next batch of bread.

Types of Rye Bread


German rye is the heaviest of rye breads because it has more rye flour in it than other versions. Italian rye is among the lighter varieties due to the common addition of bread or all-purpose wheat flour to the dough and is often flavored with caraway seeds. Polish rye ranges in color and flavor from light to dark, with or without the flavoring of caraway seeds. The sweetness of molasses distinguishes Swedish rye bread from others. New York rye is known for its chewy interior and crispy crust. Marbled rye bread is made by placing a layer of wheat bread atop a layer of rye bread and rolling the two together before baking. The result is bi-colored bread with different textures and tastes in the two layers.