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What is Italian Rye Bread?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Italian rye bread is a delicious alternative to the many other forms of rye bread popular in Europe and the United States. Unlike its heavier cousins like German or Jewish rye, Italian rye bread tends to rely on Italian rye flour, sometimes called white rye flour, which is lighter in texture. Typical recipes for the bread tend to use a higher wheat flour proportion to rye flour making the end texture lighter and spongier. In regions of Italy where the bread is popular, it is usually made and molded similarly to basic Italian bread, which is oblong in shape. You can certainly find it in rounds too, but the oblong shape makes for easier slicing.

Most rye bread versions contain seeds, and Italian rye bread is no exception. Many recipes for the Italian version call for both caraway and fennel seeds, which enhance flavor and add texture to the bread. If you want a light rye bread and can’t find a good Italian rye bread, look for light crusted ryes. Sourdough rye or dill rye can make good substitutes.

The most famous rye breads from Italy are made in cities like Bolzano, in the northernmost region of Italy, Trenton Alto Adige. While it might seem difficult to find the white rye flour, which makes these breads so popular, and may have been a matter of special ordering in the past, many experts in Italian cuisine now suggest that the King Arthur® white rye flour is an excellent substitute. This can be found in specialty stores, sometimes in bulk, and can easily be ordered on the Internet.

Recipes for Italian rye bread may be very different from the much simpler Italian bread. They may include milk products, often include oils like olive oil, and may have a little brown sugar or molasses added to enhance flavor. You can certainly make a simpler version of the bread by adding a bit of rye flour to Italian bread recipes. Yet you should feel free to get creative too.

A good Italian rye bread should have a light, slightly chewy crust, a closed crumb, and a powerful caraway and dill flavoring. It’s excellent as used in sliced bread for sandwiches with Italian meats like ham or salami. Thick slices of fresh or heated bread are wonderful accompaniments to soups, stews or pasta, adding extra flavor if you use them for dipping.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Jul 08, 2014

I love rye bread! I make it often but I did not realize that what I was making was actually Italian rye bread. I wasn't aware that different countries have slightly different versions.

My recipe calls for a mix of rye and all-purpose flour, along with yeast, warm water, milk and olive oil. I also use caraway seeds.

The result is a beautiful brown rye bread with a crispy crust and soft interior that's not too dense and not too sparse. I love having this bread fresh and with lost of butter. It's so delicious, it's my favorite bread.

By turquoise — On Jul 07, 2014

@stoneMason-- Good question. Unless you're making your own Italian rye bread, you probably don't need to worry about this. Because it will most definitely be closed crumb.

Closed crumb is basically what the inside of the bread looks like. Closed crumb means a uniform appearance, with even and very small air pockets. Open crumb means that the inside of the bread does not look even and may have large air pockets. This basically has to do with how the dough is prepared and rolled. If the baker mixes and rolls the dough in such a way as to add a lot of air into it, it will result in an open crumb bread.

Italian rye bread is closed crumb, so the dough is not mixed or rolled too much.

By stoneMason — On Jul 06, 2014

What does closed crumb mean? How do I know if my Italian rye bread is closed crumb?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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