The Exploratorium is more than a museum. Explore our online resources for learning at home.

The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking
Candy Bread Eggs Pickles Meat Seasoning
Ask the Inquisitive Cooks    

"What's the difference between pumpernickel and rye?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

What is the difference between pumpernickel bread and rye bread?

Colleen Croll
Victoria, B.C. Canada


Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

(Meet the Inquisitive Cooks)


Dear Colleen,

Pumpernickel bread is usually made with a high proportion of rye flour and a small amount of wheat flour. It's the rye flour however that's of particular interest. Traditional Old World black pumpernickel bread uses coarse rye flour that's ground from the entire rye berry. This flour is sometimes referred to as 'meal'. Rye meal can also be ground fine or medium. Coarse rye meal is commonly called "pumpernickel" flour, a German name that humorously refers to its occasional effect on the digestive system. "Pumpern" is the German word for "intestinal wind" and "nickel" is a word for demon or sprite.
  In contrast to the flour used for pumpernickel, regular rye flour is ground from the endosperm of the rye berry after the outer layers of bran and the germ have been removed. If we were talking about wheat instead of rye, this would be the equivalent of "white" flour. The darker color of rye flour is due its ash content, which varies according to how each particular brand is milled.

Old recipes for pumpernickel bread call for baking in steam at a low heat for 2 hours or more. During this time, unparalleled flavors develop as long slow cooking causes the natural sugar in rye flour to darken and sweeten the bread. Chocolate, spices, orange peel and beer may be added and potatoes are often included as they help keep the bread moist. Rather than using very coarse rye meal and lengthy cooking to develop flavor, many of today's versions of pumpernickel contain a mixture of rye and wheat flour and are darkened to look like the original version, with cocoa or caramel coloring!

There is also apparently a version of pumpernickel that does not contain yeast, and this can be found in the refrigerator sections of some market and delicatessens.

Do hope this answers your questions about pumpernickel and rye. Thanks for asking such an interesting question.

Anne & Sue


- - - Science of Cooking - - - Webcasts - - - Ask The Inquisitive Cooks - - - Share & Discuss - - -


© Exploratorium | Use Policy | Privacy Policy