Rye (scientific name Secale cereale) is basically a grass that is extensively cultivated as a grain, a forage crop as well as a cover crop. This species belongs to the wheat family (scientific name Triticeae). It also has a close relationship with wheat (Triticum) and barley (genus Hordeum). The rye grain has multiple uses. For instance, this grain is pounded for making flour, bread, crisp bread, beer, some types of vodka, and some variety of whiskeys besides using it as fodder for animals. Rye can also be consumed whole. To consume them as whole you either need to roll them akin to rolled berries or after boiling the rye berries.
As its scientific name suggests, rye is basically a cereal grain and we should not confuse it with ryegrass, which is mainly used for pasture, lawn grass and as hay for feeding livestock. People in many parts of the world have been cultivating this hard grain crop for more than 4,000 years. Though rye’s popularity does not come anywhere near that of wheat, it is grown extensively all over the globe, especially in regions where it is difficult to cultivate wheat. This grain has a characteristic flavour which makes rye an excellent additive. It is frequently added to breads. In the modern era you will also find pure rye bread. Humans consume nearly a third of the total rye cultivated across the world.
Compared to wheat, which requires specific growing conditions, rye can grow well even in very poor conditions. In fact, it can grow well in poor soils which will not support cultivation of many other grains. Moreover, rye has the capability to tolerate long periods of submersion in water and also long spells of drought. These are the reasons why people often grow rye in areas it is important to control soil erosion. It is also frequently grown in fields to offer forage food to various animals, including livestock. Moreover, compared to other grains like wheat, rye is not as vulnerable to diseases.
However, rye plants can be subjected to infestation by ergot fungus. This makes the plant as well as the grain unsuitable for human as well as animal consumption.
Rye bears close resemblance to wheat as well as several other grains. It is a grass crops that produces kernels. However, compared to wheat, the kernels of rye are small as well as dark hued. Moreover, compared to the yield of wheat per acre, production of rye flour is much less. The rye kernels are harvested, sun dried, threshed and then pounded to produce flour. Compared to other grains, it is somewhat more difficult to harvest and thresh rye grains. The usual combine harvesting tools can also be employed to reap rye grains.
People of many cultures use the flour from rye grains to add essence to traditional breads, especially breads made in Russia and Eastern Europe. Originally, these breads contained 100 per cent rye, but in contemporary times bakers often blend wheat flour with rye flour to make breads. The flavour of rye is very potent and this is one reason some people find its taste offensive. Some dark bread like pumpernickel usually has a blend of rye flour with wheat flour.
Rye is often infested with a fungus called ergot (as mentioned before). This fungus is known to have existed since people undertook rye cultivation. Infestation by ergot can sometimes be devastating, especially in places where rye is grown in inferior soils. When rye crop is infested by ergot, it renders the entire grain unsuitable for consumption by humans as well as animals – making it a nutritional threat. Ergot is a widespread fungus and there was a time when people believed that it was also a part of the rye crop. After this fungus was identified in the 19th century people actually realized the harms caused by it. Even when ergot is present in a mild form, this fungus may cause one to have a hallucinogenic experience. On the other hand, in its severe form, ergot can even result in permanent disability or death.
The schedule followed for growing and harvesting rye is somewhat akin to that of wheat. This grass crop is mostly sown in the latter part of fall and it is harvested during summer. It is important to harvest the rye crop immediately when it ripens. If it is not harvested at the appropriate time, it will lead to shattering and the valuable rye kernels will be scattered all around. Aside from baking, this grain has multiple applications such as producing alcohol. Rye is basically grown in the form of a cover crop to thwart exposure of soil to the elements and soil erosion that follows in many instances.
Health benefits of consuming rye
Consuming rye offers a number of health benefits. It contains high levels of fiber that helps to shield our cardiovascular health and, at the same time, promotes the health of the gastrointestinal system. In addition, rye is rich in antioxidant content. It is also an excellent source of vital minerals, phytonutrients and lignans. In addition, rye contains various organic compounds, several vitamins and many other nutrients. Consuming rye also helps us to decrease the harmful cholesterol levels in the body and also shields the body from breast and colon cancers. Rye is an excellent food for reducing the risks of developing diabetes. The fiber content of rye helps to regulate the blood sugar, while the potent mineral magnesium present in rye helps the body to utilize glucose and also promotes insulin secretion.
Often people consider rye to be a superior grain than wheat or barley, especially because of its weight loss benefits. Rye contains a fiber that is unique to some extent as it binds very well with water molecules. In other words, soon after a person consumes rye, he or she has a feeling of fullness. This is owing to the unique nature of the fiber this grain contains. In fact, when one is on diet, he or she feels hungry and eventually gives in to hunger. This negates the objective of diet. But this is not the case when you consume rye. The fiber in rye helps to get rid of the feeling of hunger and gives rise to a feeling of fullness. Consequently, it helps to prevent taking snacks between major meals, thereby preventing overeating. Hence, consuming rye is an excellent means to continue with your weight loss regimen without any hindrance.
Compared to any other brands of bread, rye bread, especially those of the dark variety, generally have rich fiber content. Therefore, this type of bread is very beneficial for people suffering from constipation.
Breads made from rye flour may have different ingredients. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly check the pack to ensure that it contains ingredients that you are looking for. However, in general, rye contains very low levels of saturated fat. On the other hand, it contains high levels of iron and B vitamins. The presence of iron helps to promote production of red blood cells and blood circulation. Magnesium found in rye helps to convert the ingested foods into energy, thereby providing extra fuel to the body.
Studies undertaken in recent times have shown that rye contains a vital element, which is capable of reducing the harshness of gallstones. It has been found that this action of rye is related to the impact of the unique fiber on the digestive process. The fiber found in rye is a special blend of soluble and insoluble varieties and they may be useful in diminishing the quantity of bile formed. In fact, abnormal deposit of bile is responsible for formation of gallstones.
As far as blood sugar is concerned, people suffering from diabetes should always be concerned about their condition and always keep an eye on things they eat and the time of the day when they eat them. In fact, huge spikes as well as drops in the blood sugar levels can often prove to be threatening and result in asphyxiation, diabetic shock and several other health problems. Actually the spike in sugar level in our body is mainly due to the quick and easy break down of the smaller molecules in our ingested foods into simple sugars, thereby also causing the insulin secretion to increase. On the other hand, rye is made up of larger molecules that cannot be broken down easily and quickly and, hence, they do not affect the blood sugar levels like many other foods.
The fiber found in rye has an excellent density and remarkable composition, making it an ideal food for some people, especially those suffering from bowel blockage and constipation. Consumption of foods made from rye can also avoid excessive gas formation in the digestive system, alleviate stomach pain, cramping as well as put off development of other severe conditions like gallstones, ulcers and even colon cancer.
Like most other grains, rye too is known to be healthy for our heart. People suffering from conditions like atherosclerosis or high blood pressure can add rye to their diet regularly as it is good for the heart, if not better than many other food grains or grasses. The heart benefits offered by rye are attributed to a number of its contents such as vitamins, fiber and vital minerals.
The flour made from rye has the aptitude to combat cancer. This cancer counteracting attribute of rye is owing to the saponins, resistant starch, protease inhibitors, polyphenols and both soluble and insoluble fiber contained by it. These nutrients help to thwart the cancer cells from multiplying and spreading to adjacent areas in the body. All these are phytonutrients that not only counteract cancer, but also prevent it from developing. At the same time, they also lower the risks of developing heart diseases and diminish the problems faced by women who are in menopause stage.
On many occasions, people overlook childhood asthma as a health epidemic and hardly any initiative is taken to cure the condition. However, efforts must be taken to cure this condition. It has been found that consuming foods prepared from rye flour has the ability to reduce the incidences of childhood asthma. Studies undertaken by various scientists and schools have revealed that children who consume grains such as rye on a regular basis in their meals were 60 percent less likely to develop this condition compared to children who do not consume grains in their meals at all.
Rye flour is also an excellent skin cleanser. You can use rye flour as a facial treatment by making a paste of rye flour and water. Apply this paste to your face and washing it off with cold water after 15 minutes. Apart from the mineral content of rye mentioned above, this flour also includes calcium and zinc. These minerals have the aptitude to work against early aging signs. Rye flour works effectively to get rid of wrinkles, fine lines and even blemishes. As discussed above, rye possesses antioxidant properties which effectively combat the harmful free radicals that cause premature aging.
Rye is also good for the health of our hair. The flour made from rye is often used in the form of a shampoo. Using this shampoo gives the hair a glossy look and makes it strong as well as smooth. It is recommended that you use a mixture of rye flour and water rather than using any commercially available shampoo. Use this mixture to massage your scalp, leave it for some time and then wash your hair with cold water. Magnesium in rye helps in supporting healthy hair growth. If you wash your hair with rye flour regularly, you will have long hair, which will also be healthy.
Side effects and cautions
Though rye offers us a number of health benefits, people suffering from celiac disease should stay away from it. In addition, people who are sensitive to wheat products or have allergies due to gluten should never consume rye. As not much is known about the effects of consuming rye on pregnant and nursing women, they would do better by avoiding foods prepared from rye.