Rye versus Sprouted Rye in Bread Baking

In this experiment, we sought to explore the characteristics of sprouted flour with some real-world baking. We made two NY Deli Rye Breads, one with regular rye flour and one with sprouted rye flour, and compared their fermentation speed, oven spring, crumb, and flavor. Sprouted flours are said to ferment faster, taste sweeter, and are at risk for breaking down gluten in the dough. Sprouting activates enzymes in the grain that make nutrients more available for digestion and also convert starch into sugar, which is what yeast and/or lactobacilli microbes consume during fermentation. This enzymatic activity can also break down gluten, especially if the fermentation process is long, resulting in a flatter, chewier bread.

The brief summary of our results is this in this dough formula by 35% regular rye versus sprouted rye and in this process of a 5-hour mass fermentation at 80% expansion and a 14-hour final refrigerated leavening; the fermentation rate seemed to be the same, the regular rye had more softness and a more acidic flavor, and the sprouted rye crumb was more open and also chewier. All of the above facts about sprouted grains have been confirmed, except for the speed of fermentation, although given the more open crumb of sprouted rye, perhaps era more fermentation, but without further expansion of the dough due to the slightly weaker gluten situation.

It should be noted once again that these results apply to this test baking using sprouted rye flour in this amount with this process. In fact, one of Breadtopia's airiest bread recipes, our Sprouted Wheat Ciabatta, uses sprouted hard red spring wheat for about 14% of the total flour. Additionally, our Tall Sprouted Wheat Sourdough Bread is made entirely of bolted hard red sprouted spring wheat, and our Light Crumb Sprouted Spelled Honey Whey Sourdough Bread has 15% spelled flour sprouted.

Regular rye (left), Sprouted rye (right)

Here's the formula we used for the two test loaves. It has more rye flour and less caraway seeds than the original recipe linked above.

330 grams bread flour (2 1/2 cups)
200 grams whole rye flour OR sprouted whole rye flour (1 1/2 cups)
395 grams of water (1 2/3 cups)
100 grams of sourdough starter (1/3 cup)
21 grams of honey (1 tablespoon)
11 grams of salt (2 teaspoons)
1 gram cumin seeds (1 teaspoon)

Process and results

Surprisingly, the two doughs seemed to ferment at the same rate, achieving about 80% expansion in 5 hours in a hot summer kitchen. Once the dough was shaped, it was placed directly in the refrigerator for 14 hours. They looked similar the next morning and were cooked at the same time straight from the fridge.

The regular rye bread had more spring in the oven than the sprouted rye bread, indicating that gluten breakdown had indeed occurred. Considering the minimal amount of gluten that rye flour starts with, this seems to indicate that gluten breakdown did not occur only in the rye kernel. during the sprouting process but also carried forward in the dough. The doughs were equally firm when removed from the proofing baskets for scoring, and neither expanded after being scored, so outward spreading of the sprouted dough appeared to have occurred during baking.

Plain rye (left); Sprouted rye (right)

Although the doughs expanded equally during bulk fermentation and final proofing, the crumb of the sprouted rye bread (right) was more open, suggesting that it perhaps had greater fermentation activity. This can be seen in the photos below and at the top of this article. The sprouted rye crumb was also chewier/shaggier than regular rye bread (left). These loaves were cut within a few hours of baking and had cleaner cuts the next day.

Normal rye (left); Sprouted rye (right)

In terms of flavor, three blind tasters noted that the sprouted rye bread was less acidic than regular rye bread. This makes sense given that sweetness can offset acidity (and bitterness). Two of the taste testers liked both breads equally, and one preferred the more acidic regular rye bread.


As noted above, these results apply to this dough formula and process. Of particular note is that rye flour already has high enzyme activity even before sprouting. In this test, the sprouted rye bread was flatter, had a more open and chewy crumb, and tasted less acidic. It is possible that the more open crumb of the sprouted rye bread comes from higher fermentation activity despite the doughs having the same apparent expansion in the dry and bannetons.

Notes on rye grain

Rye cereal is a member of the Triticae tribe that also includes wheat and barley. It is tolerant of cold and poor soil and has been cultivated for millennia in Russia and northern and eastern Europe. Rye has a distinctly earthy and slightly malty flavor. Even unsprouted, rye flour has a relatively high amount of amylase enzymes (responsible for breaking down starch into sugar) compared to wheat flour. If left unchecked, amylase activity can make a loaf of bread rubbery. Amylase activity slows in an acidic environment, which is why rye benefits from sourdough fermentation, which is more acidic than yeast. Rye also has high levels of complex sugars called pentosans that absorb water. The pentosans in rye make the dough sticky but also help create its structure. Used as the sole flour in bread, rye produces a dark, dense crumb that must set for at least 24 hours after baking to keep from becoming rubbery. Whole wheat rye bread will last for weeks and can even be sliced ​​thin and toasted until crispy. Breads that combine rye and wheat flours are more airy and still resist staling, and many people report being able to taste the rye flour in a loaf when it is only 5% of the total flour.

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