January 23, 2024

Rye Bread vs. Sourdough Breads: What is Healthiest?

Written by: Tahnee Wientjes

Rye vs. Sourdough: the ultimate clash of flavors and health benefits. I like both, each for their unique bakings properties and health benefits. Let’s find out the difference between rye bread and sourdough bread.

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Table of Contents

Different types of rye and sourdough bread

There are as many types of bread as there are types of flour.

A loaf of whole wheat bread is made from 100% whole wheat flour. White flour can be used to make brioche or dinner rolls.

Each type of flour has its own characteristics and baking properties.

White flour, or bread flour can be used to bake white bread. It is milled and then sifted to remove the bran and germ. The shelf life slightly increases by removing the germ. It can be made into a regular loaf using a loaf pan or used to make hamburger buns, brioche, or dinner rolls.

This white type of flour is the easiest to bake with. It contains protein and gluten which makes it easier to make a nice, ball of dough that’s easy to work with. This makes it a popular choice for beginner bakers.

White flour contains a higher amount of carbohydrates which results in a more rapid rise of blood sugar levels. It has a high glycemic index (high gi) Because white flour only contains the endosperm it no longer contains as many fibers, minerals, etc. as whole flour. Therefore, this is probably not the best type of grain for everyday use.

There are different types of white flour available such as regular wheat, spelt, emmer, einkorn, etc. However, most grocery stores sell white flour made from regular wheat.

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Wholemeal flour

Whole grains tend to yield a more compact loaf, but is also come with more health benefits compared to using only bread flour. Wholemeal flour contains all of the wheat’s kernel.

That’s why whole grain breads contain more nutrients than regular bread made from white flour only.

Then there are different types of flour marked by a number. Depending on the size of the sieve no or some parts of the bran and germ are present in the flour. For instance, spelt flour 680 contains the germ, endosperm, and some bran. The higher the number, the finer the sieve, so more of the (mostly) bran is sifted out.

The difference between rye bread and sourdough bread

Rye bread and sourdough bread are two very different things. Rye bread can be sourdough bread, but sourdough bread is not always rye bread.

Rye bread is made using whole-grain rye flour or a combination of rye flour and bread flour.

Traditional rye bread is made from coarse whole rye meal. Usually, some sourdough is added. It has a long baking time and results in dense, dark rye bread. This rye bread tastes great with real butter and a slice of Gouda cheese.

You can make regular rye bread using commercial yeast or a rye sourdough starter. Rye bread can be made using any type of rye flour, although I think dark rye flour makes great rye bread.

Rye is often said to be gluten-free, but this is not the case. It contains a form of gluten protein, which unfortunately makes rye unsuitable for people with celiac disease.

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What is sourdough bread?

A sourdough bread is made using an active sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is a live culture full of lactic acid bacteria and various types of wild yeast. During the fermentation process gut healthy bacteria develop in the starter.

This fermentation process helps break down the phytic acid in the flour. This makes the final sourdough bread easier to digest. Some people with gluten sensitivity cannot digest bread made with commercial yeast but can handle sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread is one of the healthiest breads because the fermentation process pre-digests the bread so to say, allowing essential nutrients to be more available for gut health and the body in general. Sourdough breads, with their distinct flavor, are my absolute favorite breads to eat. It’s no wonder that true artisan bakeries still use sourdough only for their breads.

So in this rye vs sourdough comparison, rye is a type of flour that can be used to bake bread made with commercial yeast or made with wild yeast (sourdough starter). Sourdough bread can be made from different types of wheat.

The sourdough fermentation process

A sourdough starter is made using only water and flour. This can be any type of flour. I prefer to use whole rye flour as this is a strong type of flour which makes a good, strong starter.

During the fermentation of the sourdough starter, the wild yeast in the flour is activated by the water and feed, at room temperature, on the sugars and starches present in the flour.

The starter is “fed” every day by adding equal amounts of water and whole rye flour. Some days, some of the starter is discarded to maintain a healthy balance of started and fresh flour and water to feed on.

After a few days, you’ll have a bubbly starter that’s ready to bake. A comprehensive guide on making your rye sourdough starter can be found on the blog. Visit my blog post with tips on making a sourdough starter.

A rye starter can be used to make all types of bread, so you don’t have to make a spelt starter for spelt bread and a rye starter for a loaf of sourdough rye bread.

Free e-book Starting Sourdough

Two hands holding the "Starting Sourdough" book against a rust colored background

Healthiest Rye and Sourdough Breads

Rye flour has numerous health benefits. One of the benefits of eating rye grains is that rye tends to give you a more “full” feeling. A slice or two of homemade rye sourdough bread can easily take me through my entire morning.

Also, rye is a type of grain that has a lower glycemic index. It’s therefore a good choice for those with diabetes and/ or special dietary needs.

Next to giving you a full feeling and not leaving you with a high blood sugar level, rye bread is also a very good source of protein. It is high in potassium and although rye bread contains some gluten, it contains less gluten than conventional wheat bread.

Lastly, whole rye has a high fiber content. This type of soluble fiber makes it a good choice for a balanced diet.

Sourdough bread

Rye can be used to make sourdough bread. But, sourdough bread can be made from different types of flour. The different types of flour give sourdough bread a very distinct flavor. These complex flavors, cannot be obtained when using commercial yeast.

The sourdough starter contains wild yeast and various types of lactic acid bacteria that consume the sugars and starches in the flour. As a result of this fermentation process, the bread gains flavor and develops an airy crumb with a nice rise during bulk fermentation.

You can make different varieties of bread using a sourdough starter. All loaves of bread will have a unique flavor profile because of each type of flour’s unique properties.

Sourdough recipes

Tips for baking with rye and sourdough

For a comprehensive guide on baking with sourdough, there’s a free e-book available for you. Be sure to claim your copy of Starting Sourdough. It’s not as hard as it looks and the taste is worth the learning curve!

  • A dutch oven is one of the best investments you can make when starting with sourdough. Because the moisture is retained in the dutch oven during the first half of the baking time, any kind of bread will get a nice rise. Removing the lid during the second half of the baking time gives the bread a lovely crust.
  • Rye doesn’t develop a lot of gluten. A bread made of solely rye flour can even resemble the texture of cake batter. I prefer to transfer the rye bread dough onto parchment paper before placing it into the preheated dutch oven for baking.
  • Rye bread and sunflower seeds are good friends. Adding some sunflower seeds to the sides and top of the bread will give your rye bread a nice look. You can also add sunflower seeds straight to the dough.

Rye vs sourdough bread: the winner

For me, sourdough bread is the best thing. It’s just unbeatable compared to store-bought bread, or bread made with commercial or fresh yeast. The fermentation process gives it such a distinct flavor that is hard to beat.

I love to use whole rye flour to make a rye starter. It can be used for all sourdough bread types. I also like the chewy texture of rye for making rye sourdough bread. 

The smell of fresh bread is hard to ignore, and in our house, a loaf of fresh sourdough bread is gone before I can feed my sourdough starter again.

So, the main difference between rye bread and sourdough bread is that rye bread is made from rye flour and can be a kind of bread made with commercial yeast or sourdough. A sourdough bread is made using a sourdough starter and can be made from any kind of flour or a mix of different types of flour.

Experimenting with different types of flour is the best way to learn about their unique properties and flavor profiles. I would like to encourage you to grab the free e-book “Starting Sourdough” and get your hands sticky!

Free e-book! Learn all you need to know to start baking sourdough breads

Click the image to claim your copy.

Image of the free e-book starting sourdough on a tablet and in real book form

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