Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocotyledons
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Pooideae
Tribe: Triticeae
Genus: Secale
Species: S. cereale
Binomial name
Secale cereale

Secale fragile M.Bieb.

Rye (Secale cereale) is a grass grown extensively as a grain and as a forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to barley and wheat. Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, some whiskeys, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries, or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.

Rye is a cereal grain and should not be confused with ryegrass, which is used for lawns, pasture, and hay for livestock.



Rye is one of a number of species that grow wild in central and eastern Turkey, and adjacent areas. Domesticated rye occurs in small quantities at a number of Neolithic sites in Turkey, such as PPNB Can Hasan III, but is otherwise virtually absent from the archaeological record until the Bronze Age of central Europe, c. 1800-1500 BC.[1] It is possible that rye traveled west from Turkey as a minor admixture in wheat (possibly as a result of Vavilovian mimicry), and was only later cultivated in its own right. Although archeological evidence of this grain has been found in Roman contexts along the Rhine, Danube, and in the British Isles,[citation needed] Pliny the Elder was dismissive of rye, writing that it "is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation" and spelt is mixed into it "to mitigate its bitter taste, and even then is most unpleasant to the stomach" (N.H. 18.40).[original research?]

Since the Middle Ages, rye has been widely cultivated in Central and Eastern Europe, and is the main bread cereal in most areas east of the French-German border and north of Hungary.

Claims of much earlier cultivation of rye, at the Epipalaeolithic site of Tell Abu Hureyra in the Euphrates valley of northern Syria, remain controversial. Critics point to inconsistencies in the radiocarbon dates, and identifications based solely on grain, rather than on chaff.


Winter rye is any breed of rye planted in the fall to provide ground cover for the winter. It actually grows during any warmer days of the winter, when sunlight temporarily brings the plant to above freezing, even while there is still general snow cover. It can be used to prevent the growth of winter-hardy weeds, and can either be harvested as a bonus crop, or tilled directly into the ground in spring to provide more organic matter for the next summer's crop. It is sometimes used in winter gardens, and is a very common nurse crop.

The flame moth, rustic shoulder-knot and turnip moth are among the species of Lepidoptera whose larvae feed on rye.

Production and consumption statistics

Rye output in 2005
Top Eleven Rye Producers — 2005
(million metric ton)
 European Union 9.2*
 Russia 3.6
 Poland 3.4
 Germany 2.8
 Belarus 1.2
 Ukraine 1.1
 China 0.6
 Canada 0.4
 Turkey 0.3
 United States 0.2
 Austria 0.2
World Total 13.3
EU 2008 figures include Poland, Germany
and Austria.
Source: FAO [2]
Ca 33 mg
Fe 2.67 mg
Mn 121 mg
P 374 mg
K 264 mg
Na 6 mg
Zn 3.73 mg
Cu 0.450 mg
Mg 2.680 mg
Se 0.035 mg

Rye is grown primarily in Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. The main rye belt stretches from northern Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia into central and northern Russia. Rye is also grown in North America (Canada and the USA), in South America (Argentina, Brazil), in Turkey, in Kazakstan and in northern China.

Production levels of rye are falling in most of the producing nations owing to falling demand. For instance, production of rye in Russia fell from 13.9 million tons in 1992 to just 3.4 Mt in 2005. Corresponding figures for other countries are as follows: Poland - 5.9 Mt in 1992 and 3.4 Mt in 2005; Germany - 3.3 Mt & 2.8 Mt; Belarus - 3.1 Mt & 1.2 Mt; China - 1.7 Mt & 0.6 Mt; Kazakhstan - 0.6 Mt & 0.02 Mt.

Most rye is consumed locally, and is exported only to neighboring countries, but not worldwide.


Rye is highly susceptible to the ergot fungus. Consumption of ergot-infected rye by humans and animals results in a serious medical condition known as ergotism. Ergotism can cause both physical and mental harm, including convulsions, miscarriage, necrosis of digits, and hallucinations. Historically, damp northern countries that have depended on rye as a staple crop were subject to periodic epidemics of this condition. There have been "occurrence[s] of ergotism with periods where there were high incidents of people persecuted for being witches. Emphasis was placed on the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692, where there was a sudden rise in the number of people accused of being witches, but earlier examples were taken from Europe, as well."[3]


Secale cereale - cereal rye - Steve Hurst USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.jpg
Secale cereale - cereal rye 2 - Steve Hurst USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.jpg
Wild Rye

Rye bread, including pumpernickel, is a widely eaten food in Northern and Eastern Europe. Rye is also used to make the familiar crisp bread. Rye flour has enough gliadin, but not enough glutenin, and therefore it has a lower gluten content than wheat flour, and contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber.

Other uses of rye include rye whiskey, kvass and an alternative medicine known as rye extract. Rye straw is used to make corn dollies.


Rye grows well in much poorer soils than those necessary for most cereal grains. Thus, it is an especially valuable crop in regions where the soil has sand or peat. Rye plants withstand cold better than other small grains do. Rye will survive with snow cover that would otherwise result in winter-kill for winter wheat. Most farmers grow winter ryes, which are planted and begin to grow in autumn. In spring, the plants develop and produce their crop.[3] Fall planted rye shows fast growth. By late June plants reach their maximum height, of about four feet (102 cm) while spring planted wheat has only recently germinated. Vigorous growth suppresses even the most noxious weed competitors, and rye can be grown without application of herbicides.


  1. ^ Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 75
  2. ^ "Major Food And Agricultural Commodities And Producers - Countries By Commodity". Fao.org. http://www.fao.org/es/ess/top/commodity.html?lang=en&item=71&year=2005. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b George J. Wong (1951-08-12). "Ergot of Rye: History". Botany.hawaii.edu. http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/LECT12.HTM. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 

Further reading

External links

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  • Rye — Rye, NY U.S. city in New York Population (2000): 14955 Housing Units (2000): 5559 Land area (2000): 5.777305 sq. miles (14.963150 sq. km) Water area (2000): 14.242459 sq. miles (36.887797 sq. km) Total area (2000): 20.019764 sq. miles (51.850947… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

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