The Fresh Loaf

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The History of Caraway Seeds in Rye Bread

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farmerdd's picture

The History of Caraway Seeds in Rye Bread

I am interested in the history of caraway seeds used in rye bread. My great-grandmothers danish recipes don't include caraway seeds in the recipes (of Danish origin). Other danish rye recipes may include them, but these do not. A Wikipedia article on "Rye Bread" says,

In the United States, breads labeled as "rye" nearly always contain caraway unless explicitly labeled as "unseeded." In Canada (especially Montreal), breads labeled as "rye" often have no seeds, whereas breads labeled as "kimmel" are usually rye with caraway seeds.

This is all I can find on the topic.

When were caraways seeds introduced into rye bread? Who introduced them (a certain nationality)? Or was their addition based solely on commercial bread makers decision.


andychrist's picture

Can't tell you when it became a tradition, but even most "unseeded" commercial rye breads in the USA do have caraway, but it is finely ground so not too noticeable. Guessing the reason for this is that those who don't care for rye with whole seeds mostly just object to the texture/getting them stuck in their teeth; and that common deli ryes, made with mostly white flour, would taste pretty nondescript without any caraway at all.

I'm preparing a batch of sourdough rye bagels right now. I ground up a mix of caraway, coriander, fennel and dill for the final dough, into which I'll add some whole caraway as well. Think I'll try coating the boiled bagels with caraway too this time, along with the poppy, sesame and onion I usually do. You can never have too much caraway.


Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

I have no real clue, but, with a mind set firmly set into the predjudice of the Eastern European countries, I would think that the addition of caraway was considered of low or common origin and omitted from more "sophisticated" products.  So, if I'm wrong, I'm wrong....what difference does it make?  Maybe it's because today I visited with someone about foods and I commented that I have a recipe in a restaurant for a sweet and sour cabbage soup.....they said that such a soup was for poor people and just so common.

gary.turner's picture

Many years ago, I managed some erosion sensitive land. One of the preventive measures was to sow cereal rye, as each plant will develop 300 miles of root in a cubic foot or dirt over a single growing season. When ripe, I would scrape the berries from a plant into my hand and eat them right there in the field. They tasted like ― wait for it ― caraway.

I suspect, since by the time it gets from the field to your kitchen it's fairly tasteless, that caraway has been used to augment the rye flavor since very early on. Probably beginning at about 3:15PM of a Tuesday in the year [mumble] BCE.



Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

Caraway seeds have long been used in Eastern European and German foods. The seed is thought to have properties that aid digestion. When you look at those cuisines, you'll find lots of heavy on the stomach dishes that include potatoes, other starches, pork, sausages, sour cream, and other ingredients that can contribute to digestive tract distress.

There's also a German liquor called "Kummel" which uses caraway seeds in its manufacturing process and has been used as a post dinner "digestif".


MonkeyDaddy's picture

that it most likely stems from the carminative and digestive properties of caraway.  I have so many bread books that I can't remember which one it was, but I remember reading the origin of the word "pumpernickel" as being from the German words 'pumpern' and 'nickel'.  Since I couldn't remember the exact reference, I checked Wikipedia and it confirmed my memory: 'Pumpern' refers to intestinal gas, and 'nickel' means devil or demon.  The loose vernacular translation therefore is devil's fart or demon fart.  

If ancient peoples were already using caraway as a flavoring agent as well as to aid digestion, and if as gary.turner notes above that raw rye berries have a taste reminiscent of caraway, then it's not a big jump to mix them together.  Plus, if you have the added benefit of not suffering from gas pain, or offending the person next to you, then it's a no-brainer.

I also checked Wikipedia for early references to the cultivation of rye and caraway.  Rye was one of the earliest human crops, from as far back as 10,000 years B.C..  And caraway was cultivated in Europe as early as 1552 B.C.  So it's conceivable that some inventive baker may have been mixing caraway into his rye bread 3500 years ago.  Imagine all the demonic farting for the 6500 years before that!  LOL

Conjecture aside, it's amazing how many times throughout human history that something has been discovered, embraced, then lost only to be rediscovered centuries or millennia later.  So, the addition of caraway to rye bread may have happened "the first time" more than once.

In any case, thank God that somebody did try it the first time, because caraway rye is one of my most favorite breads of all time!  :)



fotomat1's picture

organic rye and will tell you it does have a subtle caraway note that store bought whole grain rye does not. I do agree that even unseeded rye bought in the US does contain caraway and it is the caraway flavor that most people,at least here on the east coast, associate with deli rye bread.