Sourdough Rye Bread


Rye Kernels
Sourdough Culture
Seeds (optional)


Grind 6 cups rye kernels in mill to give about 9 cups of finely ground flour. This amount will make two loaves of bread.

Set aside 2 cups of this flour in a bowl for later use. In this bowl of flour put a 12 cup measuring cup just as a reminder you that you need to save the starter before adding this flour.


In ceramic (or glass – but not metallic) bowl mix 12 cups sourdough culture (the starter) with 4 cups water and the rest of the flour. Mix well (i.e. knead – but not with your hands) to a wet mud consistency. Add more water, if needed, too achieve the “right” degree of wetness. The definition of “right” is determined by experimentation.


Set in the oven with the oven light on. Cover the bowl with a moistened dishcloth. To provide a warm place for fermentation you can turn the oven on to 350° F for just 1 minute and then turn it off. You can do this every couple of hours, if you like.

Let sit overnight – 12-18 hours or longer. Let it sit until there is clear evidence of spongy bubbliness. Be patient. Remoisten the dishcloth, if you can, as it will dry out. The dough will ferment and become quite sour, pleasantly so.

Save Culture

Important: Take out 12 cup of the dough to use as a starter for your next loaf. Store it in the refrigerator in a tightly closed glass container.

Final Rising

Add the flour that you set aside. Add 14-12 cups water and mix well (knead). You will again have sticky wet mud with the “right” degree of wetness.

Take two large loaf pans (mine is 9" x 5 "x 2 34") and line them with parchment paper. You can use a paper bag make a pattern that fits the pan perfectly and then use the pattern to cut one out of parchment paper.

Somehow someway get the sticky dough out of the bowl and place it in the loaf pan. One effective way is to move it spoonful by spoonful from the bowl to the pan. Smooth the top with a wet rubber spatula.

Let it sit in the same type of oven as above for about hour or two or more. It will eventually rise because the extra flour and water will have stimulated the growth of the culture. Be patient. No need for the dishcloth this time as the dough will (hopefully) rise up to it.

When you are satisfied with the “rising” take the loaf pan with the dough out of the oven.


Heat oven to 350° F.

Bake the loaf for 70 minutes or more. Test it for doneness by inserting a long stiff thin wire. It should come out clean.

Remove the loaf from the pan somehow some way. If you used parchment paper this should not be a problem.

Let the bread cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour before cutting it.


Slice it thin – 14" or 5 mm. Use a serrated knife. Ideally it will be a narrow, serrated bread knife, otherwise the bread may stick to it. (It may stick anyway but this is not really a problem.) The bread will be hard to cut, heavy, moist, and delicious.

Do not expect fluffy. It will not happen. This is solid, sturdy, nutritious bread that is a “main course”. It does not play a subordinate role as just a container for a sandwich.

Enjoy it by itself, or as an open-faced sandwich with a spread of hummus, cashew cheese, peanut butter, or avocado. It is improved when toasted.


Seeds - To the flour that was set aside mix in 4 Tablespoons of Caraway and (or) 4 Tablespoons of Nigella seeds (also known as kalonji कलौंजी in Hindi and chernushka чернушка in Russian). This variation adds aroma and flavor to the bread.

Whole Kernels - When setting the dough to ferment overnight Soak 1 to 1 12 cups of rye kernels in 2 cups of water for 12-24 hours. Drain and save the soaking water and add the nearly sprouted kernels to the dough as you are adding the flour that was set aside. As you mix the flour and the whole kernels into the dough add the soaking water by spoonfuls as needed to achieve the “right” degree of wetness. This variation adds some chewability and an interesting texture to the bread.


When the bread has completely cooled store it in plastic bags in the refrigerator. It will keep just fine for up to a week or two.

Culture Maintenance

If you do not bake another loaf for two weeks you should “feed” the starter with some more flour and water. This will keep it alive and ready. Even if you do not feed it and the culture seems to have “spoiled” do not worry; it will still be okay. Scrape off any mold and use whatever remains. It will just take a while longer to revive when you again add water and flour.

One time I entirely forgot to save the culture for the next baking. The remnants of the culture in the jar (which I rinsed out into the flour) were sufficient to revive it.


Experiment with these things:
  1. Maintaining the culture
  2. The consistency of the dough (more or less water)
  3. The temperature of the place you ferment the dough
  4. How long you let it ferment
  5. The kind of loaf pan you use
  6. The temperature of the baking oven
  7. How long you bake it
  8. The local ambient temperature and humidity.
All these things will effect the outcome. Keep trying until you find what works for you at this time in your place.

Sourdough Bread Fiasco

In the 1980’s Paavo Airola had a monthly column in Let’s Live magazine. Here is a question from a reader:

Q. Dear Dr Airola:

Have you eaten the sourdough rye bread made by the recipe you have in your books? My wife fixed it and it was terrible – very tacky on adding the last cup of flour. The surface after baking was very hard – our dog thought it was a bone and licked it! The taste was extremely sour, totally unpalatable. The whole house smelled sour. We followed your instructions including the culture preparation. Very disapppointing. Any comments?
– C.S., Long Beach CA

A. What can I say, except that your dog apprently has good taste! If you have never seen or eaten the genuine European-type of black sour rye bread I can understand your reaction. The American idea of sourdough rye is a fluffy white loaf made from 80% white flour and 20% white rye flour, which is raised mostly with yeast, and a minimum of sourdough culture to give the bread just a slight sour taste. The genuine European sourdough rye, as it is made in England, Russia, Germany, Poland, and Baltic and Balkan countries, is heavy, black, moist but compact, with a hard crust, and so aromatic that the first thing you smell when you enter a Russian peasant’s house is the heavy penetrating sour aroma of the bread. The taste of this bread is also very heavy and extremely sour. In Finland, such bread is baked in large quantities and is hung to dry from the ceiling, then eaten over a period of several months. It becomes so hard (talk about dog bones!!) that it must be broken into pieces with a hammer and soaked before it can be eaten. Obviously, accustomed as you are the the fluffy, airy, sponge-like American idea of bread, the heavy, smelly, hard loaf you concocted didn’t seem very palatable to you.

Now, what can you do to Americanize the black sourdough rye bread and make it more appetizing to your palate? You can use some baker’s yeast together with sourdough culture, which will make the bread fluffier, as well as reduce its sour taste. Most likely your bread didn’t rise enough and became too flat and hard. You must knead twice as my recipe specifies, and also let it stand the second time until it is risen high, before you put the loaf into the oven. Adding some salt to the dough will inhibit the sourdough bacteria somewhat and result in a milder taste. As for myself, I wish I had been there when you threw your hard, heavy, sourdough loaf to your dog. I would have probably loved it as much as he did, and may have beaten him to it.

Grains, Seeds, and Nuts

From “Health Secrets from Around the World” by Paavo Airola:

Worldwide studies show that all people known for their excellent health always use some kind of grain as a staple in their diet. In Russia, it is buckwheat and millet. In Mexico, it is corn and beans. In China, it is rice and millet. In the Middle East, it is sesame seeds. In East Europe, it is barley. In Scotland, it is oats. Grains, seeds, and nuts are the most important and most potent foods for man’s health. Their nutritional value is unsurpassed by any other food. Eaten mostly raw and sprouted, but also cooked, they contain all the important nutrients essential for human growth, maintenance of health, and prevention of disease in the most perfect combination and balance. In addition, they contain the secret of life itself – the germ – the reproductive power that assures the perpetuation of the species. This reproductive power is of extreme importance for the life of man, his health, and his own reproductive capacity.

All seeds and grains are useful and beneficial, but some grains are more so than others. Millet and buckwheat contain complete proteins of high quality, which most other grains do not contain. Rye, wheat, rice and corn do not contain all the essential amino acids which form hig quality proteins. Furthermore, many vital nutrients in grains, such as minerals, and particularily the trace minerals manganese, iron, copper, molybdenum, and zine, are not well utilized by the body as they are “locked in” by phytin, which the human digestive system is unable to break down.

Rye has been a staple in the Finnish diet for centuries, mostly in the form of rye bread. But Finns eat mostly sour rye bread, which is one of the secrets of their exceptional health. According to Dr. Johannes Kuhl, the famous German expert on soured (lactic acid) foods, the fermentation of grains makes many nutrients more easily available for assimilation in the intestinal tract. During the natural souring process in making a sour-dough bread, the phytin is broken down and valuable minerals and trace elements are released. Also, during the fermentation, due to the enzymatic action on the grain, valuable lactic acid develops – an extremely beneficial health-promoting and disease-preventing factor, as demonstrated by Dr. Kuhl and others in actual studies.

Sour rye bread is also extremely beneficial for the health of the digestive and eliminative organs. Being a “predigested” food, it is easily digested and utilized even by weak organs. It is also an anti-constipation food – while most other grains are just the opposite! And, chronic constipation is one of the prime causes of most degenerative diseases, as well as of premature aging.

For much more information about rye see the web site Rye and Health.