Rye is a plant that originates in Asia, yet is remarkably widespread in the temperate regions of Europe due to its rustic characteristics: it is extremely resistant to winter coldness, making it possible to be cultivated even in mountainous areas; it is very adaptable to sandy and acidic soils, and it is very resistant to drought.
Rye, especially in cool climates, is often attacked by a parasite (Claviceps purpurea, commonly know as Ergot) that grows within the grain’s fruiting structure, turning the grain into a sclerotium – a hard, elongated, black body which contain many toxic alkaloids. These alkaloids are also resistant to the high oven temperatures, used when baking bread. They cause ergotism and affect the circulation and cause neurotoxic activity – acting in particular, on serotonin receptors. Ergot poisoning has been known about since the Middle Ages, when it was referred to as Saint Anthony’s Fire or the sacred fire. In addition to the effects of intoxication, people also experienced hallucinations. This phenomenon led people to believe that the disease was somehow related with the devil or evil forces, so much so that there are many connections between these circumstances and witch hunts. Nowadays there are very stringent limits for the presence of sclerotia in Rye and our crops are produced in areas where there is no presence of the onset of the disease. It should be noted, however, that the alkaloid content in ergot rye, has been used some time in medicine as analgesics and vasoconstrictors.
Regarding nutritional characteristics, rye’s proteins are rich in lysine, an essential amino acid that is found in very low quantities in other cereal grains. It also has a good amount of plant sterols, which help lower cholesterol and prevent diseases of the cardiovascular system. This cereal grain is also rich in minerals, such as selenium, zinc and magnesium, as well as phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. The presence of phosphorus is an added bonus for stressed individuals or people recovering from an illness. In addition, Rye contains many nutrients that promote intestinal peristalsis fibers, which help combat constipation, and to a certain degree, control the absorption of sugars.
How to use them:
In Eastern and Central Europe, as well as in Trentino Alto Adige, Rye is used to produce rye bread. Baked goods, that have been made with rye dough, are darker, harder and aromatic. There are also many alcoholic beverages made from Rye, such as beer, vodka and whiskey. Rye can also be consumed in the form of grains. Cooked grains can be used in salads and soups and can also be used in bread doughs and focaccias.
Basic recipe: after having carefully cleaned and washed them, they need to soak for about 6 hours prior to being cooked, followed by 60 minutes for cooking.
Pumpkin and rye soup
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 1 lt vegetable broth, 200 g rye, 1 kg pumpkin, 1 onion, 1 potato, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, a pinch of cumin, ¼ of cream, chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cooking Instructions: boil the rye in salted water, according to basic recipe. Clean out the pumpkin seeds, take off the outer pumpkin rind and cut the inner part into cubes. Heat the oil in a pan and sautee the pumpkin along with the chopped onion. Add the chopped potatoes, spices, broth and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 30 minutes over low heat. Once it has cooked, blend it all in the blender. Put the blended soup back in the pot, and bring to a boil. Pour in the rye and let simmer together for a few minutes to amalgamate the flavours. Serve the soup with a garnish of chopped parsley.
Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
200 g rye, 4 radishes, 1 cucumber, 1 apple, the juice of 1 lemon, ½ onion, 1 yogurt, olive oil.
Cooking Instructions: boil the rye in salted water, according to basic recipe. Meanwhile, dice the apple and the cucumber, and slice the radishes. Combine everything in a bowl and add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, the yogurt and the chopped onion. Only at the very last, add the rye grains, mix it all together, and let it chill for at least an hour.
Rye, radicchio and arugula
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 200 g rye, 1 bunch of radishes, 1 bunch of arugula, ½ onion, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, chopped parsley.
Cooking Instructions: boil the rye in salted water, according to basic recipe. Cut the onion, radicchio and arugula, and mix them together. Sautee them in a non-stick frying pan, and then add the rye grains, salt and pepper, and let them cook together for about 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley and a little bit of fresh arugula, and serve.