What is Italian Rye Bread?

Olive oil, which is often used to make Italian rye bread.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Italian rye bread is a delicious alternative to the many other forms of rye bread popular in Europe and the United States. Unlike its heavier cousins like German or Jewish rye, Italian rye bread tends to rely on Italian rye flour, sometimes called white rye flour, which is lighter in texture. Typical recipes for the bread tend to use a higher wheat flour proportion to rye flour making the end texture lighter and spongier. In regions of Italy where the bread is popular, it is usually made and molded similarly to basic Italian bread, which is oblong in shape. You can certainly find it in rounds too, but the oblong shape makes for easier slicing.

Most rye bread versions contain seeds, and Italian rye bread is no exception. Many recipes for the Italian version call for both caraway and fennel seeds, which enhance flavor and add texture to the bread. If you want a light rye bread and can’t find a good Italian rye bread, look for light crusted ryes. Sourdough rye or dill rye can make good substitutes.


The most famous rye breads from Italy are made in cities like Bolzano, in the northernmost region of Italy, Trenton Alto Adige. While it might seem difficult to find the white rye flour, which makes these breads so popular, and may have been a matter of special ordering in the past, many experts in Italian cuisine now suggest that the King Arthur® white rye flour is an excellent substitute. This can be found in specialty stores, sometimes in bulk, and can easily be ordered on the Internet.

Recipes for Italian rye bread may be very different from the much simpler Italian bread. They may include milk products, often include oils like olive oil, and may have a little brown sugar or molasses added to enhance flavor. You can certainly make a simpler version of the bread by adding a bit of rye flour to Italian bread recipes. Yet you should feel free to get creative too.

A good Italian rye bread should have a light, slightly chewy crust, a closed crumb, and a powerful caraway and dill flavoring. It’s excellent as used in sliced bread for sandwiches with Italian meats like ham or salami. Thick slices of fresh or heated bread are wonderful accompaniments to soups, stews or pasta, adding extra flavor if you use them for dipping.


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