Northern and Eastern Europeans have loved Rye for ages, and no wonder: though it's not as nutritious as other grains, it had the merit of being hardy enough to grow in very cold climates before hardier strains of wheat were developed in the Canadian west.
Light-rye bread and pumpernickel bread are made from Rye flour. These breads have an assertive, slightly-sour taste which Germans, Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians and Russians love. They are heavy breads, as Rye develops poor gluten.
The straw of Rye is very tough making it good for thatching.
Vodka and Rye whiskey are made from Rye.
Rye has been associated with a disease that in the Middle Ages was called "St Anthony's Fire". Rye is very susceptible to a fungus called "ergot", which produces toxins and gets harvested and milled with the Rye. In fact, LSD was first produced from ergot fungus. The disease causes hallucinations and derangement, and painful burning gangrene that causes people's extremities to blacken and fall off. The burning sensations attracted the name of "Holy Fire", and people suffering were often treated at hospitals dedicated to St Anthony (treated doesn't mean cured: in 944 AD, 40,000 people in Southern France died of the disease.) It was a disease that hit the poor because the rich, of course, ate white bread, which was wheat.
Sometimes women would deliberately eat the blighted grain in the hopes of inducing an abortion.
Today, to help prevent ergot fungus from developing, Rye seeds are treated with a solution, and Rye crops are rotated with other plantings that are not susceptible to ergot. No variety of Rye has been developed yet that is resistant to the fungus.
In 4000 BC Rye was being grown in Central Asia. By 2000 BC it had reached the Baltic Sea. By 400 BC it was being grown for its own sake.
By 400 AD, Rye was introduced to Britain by the invading Saxons and Danes after the departure of the Romans, who though they had Rye, vastly preferred wheat.
Dark Rye bread became a staple which lasted to the Middle Ages, when wheat began to become more affordable.
As far as can be ascertained, the name of Rye, Sussex in England has nothing to do with Rye. (Rye is one of the original Cinque Ports from 1289.)
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