Rye History and Origin

For being so common in certain parts of the world, actually little is known about rye’s origin.

Rye has been found in archeological sites from as early as 11,700 years ago. However, there is some controversy. The small amounts of the grain suggest to some that it was a wild variety and was not being cultivated at that time.

There is an especially controversial finding from an archeological site in Syria called Abu Hereya. Some think there is evidence that the rye there was domesticated, but others are quick to point out the problems with that theory. If it turned out to be true, it would change all we know about the domestication of cereal grains. Still, it has led some to believe that rye was the very first cultivated cereal grain.

Rye is closely related to wheat and barley, and it appears that it was first manifest in human diet as a weed that had been mixed with wheat or barley. Something very interesting is that wild rye and domesticated rye are almost identical. This is quite different from what happens when most grains are domesticated.

History shows that as a cereal grains gets domesticated, it changes in specific ways that the humans are selecting for (like yield, or, in the case of einkorn the property of staying on the stock instead of being blown off by the wind). Rye, though, seems to have gone from being a wild plant to a weed. And it’s evolution was not purposeful. It’s almost like humans accidentally brought it on the evolutionary journey with barley and wheat.

For this reason, it’s difficult to pin down its history. In archeological sites, it’s hard to distinguish if what we’re seeing is domesticated or wild.

With that in mind, the most commonly accepted origin of domesticated rye is south central Turkey around 6600B.C.

As wheat and barley began to spread to what is now Germany and areas near the black sea, rye came along for the ride. BUT rye performed better in these harsh climates, eventually leading to its popularity in those parts of Europe.

Rye is still not nearly as popular as wheat. It’s production is about 3% of wheat’s in the world. But in countries like Russia, Germany, and Poland, dense rye bread is common. It’s also commonly used in alcoholic beverages such as beer and whiskey.

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