Is there gluten in pumpernickel bread?

Pumpernickel bread is a dark, dense, and flavorful type of bread made from coarse rye flour. It has a distinctive dark color and taste compared to regular white bread. Many people wonder whether pumpernickel bread contains gluten like other types of bread.

The quick answer is yes, pumpernickel bread does contain gluten. This is because it is made from rye flour, which contains gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Most breads contain at least some gluten since they are made from flour ground from these gluten-containing grains.

What is Pumpernickel Bread?

Pumpernickel bread originated in Germany. It gets its signature dark color and rich taste from being made with coarse rye flour and a special breadmaking process.

Traditional pumpernickel bread is made from a high percentage of rye flour, sometimes up to 100% rye. The flour is more coarsely ground than typical bread flour. This gives the bread its hearty, dense texture.

Pumpernickel dough is allowed to rest for an extended time during preparation. This slow fermentation process helps develop its complex flavor. The bread is baked long and slow at a low temperature. This extended baking results in the bread’s dark brown color and allows flavor compounds to fully develop.

The combination of coarse rye flour, long resting and fermenting times, and slow baking gives pumpernickel bread its distinctive dark color, dense texture, and rich rye taste.

Types of Pumpernickel Bread

There are a few different styles of pumpernickel bread:

  • Traditional pumpernickel – Made with 100% rye flour and no added coloring
  • Commercial pumpernickel – Made with a mix of rye and wheat flours and added caramel or molasses coloring
  • Jewish pumpernickel – Made with rye and wheat flours and small amounts of coffee and cocoa powder for color
  • Danish pumpernickel – A milder version made with a sourdough starter

The traditional version using just rye flour will have the strongest rye taste and darkest color. Commercial bakery versions often use some wheat flour and added coloring to produce a similar dark look. The taste may be a bit milder depending on the amount of rye flour used.

Does Pumpernickel Bread Contain Gluten?

Yes, pumpernickel bread contains gluten because it is made from rye flour. Rye flour contains gluten proteins just like wheat flour.

Gluten is a general name for the main protein groups found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour and water are mixed together and kneaded to form dough, these proteins link together to form elastic strands called gluten.

Gluten provides the structure and stretchy texture that allows bread to rise and keep its shape. All breads made with wheat, rye, or barley flours contain gluten.

Gluten Content of Rye vs Wheat

While both rye and wheat contain gluten, rye flour has lower gluten content compared to wheat flour. Rye flour contains about one third the amount of gluten that wheat flour does.

The glutenin proteins in rye are also weaker than those in wheat. This results in a less stretchy gluten structure. Pumpernickel bread has a dense and compact texture compared to the chewy and airy crumb of regular wheat bread.

So while pumpernickel is a gluten containing bread, the different gluten qualities of rye mean it will have a different texture and crumb structure compared to wheat bread.

Barley and Oats in Pumpernickel Bread

In addition to rye flour, some recipes for pumpernickel bread also include barley or oat flour.

Barley contains gluten, though not as much as wheat. Oats do not naturally contain gluten. However, most commercially processed oats are cross-contaminated with small amounts of wheat or barley.

So pumpernickel bread that contains barley or oat flour may also contain small amounts of gluten from these additional ingredients.

Is Pumpernickel Bread Gluten Free?

No, pumpernickel bread is not gluten free. Since it is made from rye or a combination of rye and wheat flours, it contains gluten.

A food product must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten to be labeled as gluten free. There is no way to reduce the gluten content of pumpernickel bread enough to be considered gluten free while still maintaining its texture and flavor.

The only way to make a gluten free pumpernickel-style bread would be to use other non-gluten flours like rice, potato starch, corn, buckwheat, or tapioca flour. But the taste, texture, and appearance would not be the same as traditional pumpernickel.

Testing for Gluten

Laboratory testing can detect the presence of gluten down to very small levels, measured in parts per million. Foods labeled as gluten free may have trace amounts but must test below 20 ppm.

When pumpernickel bread was tested in one German study, the results showed gluten levels averaging between 247-375ppm. This is well above the allowable limits for gluten free labeling.

Another study found 79% of commercial pumpernickel bread samples tested above 20ppm. The highest result was over 1800ppm, demonstrating pumpernickel’s high gluten content compared to allowed gluten free thresholds.

Pumpernickel and Gluten Intolerance

People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity must avoid all foods containing gluten in order to prevent adverse health effects. This includes avoiding types of bread with gluten like pumpernickel.

Effects of Gluten

For people with celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. Short term effects include gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. Long term it can lead to damage to the intestinal villi, interfering with nutrient absorption and increasing risk for anemia and osteoporosis.

In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers symptoms like bloating, headache, fatigue, and joint pain. For those with gluten sensitivity, pumpernickel bread and other high gluten foods trigger unpleasant symptoms.

Avoiding Gluten

The only treatment for celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is strict adherence to a gluten free diet. All foods and drinks containing wheat, rye, barley and malt products must be avoided.

Since pumpernickel bread is made from rye flour, it contains high levels of gluten. Those with celiac or gluten sensitivity should not consume pumpernickel or other types of rye breads.

Checking ingredient labels is important to look for hidden sources of gluten. Gluten free substitutes like breads made from rice flour, corn flour, or other gluten free grains must be used instead.

Finding Gluten Free Pumpernickel Alternatives

For those avoiding gluten, replicating the dark color, hearty texture, and rich flavor of pumpernickel bread can be challenging.

There are some gluten free recipes that try to mimic pumpernickel by using alternative flours along with coffee, molasses, or cocoa powder for color. But the texture and taste is extremely difficult to replicate given the reliance on rye flour to produce authentic pumpernickel.

There are also several companies producing gluten free “pumpernickel style” bread. These gluten free breads try to provide a similar visual appearance and dense texture. However most state upfront that they will not taste exactly the same as traditional rye pumpernickel.

Checking reviews can help find the best quality store-bought gluten free pumpernickel alternatives. But most gluten free eaters find they need to adjust expectations when it comes to finding a true pumpernickel bread substitute.

Gluten Free Flours

Some alternative gluten free flours that can be used to try and replicate pumpernickel flavor and texture include:

  • Brown rice flour
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Millet flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Flax meal

Usually a combination of two or more of these flours is needed to achieve the right consistency. Things like psyllium husk powder, xanthan gum, or guar gum are often added to help give gluten free dough elasticity.

Molasses, cocoa powder, coffee, caramel color, and spices like caraway seeds can help add color and approximate some of the rich taste of rye bread. But reaching the same depth of pumpernickel flavor using gluten free ingredients can be very difficult.

Other Tips for Gluten Free Pumpernickel

Here are some other tips that can help when formulating a gluten free pumpernickel bread recipe:

  • Use a combination of both light and dark gluten free flours
  • Add brewed coffee for more color and flavor
  • Use dough enhancers like xanthan gum to improve texture
  • Let dough proof longer to allow flavor to develop
  • Cook at a low temperature for an extended time period

Getting the closest match possible requires playing with different flour combinations and ratios. Being patient with extended resting and proofing times also allows more complex flavor to build.

Overall, gluten free pumpernickel bread requires creativity and compromise. With enough tweaking, gluten free breads can achieve a comparable appearance. But the unique taste and texture of rye is impossible to truly replicate without the gluten-containing grains.

Pumpernickel and Gluten Free Diets

Besides just avoiding bread, those on a gluten free diet have many other healthy gluten free whole food options to choose from. Lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and dairy are all naturally gluten free.

Rather than trying to replicate pumpernickel bread, it may be better for gluten free dieters to instead explore the multitude of gluten free whole food options available. Focusing on naturally gluten free nutrient-dense foods can help them avoid feeling restricted.

With the rise in popularity of gluten free diets, many specialty gluten free product lines have been introduced to the market. There are a wide variety of high quality gluten free bread options available today.

While gluten free pumpernickel bread may be difficult to perfectly replicate, there are many other excellent gluten free bread choices. Finding a new favorite gluten free bread that doesn’t sacrifice taste or quality can help gluten free dieters feel satisfied with their diet.

The Bottom Line

Pumpernickel bread contains moderate to high levels of gluten since it is made from rye flour. Gluten is the protein complex found in grains like rye, wheat, and barley that gives bread its chewy texture.

People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity require a strict gluten free diet. This means avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives like pumpernickel bread.

There is no way to make traditional pumpernickel bread completely gluten free. However, some gluten free recipes try to mimic it using alternate flours, added coloring, and flavorings. While the texture can be approximated, matching the distinctive taste is difficult without rye flour.

Rather than trying to replicate pumpernickel, those on a gluten free diet can instead take the opportunity to explore naturally gluten free foods. Focusing on fresh, whole gluten free ingredients can provide satisfying alternatives to pumpernickel and other gluten-containing breads.

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