Q Is rye bread Turkish?
Are Swedes Africans?
If you find the 'African Swedes' question senseless, then you see the level of absurdity the ad is playing on. If you answer 'Swedes are Africans' in the affirmative, then Rye bread is Turkish' might have a broken and wobbly leg to stand on.
Swedes are humans, humans originate from Africa. True. But a long time passed since then.
Rye is archaeologically found in Anatolia, true, but at a time when Turkey and Turks were still far away in time and location. And even if we concede that rye was 'cultivated' – instead of being more like an invasive weed in wheat and barley fields – it was by no means a 'typical bread cereal' in that region.
Where there is wheat growing in good yields, wheat is preferred, especially for 'bread'. Bread in the sense of what we think of: yeast or sourdough raised, fluffy with crust. In that region a much flatter bread is still the typical. So 'neolithic' and 'bread' are not as closely connected as many might think.
Then there are some Swedish breads, unique to the region and also dependent on local yeast & bacterial 'fauna'. The sourdough compact ones aren't and weren't common in Anatolia.
The preference for ‘light’ breads, even when they are brown, drives modern industrial bakers to use the latest research in the biochemistry of fermenting dough to create recipes for whole-grain wheat and multigrain breads that are soft even though it is their nature to be dense. The virtual absence of 100 per cent wholemeal rye or even wholemeal wheat bread in most artisan bakeries (those of Germany and the other countries in northern Europe’s rye belt being the notable exceptions) is driven by their customers’ deep aversion to ‘clammy’ bread and the impossibility of making a light, wholewheat bread using artisan methods. Coarse flours produce denser breads than light flours and are almost unheard of in the modern baking trade. Long before there were texts explicitly favouring the light crumb of white breads over the dense crumb of brown breads, such as that by Thomas Cogan, the interest in a light crumb can be imputed by the apparently ancient association of wheat with elite breads.
— William Rubel: "Bread. A Global History", Reaktion Books: London, 2011.
The rye-belt, today, roughly:
From Rye production: Rye is an annual and winter hardy grass, grown extensively as a grain and forage crop. Rye originates from the area around the Black Sea and is primarily grown in an area known as the Rye Belt. It has been harvested for more than 6000 years, but it was around year 500 A.D. that cultivation of rye became important in Central Europe. Due to the plant's tolerance for less favourable growing conditions, it suppressed the growing of Barley, Wheat and Oats in certain areas. In the 12th and 13th centuries rye had progressed to be a major grain. In Germany it maintained its place as the major cereal until the Second World War.
Comparing wheat and rye
— From USDA FAS: Crop Production Maps: Don't get distracted by colours alone, look at the actual numbers.
Finally, it is a really egregious short-circuited oversimplification to even tie rye to Anatolia, that is modern day Turkey, and then claim this for the Swedish type of bread:
- The first archaeological find is in modern day Syria, Tell Abu Hureyra
- Then it is almost entirely absent before re-entering the archaeological record; in Europe and much later
- Suggesting that it was not really in use in the Near East, but entered Europe as a weed-like contaminant, but then showed its potential as hardier to the locals there, who developed, and had to develop techniques to make it digestible.
Pliny is right when saying 'rye is bad for the stomach' (but still a nice animal fodder):
like wheat it has gluten, but not as much as wheat for good fluffy bread; in difference to wheat it has much more plant toxins in it, like phytic acid, which is an antinutrient causing bloat etc, but which can be minimised with long sourdough treatment. The typical yeasts only or short sourdough process further South just doesn't cut it for rye. The amylases in rye would diminish the starch fluff structure and prevent crust formation, and the pentosans preventing gluten-based net structure from forming.
– Gordon Hillman: "On the Origins of Domestic rye: Secale Cereale: The Finds from Aceramic Can Hasan III in Turkey", Anatolian Studies, Vol. 28 (1978), pp. 157-174.
Actually preferring rye for an actual bread is by that logic a more (proto-) Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, but not Greek, Roman, Hittite, Turkish thing.
Rye is not as old as wheat, and there is no evidence of cultivated rye in ancient Egyptian monuments nor is it mentioned in any of the ancient writings. It is mentioned in early northern European writings, suggesting that it was first cultivated in this area. Rye grains found in Neolithic sites in Austria and Poland are considered to be of “wild” origin.
— W Bushuk: "Rye Production and Uses Worldwide", American Association of Cereal Chemists, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2001. (PDF)
If the first place with rye found near a human settlement is counted as 'the origin of Swedish rye bread' (and I abhor that definition apparently used in this ad), then it seems we have to say now: "No, 'rye' was a Syrian 'invention'" (or mishap, if you'd agree after eating just a tiny bit too much of not processed enough rye). And actual 'rye bread' came yet a bit later.
But as bold claims go, the comparatively unpopular rye is a difficult subject to make these anyway:
Compared with other cereals, little is known about rye’s history. Rye domestication has been studied using a combination of archaeobotany, genetics, pollen analysis, and biology. The earliest evidence of wild rye use comes from Epipaleolithic layers in the Syrian Tell sites of Mureybit (11,800–11,300 cal BP) and Abu Hureyra (12,700–11,100 cal BP). Seeds of domesticated rye appear in small quantities in the Turkish sites of Can Hassan III (9,450–8,450 cal BP) and are rare anywhere else in the Near East. The first evidence of the cultivation of rye as a dedicated crop comes from Alaca Höyük (ca. 4,000 BP). Turkey, Transcaucasia, Iran, and central Asia are assumed to be centers of domestication of rye, and it is likely that domesticated forms evolved more than once in these different areas.
It is still unclear which route rye followed as it was introduced into Europe: north of the Black and Caspian Seas into central Europe (and from here to the Balkans and Turkey), or along the Mediterranean route followed by the other Neolithic cereals. Most researchers agree that rye is a secondary crop that spread as a tolerated weed of wheat and barley. Wild ryes with a mutation conferring a tough rachis (the spine of the ear holding the spikelets) would have been picked up in small amounts with other grain. Rye’s resemblance to wheat and the inability to separate rye from other cereal grains through traditional winnowing allowed rye to be harvested and sown each growing season. The first European rye remains appear in Neolithic contexts in Italy (Sammardenchia, 7,550–6,450 cal BP), Slovakia (Šarišské Michal’any, 6,950–6,650 cal BP), and in Bronze Age settlements in central Europe. The “tolerated weed” status of rye is attested by the low percentage of grains found in European sites up to the Iron Age and by the frequent contamination of wheat/barley assemblages.
During the pre-Roman Iron Age, the distribution of rye expanded, and in many places farmers cultivated it exclusively. Researchers hypothesize that climate cooling in Europe in the first millennium BC favored rye’s survival over the cereals it was initially infesting, leading farmers to adopt it as a full crop as a result of its superior performance in cold years.
— Hugo R. Oliveira: "Rye", in Karen Bescherer Metheny & Mary C. Beaudry (Eds): "Archaeology of Food. An Encyclopedia", Rowman & Littlefield: New York, Boulder, 2015.
But for actual 'bread' as we'd expect it to be:
The oldest leavened and acidified bread is over 5,000 years old and was discovered in an excavation in Switzerland. The first documented production and consumption of sourdough bread can be traced back to the second millennium B.C.. Egyptians discovered that a mixture of flour and water, left for a bit of time to ferment, increased in volume and, after baking along with other fresh dough, it produced soft and light breads. Much later, microscopic observations of yeast as well as measurements of the acidity of bread from early Egypt demonstrate that the fermentation of bread dough involved yeasts and lactic acid bacteria – the leavening of dough with sourdough had been discovered. Eventually, the environmental contamination of dough was deliberately carried out by starting the fermentation with material from the previous fermentation process.
— Stefan Cappelle, Lacaze Guylaine, M. Gänzle, & M. Gobbetti: "History and Social Aspects of Sourdough", in: Marco Gobbetti & Michael Gänzle (Eds): "Handbook on Sourdough Biotechnology", Springer: New York, Heidelberg, 2013. (p2)
In short real rye bread only to prominence during late antiquity. Rye bread was only considered a real staple for most of the population through the Middle Ages. Many different types of rye grain have come from north-central and western and eastern Europe where there was a real interest in cultivating it en masse and for human bread. It was and is more typical for modern Regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Czech Lands. Turkish breads were more of an import type, and when employing rye at all, using a sourdough technology from the Balkans, which depends on much yeasts added to the bacteria and more wheat in the dough than rye (roughly 2 to 1).
Swedish sourdoughs for rye and rye-wheat consist mainly of Lb. acidophilus, Lb. brevis, Lb. delbrueckii, Lb. farciminis, Lb. fermentum, Lb. plantarum, Lb. rhamnosus, Lb. sanfranciscensis, W. viridescens.
Turkish wheat sourdoughs are dominated by C. divergens, Lb. acetotolerans, Lb. amylophilus, Lb. brevis, Lb. plantarum, Lb. sakei, P. acidilactici, P. pentosaceus, T. halophilus.
Indeed, Sweden is typically rye land, Turkey is typically wheat land. Notwithstanding that for example central highlands in Turkey have and had harsh climates and soils that might have been be more suitable for rye than wheat, such needs for feeding people never made rye more popular than wheat. Rye bread is a prophet dismissed in its home country: it is just not a Turkish invention that spread to Sweden.
The ad is in English and doesn't use anything like "from" but "It's Turkish", just like the meatballs thing. The latter really tied to Ottoman Turks and being even the 'official Swedish government position' on this. Despite food historians dismantling that as a myth as well. (A not so difficult task, since this 'minced meat' isn't that much of an invention, being featured numerous times in ancient recipes.
So what is that claim based on? An ad agency making a spot for an airline trying to emphasise how cosmopolitan, international and multi-cultural their customers should feel; and thus associate a company image with — by listing numerous additions to Swedish culture as 'adopted from elsewhere'.
While it is definitely true that cultures are evolving in a perpetual run-around of interchange, borrowing this and appropriating that, this ad gets too sloppy. It is inappropriate and completely ahistorical and anachronistic to construct a cultural 'Turkish' image of an unbroken tradition for 'rye bread' — as if that would go back to the epipaleolithic in that approximate region – and then the Swedes as 'receiving the gift of rye bread' 'from Turks'; or even geographically as 'originating in the form as we know it now from the region of modern day Turkey'. Too long timeframe, too many steps and changes in the meantime, misused terminology, too many deviations from this theory of ethnic tradition to make it work. Instead of correctly just rejecting an often misguided trust, faith and pride in supposedly 'typical and national traditions', that the ad highlights as false, it creates and reproduces these myths, only attributed to 'other traditions', just as wrongly.
But of course, if this ad was to be broadcast on Radio Yerevan, Q "Is rye bread Turkish?" Would be answered with: "Yes! Yes, of course. But it was not made from rye, and the rye wasn't cultivated, and they didn't make bread from it, and it also wasn't Turkish."