What’s Pumpernickel Bread and Why Is It Called That?

When it comes to bread, you have a bevy of choices. You know this if you’ve ever been slightly overwhelmed in a diner, figuring out which toast should go with your breakfast: white, rye, whole wheat, English muffin? There is, of course, no wrong answer. However, there is one that is particularly challenging and perhaps particularly rewarding. I speak of the dark, toothsome, coarse option known as pumpernickel bread.

But what is pumpernickel bread, exactly? What does it taste like? Why does it have that weird name? Let’s break into the bread answers. 

What is pumpernickel bread?

The name “pumpernickel” sort of sounds like a cross between a pumpkin and a nickel, which does not sound like a winning combination for a bread. But in fact, pumpernickel is a dark rye bread often made with sourdough starter. It is dense and slightly sweet.

What does pumpernickel bread taste like?

Pumpernickel has a slightly sweet flavor to it, along with earthy overtones. It’s not as funky as a typical sourdough bread, but it’s robust and toothsome. It’s also quite a bit denser than white or wheat bread.

Is pumpernickel rye bread?

All pumpernickel is rye bread, but not all rye bread is pumpernickel. Pumpernickel is a specific kind of dark rye bread, often made with only coarsely ground rye flour and no wheat. 

What is pumpernickel bread made of?

While white and wheat breads are made from wheat flour, pumpernickel is predominantly made from rye flour—specifically, it’s made with “pumpernickel flour,” which is made with rye berries. Some recipes also call for brown sugar, molasses, and even cocoa powder.

What did the name pumpernickel bread come from?

Let’s be honest: You probably thought the answer to this question was going to be something boring, like this bread was invented by a guy named John Pumpernickel. I thought that too. But sometimes, there’s actually a far more interesting answer to a mundane question than you might expect. This is the case with the name origin for pumpernickel. 

According to Wikipedia, the name, of Germanic origin, likely refers to a demon (the “nickel” part, as in Old Nick, a common term for the Devil) who is farting (the “pumper” part). This is right there on the Wikipedia page and everything! Now, how the bread got named for a flatulent demon is unclear. It may be because pumpernickel was difficult to digest. Or it may be that a “pumpernickel” initially referred to a coarse, unrefined person, and this name transferred onto the coarse, unrefined bread that such a person would eat. 

In any event, this is surely some knowledge to treasure the next time you bite into a piece of pumpernickel. 

Does pumpernickel bread have gluten?

Though pumpernickel may look and taste rather dissimilar from classic white bread, rye bread is made with rye flour, which is not gluten-free. However, if you have a gluten allergy and are still dying to sample some brown bread goodness, you’re in luck: There are gluten-free versions of pumpernickel available. 

Is pumpernickel bread whole grain?

Typically, yes, the coarse, chewy texture of pumpernickel comes from flour made from whole rye grains. However, as with all bread-related matters (and indeed, most food-related matters) there’s not total consistency when it comes to different brands, so be sure to double check the label to make certain. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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