Jack Hammers Another Nail in Rye's Coffin

Categories: Food News

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"Hey, are they happy we got rid of the rye bread?," Jack in the Box's mascot asks a fictional focus group leader in a recent commercial for the chain's new pastrami sandwich.

"Totally," the researcher assures him.

Customers may be pleased with Jack in the Box's decision to simplify its ingredient list by sticking deli meat on the same "grilled artisan bread" it uses for its ham and turkey sandwiches, but the choice represents another setback for old-fashioned rye, which is rapidly disappearing from the nation's bakeries.

"Most modern-day Jewish rye uses far less rye flour (and a much higher percentage of wheat) than it ever did; it's far lighter, much softer, and far less flavorful," Ari Weinzweig wrote in his Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating back in 2003. "In fact, many consumers have come to confuse the flavor of the caraway seeds used to season these breads with the real flavor of rye."

Weinzweig recounts the history of rye bread, which begins a mere 3,000 years ago, when farmers realized they could make flour from the rye weed encroaching on their wheat fields. Rye became the default bread throughout Eastern Europe, although it bore little resemblance to what delis specializing in overstuffed corned beef and chopped liver sandwiches serve today: The bread was dense and chewy and almost black.

According to Weinzweig, rye bread should "taste like rye with a touch of sour," which means Jack in the Box could have at least trifled with authenticity by wrapping its pastrami in the sourdough it uses for breakfast sandwiches. But as David Sax documents in his recent book Save the Deli, white bread's on the rise.

Jack in the Box spokesman Brain Luscomb refused to reveal any statistics on rye antagonism that might have inspired the chain's ad campaign - "we don't really discuss our tasting process," he told me - but said its artisan (read: white) bread has been very popular.

"This is pastrami Jack's way," he said.


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