A slice of pumpernickel bread
Type Rye bread
Place of origin Germany
Region or state Westphalia
Main ingredients Rye flour, rye berries
Cookbook: Pumpernickel 

Pumpernickel (English pronunciation: ; German: ) is a typically heavy, slightly sweet rye bread traditionally made with coarsely ground rye.

It is often made with a combination of rye flour and whole rye berries. At one time it was traditional peasant fare, but largely during the 20th century various forms became popular through delicatessens and supermarkets.


  • Europe 1
  • North America 2
  • Etymology 3
  • Influences 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Pumpernickel has been long associated with the Westphalia region of Germany, first referred to in print in 1450. Although it is not known whether this and other early references refer to precisely the bread that came to be known as Pumpernickel, Westphalian pumpernickel is distinguished by use of coarse rye flour—rye meal and a very long baking period, which gives the bread its characteristic dark color. Like most traditional all-rye breads, pumpernickel is traditionally made with an acidic sourdough starter, which preserves dough structure by counteracting highly active rye amylases. That method is sometimes augmented or replaced in commercial baking by adding citric acid or lactic acid along with commercial yeast.[1]

A slice of Polish malt-colored pumpernickel

Traditional German Pumpernickel contains no coloring agents, instead relying on the Maillard reaction to produce its characteristic deep brown color, sweet, dark chocolate, coffee flavor, and earthy aroma. To achieve this, loaves are baked in long narrow lidded pans 16 to 24 hours in a low-temperature (about 250°F or 120°C), steam-filled oven. Like the French pain de mie, Westphalian pumpernickel has little or no crust. It is very similar to rye Vollkornbrot, a dense rye bread with large amounts of whole grains added.

While true Pumpernickel is produced primarily in Germany, versions are popular in the Netherlands, under the name Roggebrood, where it has been a common part of the diet for centuries.[2] German pumpernickel is often sold sliced in small packets in supermarkets, where it may be paired with caviar, smoked salmon, sturgeon, and other expensive products on an hors d'oeuvres tray.

North America

A separate pumpernickel tradition has developed in North America, where colouring and flavouring agents such as molasses, coffee, and cocoa powder are added to approximate the shades and taste of traditional German pumpernickel. Bakers there often add wheat flour to provide gluten structure and increase rising and commercial yeast to quicken the rise compared to a traditional sourdough. As a result, and for economic reasons, they tend to eschew the long, slow baking characteristic of German pumpernickel, resulting in a loaf that but for colour otherwise resembles commercial North American rye bread.

North American pumpernickel loaves are almost always baked without pans, resulting in a rounded loaf. Due to that shape, it's fairly popular to hollow out the loaf and fill it with a (typically light-coloured) dip for the bread that has been removed.


The philologist Johann Christoph Adelung states that the word has an origin in the Germanic vernacular where pumpern was a New High German synonym for being flatulent, and Nickel was a form of the name Nicholas, commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g. "Old Nick", a familiar name for Satan), or more generally for a malevolent spirit or demon. Hence, pumpernickel is described as the "devil's fart", a definition accepted by the Snopes International Language Database,[3] the publisher Random House,[4] and by some English language dictionaries, including the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[5] The American Heritage Dictionary adds "so named from being hard to digest". A variant of this explanation is also given by the German etymological dictionary "Kluge" that says the word pumpernickel is older than its usage for the particular type of bread, and may have been used as a mocking name for a person of unrefined manners ("farting nick") first. The change of meaning may have been caused by its use as a mocking expression for the (in the eyes of outsiders) unrefined rye bread produced by the Westphalian population.

The Oxford English Dictionary does not commit to any particular etymology for the word. It suggests it may mean a lout or booby, but also says "origin uncertain". The OED currently states the first use in English was in 1756.

A false folk etymology involves Napoleon, who, while invading Germany, asked for bread and was served dark Westphalian rye bread. According to the folktale, Napoleon declared that this was not suitable bread for himself, the emperor, but was bread (pain) for Nickel (or Nicole), his horse: "C'est du pain pour Nickel/Nicole!"[6] In a variation of the same basic story, Napoleon declared that the bread was no good for him, but was only good (bon) for his horse: "C'est bon pour Nickel!" The name "Nickel" is not confirmed for any of Napoleon's many horses;[7] still, given the number of horses used, this remains a possibility. This folk etymology grew from a "witty interpretation", proposed by seventeenth-century satirist Johann Balthasar Schupp, that the bread was only good for "Nicol", a nickname for a weak or puny horse.[8][9] It is not clear why anyone imagines that the Germans would name a much loved local speciality after an insult in a language they did not understand.


The name of former Argentinean hamburger restaurant chain Pumper Nic is derived from pumpernickel.

See also


  1. ^ From the label of a German-style Pumpernickel sold by Trader Joe's in eastern Massachusetts.
  2. ^ http://www.bakkerijmuseum.nl/kalwiblo/index.php?t=2&h=5&s=8#Minderwaardig
  3. ^ "Pumpernickel".  
  4. ^ "Pumpernickel at The Mavens' Word of the Day". Random House. August 15, 1997. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  5. ^ "Pumpernickel". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  6. ^ Barbara and David P. Mikkelson (13 July 2007). "Etymology of Pumpernickel". Snopes. Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  7. ^ http://fuckyeahnapoleonbonaparte.tumblr.com/post/6598629563/napoleons-horses
  8. ^ Grimm, Jacob and William: Deutsches Wörterbuch: Biermörder – D, Volume 2, Verlag Von S. Hirzel, 1860
  9. ^ Jahrbuch des Vereins für Niederdeutsche Sprachforschung, Volumes 34-37, Jahrgang 1908, Dieter Soltau's Verlag, 1908

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

  • The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  • How to make an American Pumpernickel bread
  • Description of Schupp "bon pour Nicol" quotation