If you are learning to bake, it is relatively easy to find the “go-to” flour…. all-purpose. If, however, you dive right into some great pumpernickel or rye bread or decided you need help getting a good sourdough starter going (or reactivated), you will need rye flour.
The good news is that there are some supermarkets that carry it regionally, at the time of writing this I found a Publix store that has it in a nearby zip code. What I found by reading others’ experiences online, however, is that this differs greatly in different geographical areas throughout the country.
Do you HAVE to have rye flour to make pumpernickel bread? Not necessarily. By combining whole wheat flour with bread flour (or all-purpose) and adding additional ingredients, you can give it the unique flavor and color it is known for (molasses, cocoa, etc).
You should be able to find it online, although you will most likely be paying a premium price for it AND shipping, I will say, it is a good option for sourdough starters because it has a lower gluten protein content than wheat and produces a slacker, stickier, and denser dough. Also, rye flour attracts yeast more readily than traditional white flour allowing it to ferment more quickly than a starter made with other types of flour.
Rye flour is not absolutely necessary for most of these bread options (with caraway seeds you can still get the rye taste), but you still need to understand what it is about rye that makes it such a great option… when available 😉