This site endeavors to answer a very important question, What is Gluten? It is apparent that today this question is more important than ever. So let’s waste no time and get right to a matter that is near and dear to my heart. Gluten, in its most simplest definition, is a kind of protein that tends to exist in wheat, barley, and rye among other carbohydrates. It is important to note that, despite a wide spread misconception, gluten alone is not necessarily bad for your health. However, some people do have difficulty digesting gluten and therefore must avoid it. Gluten intolerance or even worse, Celiac Disease can be misdiagnosed and take years to realize that the allergy to gluten is the problem.
Another very common misconception about gluten is that it’s just in grains. While, yes, gluten is typically found in wheat and other mainstays in the grain family, it is not synonymous with grain. Gluten is a component of grains and cereals. However, that does not mean that all grains or cereals contain gluten. For example, many kinds of grains don’t even include a molecule of gluten. Which gets to the heart of the question what is gluten. If grains can exist without gluten then, by definition, gluten cannot be grain! For instance amaranth, oats (though there is some controversy about this), buck wheat, and soybeans are all gluten free foods.
So if gluten is not grain then just what is gluten? Gluten is made up of several defining characteristics. For example, gluten has insolubility to water meaning it will not dissolve when placed in some good, old fashioned H20. It can, on the other hand, be expunged from grain, (and this is a unique characteristic that defines gluten) by kneading your base dough stringently. Though, to be honest, this can be a controversial topic and for many with a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity it is the best practice to abstain from consuming gluten containing foods.
Let’s go further and look at some of the defining characteristics of gluten in bread, the food it is most often associated with. Bread of course has many unique characteristics and it is the gluten within it that actually causes a great many of these traits. For instance, it is gluten that gives bread the bendy, chewy composition that we are all so familiar with. Due to this, bread that has been depleted of gluten tends to revert to a puddy-like, sticky glob of goo as it is gluten which gives it its shape.
Gluten is also tough. (You might say it makes a tough cookie!). Because of gluten, certain bread items like pizza dough or bagels have a dense, chewy composition. This is in fact somewhat related to the characteristics of gluten that we mentioned above and is one of the reasons why people with gluten sensitivity have difficulty digesting it and need to stick to gluten free foods.
Another trait of gluten is the fact that it will retain gases in the baking process. Simply put this is why bread rises. It is because of gluten! And, again, this is one reason why people with a gluten allergy will be best served by sticking to gluten free foods.
However, do not think that the question has been answered sufficiently for there are other characteristics of gluten as well. Gluten is also responsible for the staling of bread and we all know what that looks like! Additionally, gluten promotes absorption so foods containing gluten are able to soak up fluid. Because of gluten, bread, for instance, is very absorbent. This quality allows gluten to function as an imitation meat and is therefore popular with many vegetarians. Due to this those individuals who maintain a gluten-free diet due to gluten sensitivity will often avoid “fake” meat and other imitations.
Between 0% and 1% of the United States population suffers from celiac disease. Celiac disease is quite serious as it results in abnormal immune responses to gluten. Due to this people with celiac disease must maintain 100% gluten free diets. This makes eating a bit more challenging for this minority or people who have the most severe gluten allergy. Note that you can be gluten intolerant or have a gluten allergy without actually having celiac disease so please, if you can not properly digest gluten, do not jump to the conclusion that you must have this disease. Only a doctor or geneticist can make that determination.
Now, we have reached the conclusion of this article. A lot of information has been imparted and I think we have had a fun time with it as well. Naturally, gluten intolerance and gluten allergy are not laughing matters but we need to approach all topics with a certain levity I do believe. The main point is that we have gone a long way in answering the question that we started with.