What’s the deal with gluten?

Gluten, you've probably heard a lot about it in recent years, particularly with what may seem like an increasing trend for 'gluten free' foods, but do you actually know what it is?


Gluten is found in many baked goods, and it is one of the main structure builders along with starch and and egg proteins. Gluten is found in flour in the form of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. These proteins combine to form gluten when water is added. Glutenin is said to provide strength, and gliadin is said to provide the stretchiness and elasticity to gluten. You could also describe gluten as being part solid, part liquid because it displays the properties of both. Scientists refer to it as being viscoelastic, which means it can stretch and change shape without any breakages or tears, and it has an ablility to spring back to it's original shape, like an elastic band would do- pretty cool really! This allows it to trap and hold gases inside the dough, which contribute towards the final texture of the baked good. Although gluten may have got a bit of a bad reputation, it's a pretty unique protein.


Baked goods each differ in their gluten requirements, and the protein is more important in certain products. Generally, yeast-raised baked goods such as bread require more gluten than say pastries. However, that being said, it is possible for bread to have too much gluten, which causes it to be tough and chewy, with a low volume, and the inability to form a thin and soft crust. It is also possible for pastries to not have enough gluten, causing pastry shells to break and crumble easily, cakes to collapse, and scones to spread and flatten out rather than rise up. Therefore it is important to understand the role that gluten plays in your baked good to determine requirements. It's all about acareful balance of ingredients!


So is gluten bad for you?


For the majority of people, no it's not. I'm a firm believer that nothing is technically 'bad' for you as such, but we tend to put things into categories such as 'good' or 'bad'. Remember that foods labelled 'gluten free' are not necessarily healthier.  However, there are some of us who actually have an intolerence to gluten, and so eating foods that contain gluten can cause illness. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, whereby the body reacts by damaging the small intestine if even the smallest amount of gluten is consumed. Since the body absorbs nutrients in the small intestine, people with coeliac disease may suffer the symptoms of malnutrition. In this case, a strict gluten free diet is required.


Flours that contain gluten include wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and semolina- just to name a few. Gluten is most commonly found in bread and other baked goods, however you may also find it in soups, sauces, cereals, spice mixes and even beer! If you're avoiding gluten in your diet, always check the label first!


A few examples of gluten free flours include cornflour, potato flour, rice flour, soya flour, coconut flour, gram flour, and buckwheat flour. If you're baking gluten free, there are gluten free flour mixes which are a quick and easy substitute for regular flour in your recipe, however you can also make your own mix if you're feeling adventurous!


Have you ever tried baking gluten free, and if so, what were your results? I'd love to hear from you so please do share your thoughts.


Thank you for reading, and if you have a question that you would like me to answer then be sure to pop it in the comments below so that I can add it to my list!


Claire x






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