From our neighbors and friends to celebrities and politicians, most of us probably know at least one person who is trying to avoid eating gluten. In fact, as many as 29 percent of US adults have admitted they want to cut down on the amount of gluten they eat or eliminate it all together.
Gluten-free diets are the craze at the moment, but despite their popularity, many people would have difficulty answering the question, “what is gluten?” Even people actively attempting to avoid eating gluten may not realize exactly what it is.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in a few common grains: wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is actually a combination of 2 proteins that come together in the presence of water. Glutenin and gliadin (proteins present in wheat, rye, and barley) will combine to form gluten when the flours are mixed with water. Kneading also helps with the formation of gluten, an important step in making yeast breads. Gluten is a necessary protein in bread baking since it provides that elastic quality to doughs (think pizza dough) that is necessary for a successful loaf of bread or pizza crust.
Because gluten is a protein, it’s a very common ingredient in vegetarian meat substitutes. Most vegetarian chicken substitutes contain gluten. Seitan, a common vegetarian protein is predominately gluten. You can even buy gluten in a powdered form, often referred to as vital wheat gluten. This product is in the baking section of most grocery stores and can be used when baking with flours that are gluten-free, such as rice, quinoa, amaranth or oat flours. Adding this powdered gluten can help you achieve a similar texture to baked goods made with wheat, rye, or barley, making it a very useful baking product.
Do you know individuals avoiding gluten? Do you think they have a clear understanding of what gluten is?