What is Gluten?

Lately in the media, gluten has gotten a lot of attention.  Most of this has been in relation to gluten-free diets.  The conversation about gluten arose from an increase in the awareness and treatment of Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the intestines which can lead to numerous health issues.  Celiac is very serious and currently, the only treatment is a completely gluten free diet. 

With all of this attention being paid to gluten, it has gotten the attention of another audience outside of the medical community, dieters.  There is anecdotal evidence that going gluten-free can improve health and aid in weight loss.  All of the hype surrounding this food component begs the question: What exactly is gluten?

Baby Expressions

A good friend of mine sent me this question so I thought I would set the record straight.  Because gluten has been vilified in the media, she was under the impression that it was some kind of sugar that could really hurt your body.  MISCONCEPTION!


Gluten is actually the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.  Unless you have Celiac or a gluten intolerance( this is more similar to an allergy), then there isn’t scientific support for avoiding gluten.  If you do notice a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms (that’s dietitian for tummy troubles), mention it at your next doctors visit.  Celiac can go undiagnosed for a long time so its better to know.  That said, less than 1% of the population has celiac so if you have an upset stomach, don’t fear the worst. 

Gluten Collage


In baked goods, gluten is a vital component of any recipe.  It dictates texture and consistency.  When you knead dough, it activates the gluten.  A small amount of kneading results in very little activation which will lead to a lighter, airier bread.  Often low gluten flours are used for pastries.  On the other end, intense kneading will produce much more, which is used for denser breads that are chewier. 

Gluten can also be isolated from the rest of the bread and prepared as seitan.  It is commonly added to stir-fry and other Asian dishes as a source of vegetarian protein.  Try the experiment below to see how to isolate the gluten. 



To see the difference between pastry flour and bread flour try this experiment! We did it in my undergrad food science class and it was pretty neat. 

That’s all I have for you on gluten today and I hope that cleared up what gluten actually is. 

Do you have any tricks for kneading dough to get the right amount of gluten activation?


2 thoughts on “What is Gluten?

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