Friday Food Facts: Gluten

I’ve decided to start a series called “Friday Food Facts”. It will be a learning opportunity for all of us, but mostly for me (yes, very self-serving, I know…). Once a week, I will research (meaning I will google and Wikipedia) a food related topic and post what I’ve learned here. I’m really excited about this and I hope you will find it interesting too. 🙂

Today’s topic is about the all mighty GLUTEN. Gluten is what gives bread and baked goods their final form and texture. 

But what is gluten exactly? It is actually a protein composite of gliadin and glutenin, which are two naturally occurring proteins found in wheat and other related grains. Gliadin and glutenin are both insoluble in water, but gliadin is soluble in alcohol while glutenin is not. When water is added to flour, these proteins form hydrogen bonds with water molecules and create gluten. Mechanical work, such as kneading, creates more bonds among the protein strands forming the gluten network, making the dough stronger and more elastic. The structure of the gluten network allows it to trap carbon dioxide, produced by yeast and other leavening agents, and allowing the dough to rise.

The amount of gluten formed affects the texture of the baked goods. More gluten creates chewier products such as bread and bagels, while less gluten yields tender baked goods such as cakes and pastries. This is why care should be taken to avoid overmixing cake batter to create tender crumbs. Less kneading and very small amount of water added to pie dough creates tender and flaky crust.

You will see recipes that call for the addition of alcohol from time to time; I suspect this is not just for the flavor but also to take advantage of gliadin solubility in alcohol. This will inhibit the formation of gluten to create tender and flaky products.

There you have it, a simple take on gluten. Happy Friday!

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