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What is Gluten and what does it do?

Gluten Free Deliciousness

Hello! You may be wondering what is gluten, or why people want to avoid it. If you have never felt poorly after eating a particular food, then I can totally understand your confusion! I sometimes wish I was in the group of people that could eat anything that’s available and move on with life, but alas.

What Is Gluten?

So that being said, gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, and actually most grains (wheat, corn, rice, etc). Gluten gives structure and texture. In wheat, with the correct amount of water and the right amount of work, gluten turns a pile of flour and water into the best, most tender cake you’ve tasted or the wonderfully chewy, holey, enjoyable loaf of bread that’s great when topped with good quality butter. I’m sure you noticed that I said the RIGHT amount of work. Most of us have had that slice of bread that is so chewy you spend 6 hours just trying to get it so you can swallow it, or that muffin that is so tough that no amount of blueberries in it or sugar sprinkled on top will ever make it enjoyable. That is the joy of gluten!

What Does Gluten Do?

Gluten is actually a really cool thing. If you knead it just right, it becomes cohesive strands that will hold the gasses that yeast releases and turn into the beautiful loaves of bread you see in artisan shops, with lots of holes to hold tasty butter. Gluten can also give that structure that enables those hundreds of buttery layers in a croissant. Like many things, the good side also has a terrible side. If you overwork gluten those strands tighten down and turn your tender cake into something to make the birthday boy cry. That’s why you see in many cake and muffin recipes (where you are looking for tenderness) where it says to stir *just* until combined.

Grain Free or Just Gluten Free?

Ok ok, so I made you hungry and sad that you can’t eat gluten. Sorry! Let’s move on – so you know how I mentioned that gluten is in a lot of grains? Some people can eat other grains or varieties of wheat, and others cannot. You might say “Wait! That does not make sense, why can someone have one gluten and not another?!” Well thanks for asking! So here is the thing,

  1. The human body is super weird. That’s a lame answer, though.
  2. Gluten is actually made up of several parts, Gliadin and Glutenin. Gliadin is frequently the offending part. It is what helps make all the magic of bread happen, but in many people, myself included, it causes inflammation and irritation in the GI tract or in your joints and makes life miserable.

Since gliadin is typically the issue, many people are able to eat some other grains than wheat and not have any issues. Corn and rice are safe options for these people, whereas others may need to avoid all grains entirely. (We will talk about why going totally grain free might be the answer for those people soon.)

Have a tasty day,

Chris

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