Gluten — it has become somewhat of a controversy in the culinary world. Is it safe to consume? Is it really that important when baking?
While some recipes might avoid it, you’ll find that many actually call for it, especially when baking bread.
This post will explore more about what gluten is and why a recipe requires it.
Gluten is a wheat protein that helps bread rise and make it fluffy. But what might surprise you is how gluten itself is formed.
When growing, wheat will develop two essential proteins: glutenin and gliadin. Once harvested, the wheat is ground into flour that holds these two components. When you later mix a liquid into the flour, it will bind these two and create gluten.
As you work the dough, the proteins will slowly get mixed into it. The more you knead, the more gluten will be released throughout it.
When bread baking, you’ll likely come across vital wheat gluten. This contains nothing but gluten and is made by slightly moistening wheat to remove its gluten content which is later filtered out.
Be careful though not to confuse seitan with vital wheat gluten. While they might seem to be the same thing, there is a major difference.
While seitan is made from vital wheat gluten, you can’t always use it in bread recipes. Seitan is a protein but not the type needed for bread. It does contain vital wheat gluten but also water and occasional spices. Because of this, it’s not included in bread baking but rather vegetarian protein dishes.
Keep in mind that vital wheat gluten isn’t a gluten substitute. If you’re gluten-intolerant, you’ll want to consider an alternative, like xanthan gum, guar gum, or eggs.
Vital wheat gluten has a lifespan of six months once opened. However, an unopened and properly stored package can last for up to seven years.
Occasionally, a bread recipe might ask you to add gluten, especially if you’re using a low protein flour. By doing so, it encourages the mixture to rise and be less dense.
What recipes might call for gluten then? If one uses a soft wheat, like rye, it will likely recommend you sprinkle in a bit of gluten. While you don’t have to use it, you risk your bread being very heavy and flavorless.
Sometimes, additional gluten will also be necessary for sourdough. Gluten will boost its protein level to keep your starter healthy and encourage good fermentation. This will give you a tastier loaf and help the dough rise correctly.
The recipe will usually include the correct gluten measurement to add. But, if not, just remember that for every two cups of flour you’ll want to use a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten.
While gluten has its pros and cons, one thing’s for sure - most bread needs it. By using this information, you can better understand the science behind gluten and why even a small amount can drastically improve your loaf.
Whole wheat cinnamon swirl sourdough
For those who are sensitive or allergic to gluten, there are plenty of delicious bread recipes that are completely gluten-free: