Gluten, derived from the Latin term ‘gluten’ denoting ‘glue’, is basically a kind of protein that is present in all the foodstuff that is prepared from wheat and other associated species, such as rye, barley and even oats. This protein composite provides the dough with spring enabling it to increase while maintaining its form. In addition, usually gluten also provides the resultant product a fibrous surface or consistency.
Since incidents of recognized gluten susceptibility are on the rise, several foods in the Western countries are presently labeled to identify if they enclose gluten or not.
In fact, gluten is a compound comprising a glutelin and a prolamin that are found together with starch in the endosperm (the nutritive substance in the seeds of flowering plants) of an assortment of grains of plants belonging to the grass species. Gliadin is a substance that is soluble in water, while glutenin (comprising glutelin and prolamin present in wheat) does not dissolve in water. Together these substances comprise approximately 80 per cent of the protein present in a wheat seed. As prolamin and glutenin are not soluble in water, it is possible to distill them by carry away the associated starch. All over the globe, gluten forms the supply of protein – in terms of directly from foods made from substances enclosing it as well as a preservative of foods which are not rich in protein content.
As aforementioned, majority of the seeds of the flowering plants possess endosperms that are storehouses of proteins used to provide nourishments to the embryonic plants during their germination phase. However, real gluten, comprising glutenin and gliadin, are only found in some specific plants belonging to the grass family. Occasionally, the protein accumulated in rice and maze is also known as glutens. However, the proteins enclosed by these varieties of grass plant grains/ seeds are different from the gluten contained in wheat, as they do not enclose gliadin.
Rinsing flour to wash away the starch is the most common method to obtain gluten. In fact, starch dissolves in water, while gluten is insoluble and firmly attaches together. Therefore, washing flour with flowing cold water helps to obtain gluten, while removing starch. On the other hand, using saline solution rather than plain cold water, helps to obtain more unpolluted protein, as the other harmless impurities in the flour washes away with starch. Nevertheless, in industrial processes, cold water is preferred to saline solution because starch is a major product. In order to quicken the process of separating starch from flour, sludge of wheat flour is fiercely swirled using machinery till the entire starch present in the flour liquefies, while the gluten fuses into a mass that is later gathered by a process called centrifugation. Subsequently, gluten is processed by machinery through various stages that come together as a single constant process.
Around 65 per cent of the water content in damp gluten is done away with using a process called the screw press, while the remaining water is squirted using an atomizer nozzle inside an aeration chamber, wherein it is maintained at a very high temperature for as much time as is required for the remaining water to evaporate without changing the form of gluten in any manner. Following the completion of the entire process, we obtain a powdery substance similar to flour having just seven per cent moisture. The resultant powder is air cooled quickly and transported pneumatically to another receiving vessel. In the concluding step, the gluten collected from wheat flour is separated using a filter and grounded mechanically with a view to have a homogeneous product.
Uses of gluten
- Bread products
- Gluten is present in all bread products in the form of glutenin molecules that cross-link to fashion a sub-microscopic linkage and relates to gliadin, the latter adding thickness as well as malleability to the blend. When this dough is mixed with yeast, the resultant fermentation of sugar gives rise to carbon dioxide bubbles that are shut in by the gluten network causing the dough to inflate or expand. In effect, the process of baking thickens the gluten that together with starch helps to make the form of the end product stable. It may be mentioned that the gluten present in bread is known to be the main factor for the decay of bread – perhaps owing to the fact that it attaches to water by means of hydration.
When you develop the elasticity or malleability of gluten, it has an impact on the consistency of the baked foods. The elasticity that gluten is able to achieve is comparable to the amount of low weight glutenins it contains since that small percentage encloses the majority of the sulfur atoms that are accountable for the cross-linking in the linkage. Further enhancement of gluten results in fibrous products, such as bagels and pizza. On the other hand, when gluten is not developed beyond a certain level, it provides soft baked foods. Usually, bread flours have rich gluten content, while cake flours are low in gluten content. In effect, kneading the dough enhances the gluten strands and cross-link formation. Therefore, the extent of fibrousnesses of a baked product depends on the amount of time spent on kneading the dough. The more the dough is kneaded, the more chewy or fibrous the baked product is. In addition, augmented wetness of the dough also improves the development of gluten making the dough more supple and thick. On the other hand, less wetness of the dough actually slows down the development of cross-links among the molecules. Therefore, gluten is generally used with lesser water and nominal working to obtain soft baked products – a product that is soft as well as flaky like pie crust.
- Additional gluten
- When gluten is dehydrated and pulverized into a powdered form and added to any regular flour dough, it facilitates enhancing the inflation or rising of the bread and, at the same time, provides it with steadiness as well as fibrousnesses. In order to make the dough rise to its optimum capacity, the dough added with gluten needs to be worked robustly. Therefore, one may require a food processor or a bread machine to knead the dough vigorously. The additional gluten to the dough supplies extra protein to the bread, which would have otherwise remained a carbohydrate-rich food preparation.
- Imitation meats
- It is important to note that gluten, particularly wheat gluten, forms the base for all imitation meats or meat substitutes (also known as mock meat) that resemble fish, chicken, pork, duck (mock duck) and also beef in terms of flavour, texture and all other aspects. In Japan, imitation meat is known as yakifu, namafu and seitan. Cooking these substitute or imitation meats in a broth/ stock enables gluten to soak up some of the liquid from it and turns out to be firm to biting. Therefore, gluten is widely used in vegan, vegetarian as well as Buddhist gastronomy as a substitute for meat.
Who needs a gluten free diet?
People who are suffering from the celiac disease (a disease pertaining to the abdomen) ought not to consume foods enclosing gluten, as this disease obstructs the digestion of gluten. Moreover, they should take gluten-free diet with a view to thwart celiac disease. At the same, time they should be careful while consuming grains which do not enclose gluten, especially teff and oats, since these grains are also cultivated close to the plants that yield grains containing gluten or are milled in the same containers that are used to process grains enclosing gluten. It may be noted that in case the disease is not treated adequately, it can turn out to be life-threatening. Catholics who are suffering from celiac disease should exercise especial caution since the wheat enclosing gluten is an essential element in the wafers that are used for a number of their religious services.
In addition to celiac patients, people who have been suffering from dermatitis herpetiformis (a chronic form of dermatitis) should also avoid foods containing gluten. This is primarily because this health condition causes prickly blistering eruptions on the skin owing to the patient’s susceptibility to gluten. In most dermatitis herpetiformis patients, this sensitivity also has an impact on the small intestine and this may eventually result in a meek type of celiac disease. Taking diet that does not enclose gluten ultimately helps to heal the rashes on the skin and, at the same time, gluten-free diet is considered to be an effective therapy for celiac disease. Therefore, such people ought to continue taking a gluten-free diet throughout their life.
It may be mentioned here that there are several groups of individuals who follow a gluten-free diet for numerous reasons. While some of them adopt a diet that does not enclose gluten owing to the direct adverse impact of the substance on their health, there are others who adhere to this diet with a view to assuage several dissimilar symptoms.
Precisely speaking, people enduring celiac disease would benefit most by taking gluten-free diet. In addition, a gluten-free diet may also prove to be helpful for people suffering from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism (unusual self-importance, typically affecting children), dermatitis (skin inflammation), fibromyalgia (a rheumatoid problem distinguished by throbbing muscle and headaches) as well as dermatitis herpetiformis (chronic dermatitis).