Gluten is a component found in whole grains such as rye, barley and wheat. From the Latin term gluten, which means glue, gluten is the one responsible for the elastic feature of dough. This makes the baked products rise up and maintain their shape. Gluten also makes baked products chewy depending on the amount of gluten included in the batter.

Gluten, being a component of flour, may also be present in other products as flour can be found in traced amounts such as in dermatologic or cosmetic products and others. It is important to take note of the ingredients as any product with wheat, barley or rye may also have gluten in it.

Components of Gluten

Gluten is composed of two major parts: glutenin and gliadin. These two are joined by starch present in most grains and it is because of these that gluten is insoluble in water. Gluten is rich in protein and can be one of the richest non-meat sources of amino acids. It is in this case that wheat, barley and rye are rich in plant proteins as well. Rice and maize also contain gluten, but don’t have both glutenin and gliadin in them.

Uses of Gluten

As stated earlier, gluten is a special component of baked products that makes them chewy. When combined with yeast, it makes the dough rise. In addition, when the dough is baked, the complex network formed by gluten makes the baked product retain its shape.

While gluten generally makes a baked product chewy, refining it less can lead to a less chewy texture such as pastries. On the other hand, refining it  more will make the dough more chewy such as the consistency of pizza and refining it may require more kneading as this will increase the cross link between the flour making it more chewy in consistency.  Aside from kneading the dough less, adding shortening can prevent more crosslink making the finish product crunchier and less chewy such as in pie crusts.

Aside from using in baked products, is also added in artificial meats. Gluten absorbs water when cooked, which makes artificial meats firm and more similar to true meats.

Gluten Sensitivity

There are a number of people with inborn sensitivity to gluten. Some may develop an allergic reaction to it, which can range from mild to life-threatening.

Celiac disease is a specific condition involving gluten intolerance resulting from the inability of the body to digest and absorb gluten in the body leading to signs and symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and poor growth and development of the child.

Those with gluten sensitivity should not only avoid food products that usually have gluten in them such as baked goods, but other food as well that may contain traces of gluten. These include soy sauce, beer, ketchup, ice cream and others.

People who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity tend to develop symptoms even with small amount gluten. This prompted authorities to require a “gluten-free” label to ensure it is safe to consume by people with problems with the compound.