Gluten is a protein made from natural components of wheat flour. Wheat flour is used to make a majority of breads and baked goods that you can find on the market today. Most people eat wheat flour products with no problem, but there is a segment of the population who have trouble digesting this gluten protein.
Most people digest gluten just fine. Unfortunately, some folks can’t tolerate gluten and their bowels have difficulty processing it. This causes discomfort and even pain when gluten is eaten and not properly digested. Celiac disease is the name given to the condition where gluten can’t be tolerated. People suffering from celiac disease must learn about gluten and what food products should be avoided. Damage to the intestines can occur if gluten is consumed by sensitive individuals.
Gluten is formed during the processing of flour to make dough. Glutenin and gliadin are water-soluble proteins found naturally in wheat flour. When these proteins are subjected to water, or another liquid, and mixed, gluten is formed. The kneading process and stirring or mixing the dough will form strands of gluten. These strands crosslink and form a sort of mesh which traps gas bubbles formed by the action of the yeast. As gas is produced it is trapped by the mesh network of gluten strands. When heated in an oven the gas expands which rises the dough further. This forms the structure of the bread that we see as many little holes in a slice of bread.
There is a whole segment of flour production geared toward making products for people who are sensitive to gluten. The kind of wheat used to make flour for gluten-free products is a soft wheat with a lower protein content than what is used to make regular flour. Low-protein wheat is blended with non-wheat grains that have very little or none of the proteins that form gluten. Blended and alternative flours are the basis of many baked goods marketed to people who cannot tolerate gluten in their diets. Alternative flours that won’t form gluten include barley flour, brown and white rice flour, potato flour, soy and soya flours, rye flour and triticale flour.
For most of us gluten is a welcome protein that we consume on a regular basis. It is found in breads, cakes, baked goods, and most food items made with wheat flour. For the people who can’t tolerate gluten, gluten-free products are available in supermarkets, specialty bakeries, and health food stores.