Gluten - the good and the bad

With the number of cases of celiac disease rising around the world, gluten-free foods are quickly becoming a trend - what's all the fuss about?

November 3, 2011 12:00
From ‘The Perfect Finish’

Coffee cake 521. (photo credit: Marcus Nilsson)


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When we first became familiar with gluten, the protein in wheat, we considered it the best part of the grain, and it has become a staple in our kitchen. Wheat gluten, sometimes referred to as seitan, a Japanese-derived term that originated in macrobiotic cooking, is widely used by vegetarians as a protein source. In Chinese vegetarian cooking, wheat gluten is used as a substitute for meat, and a grand variety of faux-meats like veggie chicken, veggie beef and veggie duck often have gluten as their major component.

Gluten is what makes wheat flour so useful for making breads, cakes and pastries. In baking classes, we learned that gluten helps to give breads and cakes good structure so they don’t become too crumbly or fall apart when sliced. The gluten content of flour is especially important for yeast-leavened baked goods, for which the dough has to stretch as it rises; bread flour is known as high-protein or high-gluten flour. Lack of gluten is why cakes made with potato starch often have a dry, crumbly texture.


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