Gluten-free products are everywhere. From sliced bread to salad dressing, it seems nearly every food product has a gluten-free alternative these days. So what is gluten, where did it come from, and what is it doing in our food in the first place?
Well, it turns out gluten isn’t one thing: it’s multiple things. Gluten refers to a complex of proteins known as gliadin and glutenin found inside the endosperm of cereal grain. Whole grains are composed of three edible parts: the bran or outer layer, the germ or embryo, and the endosperm or food supply. When grains are processed and refined to yield products such as white flour, the bran and germ are removed, and we are left with a gluten-containing endosperm.
Gluten found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Inside the grain, it helps nourish the embryo so that the plant may grow. In flour, gluten provides elasticity to doughs and batters, thus giving bread its characteristic chewiness, and cakes their signature springiness.
Next week: why must some people avoid consuming gluten?