Making Gluten

Did you know that the Chinese word for gluten literally means “muscle of flour?”  Neither did Just Bakery’s students, until they studied the chemistry, composition, and nutritional value of Flour in their Food Science class.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and is actually the largest naturally-occurring protein molecule. It is shaped like a spring, which is why it is responsible for giving bread its springy texture.  In dry flour, the gluten molecules are disconnected and disorganized; but when the flour is moistened with water and then kneaded into a bread dough, the molecules connect together and organize themselves.  The gluten forms a network that gets stronger the more the dough is kneaded.

As part of their lesson on flour, the students conducted an experiment to isolate gluten from the rest of the dough.  They started by mixing a basic dough of flour and water, and kneading it for ten minutes until the gluten network was nice and strong.  Then, they rinsed the dough repeatedly in bowls of cold water to dissolve away the starch.  The more starch dissolved away, the more the gluten was exposed, until all that was left was the gluten.  It looked like a big blobby brain or maybe a piece of meat—truly the muscle of the flour.

Although it looks unappetizing at first, gluten is actually used as a meat substitute or filler in many dishes.  It can be fried up with spices to make seitan, or used as a binder in veggie burgers.

…by Diana G…

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