WTF Is Gluten? Finally—A Definitive Answer
Does it seem like everybody you know is declaring that they're gluten-free? Some wonder if the number of people with celiac disease are on the rise or if it's the latest fad diet. And it even goes beyond food: now there are beauty products that tout themselves as being free of gluten.
Gluten is a complex topic. Simply put, it's a protein found in wheat and several wheat subspecies. When you add liquid to flour and stir, gluten is activated. Gluten gives bread its unmistakable chewy, elastic texture and fluffiness. It's the reason behind the airy, delicate crumb in good cakes.
Alas, when it comes to gluten, most people don't know what the heck they're talking about, as Jimmy Kimmel discovered:
Thank goodness America's Test Kitchen is here to show us dummies exactly what gluten is, how it works, and what it is "on a tangible level," as Dan Souza, senior editor of Cook's Illustrated put it.
Watch the video below and you'll see what happens when Souza makes two doughs: one with bread flour, which contains the highest amount of proteins that form gluten, and one with cake flour, which contains the least.
Next come two very graphic demonstrations: one in which he rinses away the starch in each dough to leave only the gluten behind in its purest form and another where he blows up the gluten from one dough like a balloon to demonstrates its elasticity.
Turns out the gluten in bread flour is necessary to help it rise and develop those nice, chewy, airy holes. In cakes, gluten gives cake a little bit of structure, but its presence in low amounts keeps the cakes delicate and tender.
All of which means you might think twice before swapping in one type of flour for another in different recipes—as well you should.
Would you go on a gluten-free diet?