Gluten is a funny-sounding word, but it will become one of the most important words in your vocabulary. It sounds like glue, and it acts like glue. Most people, unless they are a chef or baker, don’t know what gluten is. So, if you have never heard of gluten before, you’re not alone. But this one word changes your life forever when you must avoid eating it. Get ready to be a gluten-buster!
Gluten is a storage protein found in several grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Gliadin is the fragment of the gluten-chain that can’t be digested by those with celiac disease or nonceliac gluten intolerance. Gluten becomes sticky when moistened by other ingredients or the digestive juices in your body, and is naturally more difficult than most foods for the body to digest. Gluten helps hold things together. For example, the gluten in wheat flour helps give bread dough its viscosity and malleability, giving bread its structure and chewiness.
Wheat is the largest grain family and has many gluten cousins of different names, which you’ll learn about. You’ll need to look out for all members of the gluten-family tree.
While oats in their pure state do not contain gluten, they are often avoided because of cross-contamination with gluten, namely wheat, in the manufacturing process. Oats also have a unique protein, or peptide, that is believed by some to be similar to gluten. (See “What’s the scoop on oats?” on page 59.)
Grains containing gluten are eaten whole and are also processed into flours and other substances that are used to make hundreds of thousands of foods around the world. As you begin your quest in avoiding gluten, you’ll find that it’s much like water: gluten is virtually everywhere. Gluten is sneaky and has many different disguises. If you don’t look carefully, you will miss it.