What the Heck is Gluten and Why Is It Trying to Kill Me?
Jo Ann LeQuang
The general proliferation of gluten-free products on grocery store shelves and the rising number of people announcing they want to avoid gluten alarms me. When I saw that even venerable Bisquick® has a gluten-free product amid the various pancake products, I realized that even people who are not into health foods—like the kind of people who peruse the syrup aisle and lace their non-whole-grain pancakes with chocolate chips—want to avoid gluten. This has led me to investigate gluten. I figure if something is trying to kill me, I ought to learn about it. The definition does not help much. Gluten is a protein composite made of gliadin and glutenin stuck together by starch. It is found in several grains, including wheat, which by the way, is found in everything. Trying to go 100% wheat-free in America is pretty much the same thing as going on an all-fruit-and-veggie diet. Gluten is the substance that makes bread dough stretchy and elastic. Altering the gluten changes the dough—highly refined gluten leads to chewy bagels and less-refined gluten produces pastry dough. For bakers, gluten is a big deal; they even measure its elasticity using a contraption called a farinograph. Because gluten is a protein, it is not in the same substance category as, say, cyanide. So why have people come to fear it? For years, everybody thought gluten was good news. Gluten is a source of protein and was sometimes added to food to boost its protein punch. Don’t think gluten is limited to bread products. It’s also used in cosmetics, beer, vitamins, soy sauce, ice cream, ketchup, and other unlikely products. The problem with gluten three-fold. First, some people are allergic to wheat and gluten goes everywhere wheat goes.