What is Gluten Free?

July 01, 2021 3 min read

"As part of our ‘behind the scenes’ series, Delicious Alchemy’s Technical Director, Imran Afzal, explains what gluten is and what gluten free actually means.   Hi, my name’s Imran and I’m the Technical Director at Delicious Alchemy. I joined the business more than 3 years ago and I’m tasked with ensuring our products meet your expectations day in day out, as well working on new products. In this first of a series of blog posts, I’m going to try to explain what the science of gluten free is.  

What actually is Gluten?

Gluten is a complex combination of storage proteins found in wheat, rye and barley.  Their purpose in nature is to provide the seedling with food to grow. In wheat, the protein is called gliadin, in rye, it’s called secalin, and in barley, it’s called hordein.  Regardless of what they’re called, they have a rather unfortunate effect on about 1% of the population.  In these individuals, gluten triggers an immune response which sees gluten destroying the cell lining of the small intestine. This is known as coeliac disease. A gluten free diet is the only known treatment for people with the coeliac disease.  

Wheat seems to be everywhere

Since humans learnt to farm, we have grown crops that give us a pay-off.  That pay-off ultimately being energy.  The more skilled we became at growing crops, the more interested we became in putting those surplus crops to different uses. The use of wheat in particular is extraordinary.  Primarily milled as a flour, it can be the source of starches used in the food industry, as well as an ingredient in recipes.  It’s widely used in medicines, cosmetics and pet-food.  In fact if you look at the composition of some adhesives, you’ll likely find wheat there too.  

Why does Gluten matter?

Gluten has a magical property.  It’s not the sort of alchemy we’re into, quite the opposite, but one has to marvel. Gluten provides the viscoelastic properties for a dough.  These properties allow a bread to rise and trap the gas that is generated during the fermentation step.  It is a miracle of nature and if you take the gluten out of bread, you end up with a crumbly mess. When you remove gluten from bread, that rise does not happen.  The task at hand is to put something else in its place.  Now it gets interesting.  You have use to something else to make the bread rise and have a pleasant texture. It’s not just the rise that’s important but the bread has to look appealing and ultimately taste good. Trying to achieve all of that is quite a task but one we have taken on with our Gluten Free White Bread Mix and Gluten Free Brown Bread Mix.    

How can gluten be replaced?

Some of the ingredients that help solve the absence of gluten are:
  1. Starches which help provide texture
  2. Hydrocolloids that give elasticity and moisture retention
  3. Xanthan gum which lends a spring to the bread

What does Gluten Free actually mean?

So, having talked about gluten, what does gluten free mean?  Well, legally, for a food to be called gluten free it can have no more than 20 parts per million of gluten in it (20 ppm).  This is a concentration, so for every million parts there are 20 parts.  That is very low. Some experts have said taking in no more than 10mg of gluten per day constitutes a safe level for most coeliacs (not all).  So if someone ate gluten free pasta they could eat as much 500g of it per day.  If that gluten free pasta had less than 20ppm of gluten in it, then it would still be less than 10mg of gluten eaten.  So a safety buffer is in place. The number, 20 ppm, to determine gluten free was agreed by the European Union and came into effect at the start of 2012.  In the USA, it was also adopted and came into effect back in August 2014.  

Delicious Alchemy can help you become Gluten Free

Our handy guide to Gluten Free foods shows what foods do and don't help towards a gluten free diet. So, there you have it. I know that’s a lot to take in so thanks for sticking with me!   Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what gluten is, what impact gluten can have on some of us and, what gluten free means. If you have any questions for me, or want to know more on this particular post, then please drop an email to hello@deliciousalchemy.com"

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