What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein in Wheat, Barley or Rye seeds.

Wheat gluten is also known as seitan.

Chinese: min jin or mien chin or mien ching.

Wheat Gluten as a foodstuff is believed to have originated in ancient China, as a substitute for meat.

In China there are three main forms - oily fried, steamed. and baked.

In Japan wheat gluten is called fu: Raw is nama-fu, while dry baked is yaki-fu.

In Vietnam, wheat gluten is called m cang or m can.

In the US it was popularized by vegetarians in the "macrobiotic diet".

Powdered gluten is sold in health-food stores as "vital wheat gluten" or "gluten flour".

"Tofurky" imitation turkey is made of seitan

Commercially wheat gluten it is used a as an added ingredient in bread, where it improves shelf life. Wheat gluten is also used in many other products as a texture enhancer. Artificial crab, called Surimi, can be made with wheat gluten serving as the base material, since it produces the expected characteristic mouth-feel of real crab.

But what IS wheat gluten? It is a protein, meaning that it is a chain made from nineteen different amino acids and an imino acid. The chain is quite long, and because of the shapes and electrical charges of the amino acid molecules, and also because of the way the amino acids are connected (called a peptide bond), the chain likes to coil and fold, forming structures that are held together by the attraction of charges on the 'outside' of the amino acid molecules.

The protein shapes assume a structure that then folds into a structure of structures and even into tertiary structures. The shape of the foldings is that which has the least amount of energy. Since there are very few ways that proteins fold achieveing the least amount of energy, the sequences of amino acids in the chain determines the ultimate shape of the resulting bit of protein.

As a practical illustration of protein folding and unfolding, consider the white of an egg. Egg white (actually quite clear as a raw liquid) is primarily water and nearly pure protein. In its original form the protein is coiled and folded. Place it into a bowl and begin to stretch the coils using a motorized spinning metal wire loop (a whip). As the whip moves through the liquid, it stretches the liquid, which stretches the coiled up proteins, eventually forcing them to become long (very long) strings instead of coils of coils. When enough protein has been made into strings, they become tangled so much that they no longer allow the mass to behave as a liquid - no more easy flowing, and interestingly, no more transparency, since the stiffer material traps many tiny bubbles of air, which prevent light from traveling in a straight line through the material.

So gluten protein is very much like any other protein, in that it is a chain of only twenty kinds of molecules. All life as we know it involves proteins. Proteins are the main constituent of muscle tissue, where it can be induced to change length with a tiny electrical command signal from a neuron. Proteins are a building material for cells, where they provide shape and sructure. Proteins are a vital tool in the defensive systems that protect our own bodies from invasion by outsiders. Proteins are a basic material of life, employed by animals as well as plants.