Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Q&A - Vital Wheat Gluten

Lydia asked a question last week about vital wheat gluten. Since it is a question I have received repeatedly, I thought I'd answer it here instead of in the comments.

First Lydia's question:

What is the vital wheat gluten you talk about? Where do you get it? Is it anything like dough enhancer?

Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat flour. Depending on the type of wheat and kind of flour, gluten is found in larger or smaller amounts. Gluten is what allows bread to rise to the light airy loaves that we are accustomed to. Hard wheat is high in protein and gluten. Soft wheat is low in gluten.

In flour products, vital wheat gluten (or just vital gluten) has the highest levels of protein, about 75%. It is not to be confused with high gluten flour which is flour with high gluten levels. High gluten flour is especially good for bagel and pretzel making. Bread flour is also high in gluten and is good for making (surprise!) bread. All purpose flour is a mixture of hard and soft wheat and good for a variety of baked goods. Cake or pastry flour is good for cakes, biscuits, and anything made with baking soda or powder.

When to use vital gluten

I add vital gluten to bread to improve the texture and elasticity of bread. When using white bread flour, vital gluten is not necessary. But when using whole grains, vital gluten can improve the texture dramatically. To quote Peter Reinhart "The bran fiber in the whole grain flour, while extremely beneficial in our diet, acts like little razors in the dough, cutting the thin gluten strands. This makes it difficult for the loaf to rise as high as white flour loaves."

Rye, oatmeal and other grains are low in gluten and can improve with the addition of some extra gluten. Also in bread containing seeds, dried fruit or nuts, vital gluten can boost the gluten development.

How to use vital gluten

Too much vital gluten can harm the bread's flavor. A little goes a long way. As a rule of thumb, use 1 or 2 tsp per cup of flour. In most recipes, I add 2 or 3 T of vital gluten along with the flour.

When not to use vital gluten

Vital gluten is only needed in yeast breads. Do not use vital gluten in quick breads like banana bread, or muffins, biscuits, or any bread that uses baking soda or powder for the leavening ingredient. In these baked items, you do NOT want to encourage gluten development.

Another time NOT to use vital gluten is if you are cooking for someone with a gluten allergy. The reason should be obvious!

Where to find vital gluten

I purchase vital gluten at my local bulk food store. You will find it with the other flours, usually in a small quantity. I have found it online at King Arthur's Flour and Bob's Red Mill. Hodgsons Mill brand is found on Amazon and I think I've seen it before at Walmart.

Is it like dough enhancer?

Dough enhancer usually contain vital gluten along with other ingredients that improve the texture of yeast breads. You can make your own dough enhancer with this recipe.

Did I answer all your questions?
If you have been disappointed by your whole grain bread, vital gluten is one of the secrets of the commercial bakery, and may be worth trying! If you think that whole grain bread has to look like a hockey puck, you may be surprised! I think it really does help the quality of bread!

5 comments :

  1. I have to tell you i just found your blog today and im in love with it! So inspirational. thanks a bunch!

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  2. Thank you for explaining this so well Gina. I've used is as it was called for in my Rye Bread recipe and a few others but had no idea what it was for. I store mine in a Mason jar in the fridge & got it at our local grocery store - Bob's Red Mill brand. I'm really enjoying your questions posts :)

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  3. Thanks, that really helped. And I know it took a lot of time to type that all up!!

    I am wondering though...do you know if it would work if I replaced the dough enhancer in my recipe with wheat gluten? I'm tempted to try it if I can find the gluten at my bulk food store.

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  4. Lydia -
    I don't know how much dough enhancer your recipe calls for - but I think you could substitute if you wished!
    Give it a try!
    Gina

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  5. Gina, very informative and helpful post! I quit using vital wheat gluten about a year or so ago when I thought I might have celiac disease, but it turns out things are fine and I don't. (Yeah, my body is back to normal - not sure what was going on at the time.). Anyway, I have never added it back in. I notice how lovely and beautiful all your breads look. Perhaps I should give it a try again.

    I just have to share - I got a chance to take a seminar class from Peter Rheinhart and make some bread with him. What fun!! I learned a lot as this guy REALLY knows bread!

    ReplyDelete

I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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