Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Gluten-ous Maximus

Wow! I was talking with my mom recently about oats, and we were both wondering if oats contained gluten. I thought it would be interesting to do a post about gluten, but do you have any idea just how much information (legitimate or otherwise) is out there about gluten? You probably do. I figured there would be a lot, given the abundance of gluten-free hype and products these days. It’s pretty overwhelming, and much of it seems conflicting – like so many things (fats, sugars, meat, dairy, etc.)

What's in a flour? Depends on the flour, but all the flours in my bin contain gluten.
What’s in a flour? It depends on the flour, but all the flours in my bin contain gluten.

Let me re-ground myself. Here’s what I knew about gluten before. It is produced by two proteins in wheat flour when liquid is added and worked around. The more the dough is worked, the more gluten is formed. It gives breads their structure and strength. Hence why so many gluten-free things end up crumbly (in my experience).

Here is a very little bit of what I know now that I have tried to find more information about it. These proteins that produce gluten are present not only in wheat, but also in barley and rye flours; and there are A LOT of different varieties of wheat (spelt, semolina, kamut and graham to name a few). There are many conditions that can be aggravated by gluten, including celiac disease and many skin conditions. I’m not going to formulate any opinions or conclusions right now, as I have not done nearly enough reading to do so in a truly informed way. And I don’t have the time right now to read everything and decide what’s legitimate or not. It’s a lot to process. I do know that I really love bread, and am very grateful that I don’t have to worry too much about what I’m eating in that respect.

To the original question of oats, I learned that pure oats do not contain gluten (meaning the proteins that produce gluten), but they do contain another protein (avenin). However, many oat products cannot guarantee that they are totally gluten free, especially if they are processed in an environment that also processes wheat, barley or rye, so for people who have serious reactions to gluten they still need to pay close attention to package labels; and if you are preparing something for the gluten-free person at the party you’re going to, make sure the oats are pure, because it can only take a little bit of gluten to cause serious repercussions for some people; and a certain percentage of people with celiac disease actually react to the avenin in oats the same way they do to gluten, so if you’re not sure then it’s probably best not to use oats as a gluten free option.


Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

What is Red Flour?

My husband and I recently signed up for a local CSA, and in addition to the fruit and veggie boxes we get each week we can add various other locally produced items, such as honey, vinegar and flour. I was excited to try the flour, so we ordered a small bag of it this past week. It is a soft red flour. I haven’t actually had a chance to try it yet, but my husband asked why the flour was red, and I thought that would be a good topic this week.

Having bought most of my flour at the grocery store over the years, I hadn’t paid much attention to the type of flour, other than the obvious all-purpose (bleached or unbleached), cake and pastry, and whole wheat. Seeing this little bag of red flour made me remember learning about wheat in my classes, and that the different types of flour go deeper than just those basic grocery store offerings.

There are various combinations of hard wheats and soft wheats, red and white, winter and spring. Hard wheats have higher protein content, which produces more gluten and is better for breads. Soft wheats, as you can probably guess, have lower protein content, producing less gluten and giving a softer crumb, which is better for cakes, pastry and cookies – so that is what I will be making with my little bag of soft red flour. Red, which refers to the colour of the wheat berry as opposed to the interior of the grain used for flour, seems to be the most commonly grown wheat in North America. And winter and spring refer to the time of year they are harvested.

I won’t get into all the different types here today, but if you’re curious, there is a more detailed article about the different types of wheat flour here. I’m looking forward to baking with this flour soon and finding out how it compares to other flours I’ve used; especially knowing that it is produced locally, which I never realized was a possibility on the east coast of Canada. It may not be on the large production scale of the Prairies, but it’s nice to learn how diverse the local market can be.