Gluten: What is it? And what grains contain gluten?

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Short answer: it is a protein that’s found in wheat, wheat variants, barley, and rye. These grains appear in many of the foods we eat.

But I am chagrined! It seems that I, the doctor on the team, was destined to write the six pages in our gluten-free book called:

So what’s the problem with gluten? For whom? A wee bit of science

But my “wee bit of science” never tells our readers exactly what gluten is! So my apologies for that. Maybe I should ask Jimmy Kimmel if I can be in his “What is Gluten? video (not to single out Angelenos, but they don’t seem to know, and I didn’t help matters):

The longer answer: Gluten is formed when two proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye (gliadin and glutenin)–are mixed with water. It’s gliadin that causes the immune reaction in celiac disease. Plant scientists call these “storage proteins” because they serve as the protein source for the emerging seedling (remember that these foods are seeds).

Even if you understand what gluten is, and the fact that it’s found in wheat, barley and rye, you may not know all the varieties of wheat that don’t contain the word “wheat” in their name. Here is a longer list of grains that are genetically related to wheat and contain gluten. Remember, many foods contain hidden gluten sources based on these grains:

Wheat (all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour, wheat bran, wheat germ, graham flour, pastry flour)

Barley and barley malt

Bulgur

Durum

Einkorn

Emmer

Faro (sometimes spelled farro)

Freekeh

Kamut

Khorosan

Rye

Semolina

Spelt

Sprouted wheat, sprouted wheat flour

Triticale

Yeast brands that contain enzymes or dough enhancers which enhance wheat doughs. Most yeast brands are fine. These enzymes/enhancers are often derived from wheat, so check to be sure your yeast is labeled “gluten free.”

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8 thoughts on “Gluten: What is it? And what grains contain gluten?

  1. Oats still have an adverse affect on some people. I googled and found this: the Canadian Celiac Association’s professional advisory board has developed a position statement on using pure, uncontaminated oats. It says that adults with celiac can safely consume half to three-quarters of a cup (50 to 70 grams) of dry rolled oats per day. For children, it’s one-quarter cup (20 to 25 grams) per day. Source: http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/ask-the-celiac-expert-are-oats-ok/

    1. The main problem with oats is cross-contamination with wheat, and that’s made the guidelines from expert panels difficult to understand. They’re saying it’s OK to eat a generous portion of (pure and GF-certified) oats, even for celiacs (3/4 cup will boil up to a very full bowl). Oats’ storage protein (avenin) is not related to gluten, so this makes sense. But if the expert panels felt it was harmful, why would they allow celiacs to eat so much of it? As always though, I never argue with success– if someone says they feel better off oatmeal, I’d tell them to stay off oatmeal.

      And biopsy-proven celiacs should stick with pure gluten-free oats, not conventional oats. Gluten-free oats are not processed or grown in close proximity to wheat. That’s the real problem, not the oats itself.

  2. I was wondering about wheat grass. I am not celiac but have adverse reactions to gluten and to best on a gluten-free diet. I have a protien drink mix that I would like to continue using but have noticed that I have a little bit of a reaction to it and the major ingredient is wheat grass.

    Does wheat grass produce the same gluten reaction as wheat?

    1. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by Googling this question, the answer to your question is all over the board. Unfortunately, we’re not experts in this area and I’m not comfortable answering the question. I like the web-based information at the Chicago Celiac Center (University of Chicago)– that site is http://www.cureceliacdisease.org/

  3. Any suggestions on using sprouted whole wheat flour? I use the peasant bread recipe from artisan bread and wondered if it would be a 1:1 substitution for wheat. Have you tested any recipes with it?
    Thanks for a great book – I never thought I had the time and patience for bread and now I make it several times a week.

  4. I started making your bread with spelt flour because it seems to help my daughters tummy aches. I’ve been making the 100% whole wheat bread from New Artisan Bread in 5 (the recipe with no vital wheat gluten), using whole grain spelt, reducing the liquid to 1 1/3 cup each of water and milk, and adding two eggs…it is really good! After a few days the dough gets really soft – almost batter like – but the bread is even better than early loaves. Even my picky husband likes it!

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