TASTE

Here's What Gluten Really Does To Your Food

04/16/2015 11:57 am ET

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last five years, you're familiar with the term gluten. Whether you're gluten-free or a gluten freak, you know it's a buzzy word in the food and health world, and you may even know how it affects the body. But do you actually know what gluten does to your food?

In a video called "The Science Of Good Cooking: A Closer Look at Gluten," the folks at America's Test Kitchen decided to investigate just how much of a difference gluten makes in baking, and what exactly that difference looks like.

Before conducting the experiment, video host Dan Souza of Cook's Illustrated explains that gluten is a collection of proteins found in wheat flour. All wheat flour contains the two proteins glutenin and gliadin, and when water is added to flour, glutenin and gliadin bond together to form "an elastic network of proteins" called gluten.

One critical characteristic of gluten is that it can trap air and puff up like a balloon, which is why bread rises. But just how much gluten acts like a balloon may surprise you.

To get a better look at how gluten affects baking, Souza makes two visually similar balls of dough: one incorporating high-protein bread flour, which produces a lot of gluten, and one using low-protein cake flour. He then washes away the starch content from the two balls of dough, leaving what are essentially balls of pure gluten. Here's where things get stunning.

The highly glutenous dough made with bread flour is incredibly elastic and malleable. The low-gluten dough is small and weak and barely stretches at all before breaking.

What Souza does next will forever be ingrained in your head. Check out the video above to see what happens when he treats highly glutenous dough like a balloon and fills it up with air. Bread may never look the same.

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