While procrastinating on Facebook yesterday, I came across a very amusing video clip from a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! that Huffington Post so cleverly highlighted on its blog. In it, mostly shirtless men first admit adhering to a gluten-free diet regimen and then - the amusing part- basically admit that they have no idea what gluten really is i.e. they have no clue what they're trying to avoid in cutting wheat-based products like pasta, bread and, of course, cookies, out of their diets.
The video got me thinking: do I really know what gluten is, either? I realized my education on the topic was pretty much limited to my experiences in pastry school in which we'd try to avoid this seemingly evil 'thing' that would cause our tarte, pie or laminated doughs to become springy and hard to work with. I knew gluten was something like 'strands' of proteins or 'strings' of something else that would essentially have an adverse affect on the resulting texture of whatever I was trying to make.
So, inspired by this video and in lieu of the fact that Marlo's Bakeshop has soft-launched it's gluten-free banana bread flavor, I figured now was as an appropriate time as ever to really get to the bottom of the question: what IS gluten?
Enter the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia (hey, it got me through college...). As per the most recently updated definition, gluten is- from Latin gluten- meaning glue. Ok, makes sense. Moving on. Gluten is "a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.." See, I told you! Who wants chewy pie dough?
The entry proceeds to discuss the prevalence of gluten sensitivity and intolerance in the US and the serious health risks it can pose to those afflicted.
So, in summary: yes, it's a protein derivative. Yes, it's from wheat (and related species). Yes, you should avoid most beers, pastas & traditional breads if you're living gluten-free. Fortunately, you don't need to live Marlo-free though anymore. Phew.
Now we can all go around shirtless, comfortable in the knowledge that if we're ever stopped by a reporting while running in the park, we will sound informed and more aware of what we're trying to avoid...and why!