Gluten Peculiar to Wheat

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

A hundred years ago, much of the wheat (and wheat flour) in the United States was being shipped to Europe to feed the troops in World War I.  Cooks were trying to figure out how to successfully bake bread while using little or no wheat.  Here’s a question and answer about the gluten in wheat which appeared in a 1918 magazine.

Gluten Peculiar to Wheat

Question: Will you please give me a list of the various flours now on the market as wheat substitutes with their gluten content. What combination of these flours will yield the lightest loaves of bread if made without any wheat whatever? Is it necessary to use more yeast than with the same amount of wheat flour? Is it true that breads made from these flours are less digestible than bread made from wheat flour?

Miss A.C.P., Vt.

Answer: Practically none of the cereals, except wheat, contains gluten. Even wheat does not contain gluten until the flour is moistened. Two of the constituents of wheat, glutenin and gliadin, then unite to form gluten. Gluten it the best agent in ordinary flours to hold the gas bubbles which make light or leavened bread. Other cereals which have properties permitting aeration are rye and oatmeal.

All the substitutes for wheat are benefited from the point of view of palatability by mixing in a certain amount of wheat flour. It is probable that more yeast is required with wheat substitutes than with wheat alone. Bread is not necessarily more wholesome when leavened but usually it is more palatable.

Biscuits (crackers) and unleavened breads are perfectly wholesome when well masticated, and are just as digestible as the more porous breads. The breads made from other cereals than wheat are not necessarily less digestible than wheat bread. The chief difficulty is that the art of making other breads has not been fully developed.

Good Housekeeping (September, 1918)

14 thoughts on “Gluten Peculiar to Wheat

  1. As one who has to eat GF, I can say they still have not perfected the art of making wheat free bread. Over the years wheat has been bred to have even more gluten, making cakes and breads lighter and fluffier.

    1. It’s interesting how the composition of wheat has changed across the years. It’s a little scary how selective breeding of plants can substantially change them over time.

  2. I laughed at myself when I read this. I was taken by surprise that people discussed gluten 100 years ago. There has been so much written about gluten-free diets in the last few years that, without thinking, I jumped to the conclusion it was something new. Duh! I should have known better.

  3. A WW1 project with local junior school children has been launched in church this week Sheryl. The aim is to give the children insight into how the people who stayed at home lived and managed. One thing most of them don’t understand is that there was no plastic packaging…. it seems very strange to them that a loaf of bread was not wrapped at all. I will pass your comments about wheat and bread on to them

    1. What a fun project! It’s amazing how much has changed across the years. Plastic wasn’t around until after WWII. Your comment made me wonder when they started wrapping bread in cellophane. I googled it and found that cellophane was introduced during the 1920’s.

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