Gluten-free bread, as anybody who’s tried it knows, is eaten more out of necessity than choice. People who live with Celiac disease, wheat allergies, and other digestive issues mostly have to grin and bear it, but thanks to the “gluten intolerance” fad, they might finally have bread with a better texture.
Gluten, a protein, is what gives baked goods its texture. When you mix it with water, it forms a network that gives you the crumb of delicious cakes and the springiness of bread. Grains without gluten, like buckwheat or rice, can be turned into bread, but the texture is going to taste odd, at best, and to get it closer, you’ll need to add various gums and other chemicals, none of which, as Celiac sufferers can tell you, quite measure up to the real thing.
The solution, found by Italian food scientists Virna Cerne and Ombretta Polenghi, is a protein found in corn called zein. Zein is fairly commonplace stuff, also called “corn gluten meal” despite having no gluten. If you’ve had any candy recently, you’ve probably eaten some of it, as it’s sold in the U.S. as “confectioner’s glaze.” The one downside is that zein is relatively fussy, so heat, pH, humidity and other factors will need to be exactly right for it to create a gluten-like structure.
Ironically, all the people who got worked up over the “yoga mat” chemical in Subway’s bread will have to reconcile using zein with the fact that it’s used as a food-safe coating on containers and can even be turned into clothes. But for people who can’t eat wheat products without pain, this will be great news.