Is it the Vital Wheat Gluten that is now being added to almost every bread on the grocery store shelves?
Is it the hidden GMOs in the ingredients?
Is it the breeding methods adopted over time that have changed the genetic makeup of wheat leading to tenfold increases in yields from that of only a century ago?
Is it the rancidity that takes place in freshly ground whole grain flour that is stored unrefrigerated - or the chemical preservatives used to keep it from quickly turning rancid?
Is it the dough conditioners and additives and artificial colors that are used to help create the illusion of a big bold healthy/hearty/whole grain loaf of bread?
Is it the synthetic vitamins that are added to replace the ones destroyed in the refinement and milling process?
Is it the hormone-like substance or “plant growth regulators” that are being applied to the wheat?
Is it the collection bins sprayed with insecticides and or perhaps it’s the fumigation method (a toxic concentration of gas) used to remove any pests from the grain bins?
Is it poor soil preparation or a lack of a good crop rotation plan?
Is it the use of herbicides and pesticides?
Is it the disappearance of the old fashioned stone grinding method that has been replaced by high speed steel roller mills?
Is it the lack of using a cooled air drying system to dry the grain that causes the protein in the grain to become damaged?
Is it the preservatives that are added to bread to increase shelf life?
When you pick up a loaf of bread in the grocery store, more often than not you will find paragraphs of ingredients on the back panel. It seems bizarre that a loaf of bread would have so many ingredients when, in general, all you need to make a loaf of bread are a few basic, easily recognized items such as flour, yeast, water and salt.
This series deals significantly in added ingredients - what they are and why they are used. So let's start with Vital Wheat Gluten since gluten is by far a hot button in our time.
Most people understand that gluten is naturally found in wheat and other grains (which is true) but did you know that any given loaf of bread you find on a supermarket shelf could and probably does contain extra gluten? It happens more often than you might think.
What is Vital Wheat Gluten?
Vital Wheat Gluten is an additive made from the protein (aka gluten) found in wheat. Vital Wheat Gluten basically looks like flour but it is 100% gluten with little to no starch.
It is not technically flour but it is made from wheat flour that has been washed with water to activate the gluten. Then processed to remove everything except that gluten. It is then dried and ground into a powder (the kitchn).
So what we're dealing with here is a powerfully concentrated gluten powder made from wheat.
Why is Vital Wheat Gluten Used in Bread?
Something you need to know is that Ancient Grain flours are notoriously hard to work. The chemical makeup of the gluten in ancient grains makes it different from that of modernized wheat(s).
Our Heirloom Spelt, for instance, does contain gluten but the gluten is very fragile. This makes it great for digestion purposes but hard for bakers to handle and even harder for companies to mass produce without added ingredients.
Vital Wheat Gluten is added to breads and other baked goods because it helps "provide the strength and elasticity necessary to endure the often brutal process of commercial mixing" (The New Yorker) Plus it helps produce a fluffy, light textured loaf of bread and has become somewhat of a crutch in the baking industry.
The presence of Vital Wheat Gluten in an Ancient Grain bread or even a "whole wheat" bread should arouse your suspicions on where and how it was produced. "It is not possible to manufacture, package, and ship large amounts of industrially made 'whole grain' bread without adding something to help strengthen the dough" (The New Yorker).
Not only does Vital Wheat Gluten keep a loaf of bread pretty and make it easy to mass produce - but it also increases shelf life and acts as a binder making it a hot commodity.
Vital wheat gluten is frequently found in breads, cereals, crackers and pastas but it also resides in foods you may not have suspected. It is staple used in the production of meat and meat substitutes. And a study in 2010, found gluten and other wheat byproducts in almost 1/3 of processed food products in grocery stores (Mother Jones). And that was nearly 6 years ago!
Could Vital Wheat Gluten Be Making Us Sick?
The short answer is: we just don't know..... yet.
Gluten is one of the most widely consumed proteins on Earth. Humans have been eating it for thousands of years but it definitely seems like in the last 50+ years we've had a rise in gluten sensitivity. This seems strange but if you consider the fact that companies have basically been adding a powerful, extra concentrated gluten to foods (and breads) for mass producing purposes - suddenly it doesn't seem so odd. Unfortunately, the bread of today really isn't the bread of our grandparents.
There are currently studies on Vital Wheat Gluten and its effect on the immune system and on our bodies processes in general and you can bet we'll be keeping an eye out as new research becomes available.
What to Know About Berlin Natural Bakery
You will NEVER find Vital Wheat Gluten as an ingredient in any of our products. In fact, our breads contain less than 7 ingredients with our Sourdough Spelt literally only containing 3 - whole spelt flour, water and sea salt.
None of our breads are mass produced. They are made in small batches of 100 loaves at a time with ingredients even your grandparents would recognize.
Remember, Vital Wheat Gluten is simply one piece of a complicated puzzle. We'll definitely be exploring the other facets of this mystery so stay tuned for next week's article which will feature where hidden GMOs might be in bread and other typical grocery store products.
Atchison, Gates & Head (2010) Wheat as Food, Wheat As Industrial Substance; Comparative Geographies of transformation and mobility - http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016718509001195
Christensen, Emma (2009) Vital Wheat Gluten: What Is It and When Should It Be Used? - http://www.thekitchn.com/vital-wheat-gluten-what-is-it-84612
Philpott, Tom (2015) 4 Surprising Facts About Wheat and Gluten - http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/03/wheat-gluten-fructans-intolerance
Specter, Michael (2014) Against The Grain - http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/grain