What is gluten?

Tempo de Leitura: 2 minutos

If you have questions about what gluten is, find out that it is the main protein of wheat grains. Gluten is a complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Similar storage proteins exist such as driline in rye, hordein in barley and avenins in oats and are collectively referred to as “gluten”.


Wheat is one of the main food crops, cultivated, consumed and marketed in the world. The most common wheat species is Triticum aestivum L.). Wheat grain contains 8% to 15% protein, of which 10%–15% is albumin/globulin and 85%–90% is gluten. Gluten is a complex mixture, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Different varieties of wheat vary in protein content and in the composition and distribution of gluten proteins. Collectively, gliadin and glutenin proteins are referred to as prolamines, which represent proteins from water-insoluble seeds but extractable in aqueous ethanol and are characterized by high levels of glutamine (38%) and proline (20%).

Gluten properties and sources

The gluten matrix and its resulting functions are essential for determining the quality of the dough of breads and other baked products such as pasta, cakes, sweets and biscuits. It is heat stable and has the ability to act as a binding and extension agent and is commonly used as an additive in food processes to improve texture, flavor and moisture retention. Therefore, less obvious sources of gluten include foods such as meat, seafood and vegetarian meat substitutes.

The properties of gluten are dependent on the proportion of glutenins for gliadins and the interactions of these structures. Each component has crucial functions in determining viscoelastic properties (trapping carbon dioxide released during bread fermentation) and quality of the final product. For example, gliadins contribute more to the viscosity and extensibility of the mass, while hydrated glutenins contribute to the strength and elasticity of the mass.

Dietary intake

Wheat is an important staple food due to its high nutritional value and long shelf life. Wheat is a good source of various nutrients and is a fermentable substrate for human colonic microflora, which transmits substantial advantages to the host. Wheat can form the basis of all daily meals and is consumed in large quantities around the world. The average daily intake on a Western diet is 5 to 20 g/day, with the most recent data from a Danish national survey showing an average total intake of 10.4 g/day for adults aged 20 to 75 years.


Study suggestion:
Celiac disease and gluten-free diet

Watch the video on Science Play with Rita Castro:
Genetics in food intolerances and sensitivities

Jr. Biesiekierski. What is gluten? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:78-81. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13703. PMID: 28244676.

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