Have you noticed I include an ingredient called “Vital Wheat Gluten” in my bread recipes? Ever wonder what it is? For a long time, so did I. Several years ago, a good friend of mine mentioned that my super-amazing-baker friend, Aimee, used gluten in her bread, and that’s why it was so yummy. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but I wasn’t baking my own bread, so I didn’t inquire about it.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself making bread. It was turning out okay, but it wasn’t as lovely and light as everything Aimee made! I saw a recipe calling for “Vital Wheat Gluten” and decided I better find out what the heck it was.
Simply put, Gluten is the protein found in wheat. Vital Wheat Gluten is gluten (protein) which has been separated from the flour. It is used to add additional texture and elasticity to bread. As it contains about 75% protein, it is often used by many vegetarians to make a meat substitute called “Seitan” (pronounced sey-tan).
Want to see it? Here it is:
Working hand in hand with vital wheat gluten are dough enhancers or conditioners. Truth is, most of the stuff we add to bread is a dough “enhancer.” All you need to make bread is flour, yeast, salt, and water. That’s it! Everything else is an “enhancer.”
If we’re already using enhancers, why would you use a commercial one? I’ve found that it adds additional “lift” to my bread, making it lighter and softer (particularly helpful when I’m trying to get my kids to eat whole grain bread). It also increases the shelf-life by a couple of days (not that freshly baked bread lasts that long in my house). There are also homemade dough enhancer recipes available online, if you’re interested in going that route.
I bought my first cans at a grocery store in Utah while visiting my son at school. Unfortunately, they do not carry it in my local grocery store, so I bought a couple of large (#10) cans from Honeyville Grain online for my food storage. One thing I love about Honeyville Grain is that they have a flat $4.49 shipping cost regardless of how much you purchase. I am not affiliated with them, but I was impressed with the quality and price of their baking products. If you do not eat gluten, you may be interested to know that they have a wide variety of gluten free flours, too.
To sum it all up, you do not “need” vital wheat gluten or dough enhancers. BUT, if you’re having problems getting the texture you want in your bread, you may want to give them a try.
Have you ever used vital wheat gluten or dough enhancers?
Do you love them as much as I do?