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updated: 4/17/2014 6:16 AM

Baking secrets: Exploring the 'whys' behind gluten sensitivity

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  • Annie Overboe's Greek Dinner Rolls are lower in gluten than traditional dinner rolls; Greek yogurt gives them structure.

      Annie Overboe's Greek Dinner Rolls are lower in gluten than traditional dinner rolls; Greek yogurt gives them structure.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer


Over the last year I have attended a handful of shows, conventions and expos featuring gluten-free and allergen-free foods. By far, the bulk of vendors and presenters fell on the supply side of this culinary concern, each looking to reach a growing market. While I enjoyed comparing samples, the food scientist side of me led me to seek out those bakers pondering the bigger question: Why are more people experiencing gluten sensitivity?

Recently a few bakers and food scientists have offered some interesting thoughts on that topic that cover food production from field to table. Here's some of what I've learned:

Raw materials: Stephen Jones and Jonathan McDowell from Washington State University Agriculture's research and extension facility believe that "grain breeding" has been used by large companies to create inferior products, both in nutritional content and taste.

Ingredient processing: Wheat bred for large production is ground and split into flour, germ and bran. White bread is made from the flour, while the germ and bran holding all the nutritional cards, goes to other products.

Baking economics: Achieving profitability in large scale bread baking means using superfast proof times to maximize production. Ultrarapid yeast, designed for commercial use, requires the addition of vital wheat gluten to set the bread's structure.

These ideas lead to the same conclusion; that what has changed in bread baking over the last 50 years is the commercialization of the wheat. While looking to bring the fast food concept to bread production those changes led to increased gluten sensitivity.

An alternative theory attracting interest and controversy comes from Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With three degrees from MIT and working independently from the food industry, she grabbed my attention. Seneff proposes the herbicide glyphosate, used to cut harvesting time for wheat, causes gluten to assume a form known to be more allergenic. In addition, her work draws connections between glyphosate and gut bacteria issues.

While today's bread recipe is not gluten-free, it does start with a gluten-reduced dough. The yeast batter dough, an alternative to lengthy kneading, limits gluten development. All-purpose flour dials down the grain protein, while Greek yogurt enhances the structure with dairy protein. Egg and butter infuse richness without baking heavy texture into the rolls.

I'm far from done testing gluten alternatives, developing gluten-free recipes or investigating the topic. Stay tuned for more.

Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write her at

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