Gluten in Grains

Gluten comes from the Latin word for ‘glue’ which gives dough the elastic property that holds gas when it rises.  Bubbles of carbon dioxide are released from fermenting yeast, which become trapped by the visco-elastic protein, ensuring a light honeycombed texture for the dough. The elastic nature of gluten also holds particles of the dough together, preventing crumbling during rolling and shaping. Hence, gluten plays a vital role in the production of leavened baked goods.

Gluten is the name given to the protein found in some, but not all, grains:

  • Grains containing gluten – wheat (including wheat varieties like spelt, kamut, farro and durum, plus products like bulgar and semolina), barley, rye, triticale and oats*
  • Gluten free grains – corn, millet, rice, sorghum.
  • Gluten free pseudo-cereals – amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa.

* Oats and Coeliac Disease

“One in five people with Coeliac Disease react to oats. Coeliac Australia recommends oats are not eaten by people with Coeliac Disease unless they have had a biopsy test conducted to ensure they do not react to oats.”  Sourced from Coeliac Australia.

Gluten is the name given to the protein in wheat , rye, barley and oats that affect people with coeliac disease. It is a composite name and so gluten represents:

      • Gliadin in Wheat
      • Hordein in Barley
      • Secalin in Rye
      • Avenin in Oats

The current tests for gluten can measure gliadin, hordein, and secalin but not avenin as it is a slightly different protein. Accordingly it is prohibited under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to use oats in foods labelled or advertised as gluten free. When people discuss gluten free oats (and laboratories advise that oats are gluten free) what should be said is that they are free from wheat (and rye, barley) gliadin i.e. there is no measurable contamination.

Avenin is an essential part of oats (as gliadin is with wheat). Oats will never be gluten (i.e. avenin) free [even if they are described as gluten (i.e. gliadin) free]. As mentioned in The Australian Coeliac magazine on several occasions, Dr Robert Anderson has found that approximately 1:5 people with coeliac disease react to pure uncontaminated oats i.e. they react to oat avenin.

Since we cannot determine who the 1:5 is and we know that damage can occur in the absence of symptoms, Dr Anderson’s advice (and Coeliac Australia’s) is that oats should not be consumed without a biopsy prior to and during consumption.

Food labels

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires the presence of cereals containing gluten (i.e. wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt and their hybridised strains) in retail and packaged food products is declared on the label. Some food manufacturers use a bold font to highlight all the gluten-containing grains in the ingredients list so as to ensure that the mandatory declaration of all gluten ingredients stands out from other substances listed.

Where a food is not required to bare a label (e.g. bread sold at a bakery), the presence of gluten containing ingredients must be declared on, or in connection with, the display of the food, or declared to the purchaser upon request.