Gluten Proteins Form Long Chains That Stick to Each Other

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Gluten is a complex mixture of certain wheat proteins that can’t dissolve in water, but do form associations with water molecules and with each other. When the proteins are dry, they’re immobile and inert. When wetted with water, they can change their shape, move relative to each other, and form and break bonds with each other.

Proteins are long, chain-like molecules built up from smaller molecules called amino acids. Most of the gluten proteins, the gliadins and the glutenins, are around a thousand amino acids long. The gliadin chains fold onto themselves in a compact mass, and bond only weakly with each other and with the glutenin proteins. The glutenins, however, bond with each other in several ways to form an extensive, tightly knit network.