What is vital wheat gluten? Is it necessary when baking homemade bread?
Vital wheat gluten (also known simply as “gluten”) is the protein component of wheat flour. To isolate the gluten, manufacturers combine flour with water to make dough and knead it to develop the gluten network. The dough is subsequently rinsed in water until all of the starch is removed and only the rubbery gluten remains, which is then dried and ground before packaging.
Professional bakers add vital wheat gluten to strengthen dough so it retains more gas, which results in greater volume and a lighter crumb. Extra gluten is beneficial in “gluten-challenged” dough containing lower gluten flours (like whole wheat or rye) or sharp or bulky components (nuts, seeds, or bran) that can sever gluten strands. It can also enhance the chewiness of breads like bagels.
When we tried the product in a hearty whole-wheat bread, adding 1½ teaspoons per cup of whole-wheat flour according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, we found that it rose 1/2 inch higher than the bread made without it. Added to a bagel recipe, it generated a crisp exterior and chewy interior, despite the fact that we used ordinary all-purpose flour instead of the specialized high-gluten flour the recipe called for.
Our conclusion: If you want to lighten up a dense loaf or ensure chewiness in breads like bagels without having to resort to special mail-order flour, vital wheat gluten (available in supermarkets) is worth trying.