State support for value-added processing efforts has persuaded Oklahoma producer cooperatives to examine alternatives for further processing wheat. Much of this interest has been limited to flour milling. However, some producer groups have focused on vital wheat gluten, the protein-rich component of wheat flour that may be separated when the flour is in solution (i.e., wet-milling).
Vital wheat gluten is a sticky, paste-like substance, roughly 75 percent of which is protein. Whereas dry (flour) milling results in a powdered mixture of protein and starch, the wet-milling process fully separates wheat starch and wheat gluten. Wheat starch may be used as an ingredient in other food items, commercial glues and pastes, or ethanol production. Wheat gluten is almost exclusively used in food and feed items.
Once it has been dried and powdered, the primary use of vital wheat gluten is to increase the protein content of flour. The addition of wheat gluten increases the protein level in dough, thereby adding strength and elasticity needed to endure the commercial mixing and kneading processes. In this manner, vital wheat gluten allows manufacturers of pan breads to manage the consistency of their end products. This is especially important during crop years when domestic wheat protein levels are low and/or variable across production regions.
Wheat varieties in the US are typically higher in protein than those grown in the EU, so the domestic use of wheat gluten has been limited. However, the growing demand for flour-based products, specifically specialty breads and many refrigerated/frozen dough products, has initiated an increase in the demand for wheat gluten by commercial bakeries.
Article made possible through the contribution of Oklahoma State University.