What Inhibits Gluten Formation? – 7 Factors You Should Be Aware Of

Gluten is a protein found in wheat that is essential in preparing baked goods like bread, pizza, and pastries. It provides structure and stretchability to the dough, allowing it to rise and hold its shape during baking.

However, in some pastry products, it’s desirable to prevent gluten from forming. To produce high-quality bakery items, it’s crucial to understand the factors that can prevent gluten formation. In this article, we’ll explore these factors and their effects on the final product.

The following are the factors that can hinder gluten development in dough:

• Adding fats to the dough
• High sugar content in the dough
• Low protein content of the flour
• Poor quality of flour proteins
• Adding whole-grain flours and seeds
• Excessive or insufficient dough hydration
• Inadequate mixing time

It's worth noting that even though these factors can interfere with gluten formation, they can be utilized to achieve different textures in baked goods such as tenderness and crumbliness.

What is gluten and how does it develop?

Glutenin and gliadin are the proteins in flour from which gluten is formed when flour is mixed with water. Gluten creates a network of protein strands that makes dough stretchable and provides structure to baked goods.

Yeasted doughs benefit from gluten development, as the gluten network captures and retains the gases formed during fermentation. The development of the gluten structure is important for yeast doughs, puff pastry, filo dough, and pasta. Shortbreads and quick bread, on the other hand, do not require gluten to form.

Bread dough and a rolling pin on a floured granite worktop

Factors hindering gluten formation

1. Adding fats to the dough: Fats coat the gluten proteins and prevent them from forming the strong bonds essential for gluten formation. Doughs with a high-fat content require longer mixing time for the gluten to develop.

For recipes with high-fat content, such as brioche, the fat should be added to the dough after it has been fully mixed. The types of fat used for making dough are butter, margarine, shortening, oil, lard, and egg yolks, which contain almost 60% fat.

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2. High sugar content: It’s important to note that gluten formation requires water. However, sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs and holds onto water. This can make it challenging for gluten to develop properly in a dough that contains a lot of sugar.

As more sugar is added to the dough, it binds to more water, leaving less available for the proteins in the flour. As a result, doughs that have high sugar content require a longer mixing time to allow for proper gluten development.

3. Low-protein flour: Pastry flour with low protein content is not suitable for making doughs that require a strong gluten structure such as bread or filo dough.

Flour with 11-13% protein content is best for making doughs with good gluten structure. Low protein content in flour results in weaker gluten formation because there are fewer gluten-forming proteins present.

4. The quality of flour proteins: The formation of the gluten structure in dough depends not only on the protein content but also on its quality. The quality of the flour proteins determines the extent to which the gluten can hold gases without tearing. The quality of the proteins is determined by the genetic properties of the grain and growing conditions.

5. Use of whole grain flour and seeds: The bran in whole grain flour, as well as various seeds such as sesame, flax, or sunflower, are sharp and cut the gluten fibers. Doughs that contain a large percentage of whole-grain flours and seeds require a longer time for the gluten to form. For me, a mix of 20% whole wheat, spelt or rye flour, and 80% white flour has worked best for good-textured bread.

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Proteins that make up gluten are found not only in wheat but also in rye, spelt, and barley, although in smaller quantities. The pentosans found in rye flour absorb the water in the dough, preventing the development of gluten.

6. Too low or too high hydration level: Water is essential for proper gluten formation in the dough. When there is too little hydration, the gluten structure cannot develop properly. Milk, or fermented milk products can also be used in dough preparation, in addition to water.

The amount of water needed to make dough varies depending on the type of flour used. Whole-grain flours absorb more water than white flour.

In highly hydrated wheat flour dough, gluten development occurs more slowly. It is therefore crucial to repeat the stretch-and-fold and resting phases several times during the dough preparation process to strengthen the gluten structure.

Gluten development in doughs with different hydration levels

7. Inadequate mixing time: While mixing or kneading the dough, the gluten strands stretch and fold and form a network. However, if the dough is kneaded for too short a time, the gluten will not develop sufficiently.

On the other hand, mixing the dough too intensively or for too long will eventually lead to the degradation of the gluten network. The overworked dough will become sticky and shiny and will not hold properly. Therefore, it’s important to find the right balance when mixing or kneading dough to ensure proper gluten development.

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Doughs that don’t need gluten development

Shortcrust pastry such as Linzer dough is characterized by its crumbly, delicate texture. It is often used to make cookies, pies, and tarts. The term “short” in the name of the shortcrust dough refers to the fact that the gluten strands are shortened. Fats, such as butter, margarine, shortening, and egg yolks, coat the flour particles and prevent gluten from forming.

When making shortcrust pastry, it is important to ensure that the fat is cold and that you do not overwork the dough. The dough should be mixed just until it comes together and then chilled before rolling it out. This allows the fat to solidify, making it easier to handle the dough. These factors are essential for shortcrust dough to hold its shape – especially important in pie crusts.

Quick bread and muffins do not benefit from the development of gluten, because it makes their texture tough and chewy instead of tender. When making this kind of bakery product, we can prevent the formation of gluten by avoiding overmixing the dough.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, gluten is a protein found in wheat that provides structure and stretchability to the dough, allowing it to rise and hold its shape during baking. However, for certain pastries, inhibiting gluten formation is necessary to achieve different textures, such as tenderness and crumbliness.

The development of gluten in dough can be hindered by various factors, such as adding fats to the dough, high sugar content, low protein content in the flour, adding whole grain flours and seeds, incorrect dough hydration, and inadequate mixing time. Understanding these factors and their impact on the final product can help achieve high-quality baked goods.
Debora

Debora

My name is Debora, the founder of My Delicious Sweets, and a qualified confectioner with broad experience in the confectionery industry. On my blog, I will share important, interesting, and fun facts about food, along with some of my favorite recipes.

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