Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Gluten--It’s Complicated

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript


[theme music]

From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, this is earth eats, and I’m your host, Kayte Young. 

"I think it has to be put in the context of interest in low carb diets for one thing where you're really eliminating things like bread from your diet." 

Today on our show we start with a story from earlier this year when Alex Chambers was still on our team. He sat down with a couple of scholars on the IU campus to talk about Gluten. It’s a conversation that might clear up some confusion, or possibly raise more questions. 

And we follow that with a recipe from Muddy Fork Bakery that is decidedly pro-gluten. In fact, it relies on gluten to do its thing. So stay tuned for that just ahead.

 [theme music fades out]

Feature- Gluten conversation

Alex Chambers:So Kayte, you eat gluten?

Kayte Young: Uh, yeah.

AC: And I know this partly because you make incredible pies.

KY: Yeah, Pie.

AC: And also you may remember that we used to teach a bread class together?

KY: That's right,  you can’t make bread without gluten!

AC: No, you can’t. Do you know a lot of people who are avoiding gluten?

KY: Yes. a lot of people.

AC: It’s just kind of crazy to me how many people I know who are avoiding it. My mom, my brother. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, visiting a couple of childhood friends and both of them are avoiding it. One of them said to me, you remember how I used to be lactose intolerant? And I said yeah, I actually do remember that. And he said, “It turns out, I got tests a while back and I’m actually gluten intolerant, not lactose intolerant.”

KY: Oh, wow. Well it can be hard, when you’re a baker and your friends and family don’t eat gluten

Alex: It’s a real bummer!

KY: Yeah.

AC: Although it’s probably more of a bummer for the people who can’t eat it.

KY: Yeah, and I do wonder what’s going on with that…just the increase?

AC: Yeah, I know, it’s really interesting, I’ve been wanting to figure it out, too. So I talked with Andrea Wiley, who’s been on the show before, and Christa Voirol, who’s collaborating with her to try to answer that question.

KY: Great! What’d they find out?

AC: It’s complicated.

KY: I figured.

AC: So, there’s Celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten, affects about 1% of the population. But you don’t have to have celiac, of course, to have a problem with wheat, enough people have been feeling better without wheat that sales of gluten-free products almost quadrupled between 2011 and 2015.

So many people are avoiding gluten that some doctors have started warning their patients against a gluten-free diet if they don’t have celiac disease because sometimes it means replacing whole grains with more highly refined starches like potatoes, tapioca, and rice.

KY: yeah, I could see that.

AC:  But other people feel like those doctors are discounting their own experience of feeling better off of wheat. That’s what I was trying to understand when I invited Christa and Andrea into the studio.


Alex Chambers: So, if you could each just start out by introducing yourselves?

Christa Voirol: I'll start.  My name is Christa Voirol, and I’m a senior at IU and a Cox research scholar, and I’ve been working with Dr. Wiley now this will be my fourth year, on our gluten project.

Andrea Wiley: Oh yeah, so I’m Andrea Wiley, I’m professor of anthropology here at IU. I am a biological anthropologist, so I’m interested in human evolution and human biological variation. My particular interests are in the role that diet has played in shaping human evolution and human variation.

AC (voiceover): Andrea Wiley’s been on Earth Eats before, talking about her research on milk. But whereas the main problem with milk is lactose intolerance, it seems to be more complicated with wheat.

AW: there’s a spectrum of wheat intolerances, and there are 3 kind ofmajor categories. There’s celiac disease, which is like an autoimmune disease. So when you consume gluten your immune system essential starts to attack the cells of your small intestine and eventually it destroys them. So that is one end of the spectrum. There’s wheat allergy as well, which is also immunologically driven, but it is driven, it’s mediated by a different part of the immune system, the IGE system, and the mechanism is similar to any kind of food allergy. And that’s not particularly common. It’s more common among kids, as are most food allergies. And then there’s this other category that is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

CV: Yes. Some researchers have also considered adapting the name to non-celiac wheat sensitivity, but you can also kind of run into problems there because wheat is not the only gluten-containing grain. Also popular gluten-containing grains are barley and rye.

AC: So, we’ve seen that that celiac itself has actually increased, and it’s not just due to better diagnosis. There was that study of the, where they took the blood samples…

AW: The army recruits!

AC: …from, they were taken in what the 50s? And saw that the rates of celiac in their blood samples, was way lower than what we’re finding in similar populations now. So celiac is on the rise.

CV: When you look at celiac on its own and, for example in that study of army recruits, it can seem really alarming. But when you look at it within the context of other autoimmune diseases, other autoimmune diseases are also on the rise at the same or similar rates as celiac disease.

AW: Or at least it’s part of the package right? So the question becomes why are autoimmune diseases in general on the rise. And there are a number of hypotheses for that. I would say, thinking about more of the cultural stuff I think it has to be put in the context of interest in low-carb diets, for one thing, that began in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with Atkins at the start, where you’re really eliminating things like bread from your diet, and people had, some people report great success in removing carbohydrates from their diet, and now that has transformed into the Keto Diet, and of course there’s the Paleo Diet, and all these diets would eschew wheat or grains of most kinds, and there’s probably some conflation in people’s minds about gluten and carbohydrates, right, that ‘oh well, bread has is carbohydrates and oh I’ve also heard it’s got gluten in it’ and so collectively those become things that you can eliminate from your diet if you’re trying to achieve weight loss for example.

AC (voiceover): The number of people avoiding gluten has turned out to be a big market opportunity. I mentioned to Andrea and Christa that by 2020, the sales of gluten-free products are projected to be almost 24 billion dollars.

AW: That seems an incomprehensible number. So clearly—

CV: Someone’s buying them...

AW: Whether they are self-diagnosed or otherwise diagnosed as gluten sensitive, perhaps there is a larger sense that ‘mhm, maybe gluten is something to be avoided. And hence, given a choice between two products, one that doesn’t have the gluten-free label and one that does, I choose the gluten-free one, because it carries some kind of health halo. And so it must be, I didn’t know that gluten was bad but if it doesn’t have it, then that seems good.’ It’s not an uncommon marketing ploy when it comes to food labeling.

AC: Yeah, I mean that health halo goes beyond food. I get this shampoo that I use, it’s sort of an eco-friendly shampoo, and it’s gluten-free also, apparently.

AW: [laughter] Yeah, so it’s, clearly gluten has some cultural currency right now, and some real currency. You know, one of the things the wheat industry says is that, and I, this is true in my limited experience, is that gluten-free products are more expensive, and so we want to be careful, you know there are probably lots of people out there consuming gluten-free foods who don’t need to be, and so they’re essentially wasting their money. Again, that’s the wheat industry’s line in this. Obviously they have an interest in minimizing this, and eager to see this trend go away.

AC (voiceover): But while the popularity of gluten-free diets suggests it’s the latest diet fad, a lot of people are experiencing discomfort, and researchers are trying to figure out why. One of those questions is whether the problem is the gluten itself, or something else.

AW: So there are other components of wheat that people seem to be sensitive to as well. There are enzymes in wheat that seem to trigger intolerant symptoms, there are also…

CV: Carbohydrates as well.

AW: Yeah, there’s this whole category of, what would you call them, food constituents called FODMAPS which are basically sugar molecules of varying sizes and complexity...

AC (voiceover): FODMAP, by the way, stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols,” in case you were wondering. Okay, back to Andrea.

AW: And wheat has a number of those as well. And FODMAPS have been shown to have some of the same symptomatology as gluten intolerance, and there are a number of studies where if you take people who say they’re gluten intolerant and reduce their FODMAP consumption that they actually get better, even when you reintroduce gluten, so there is some confusion about whether gluten is—it surely is, but is it the only constituent of wheat that is bothersome.

AC: And another reason it’s hard to figure out whether it’s gluten, or FODMAPs, or something else, is that the only way to figure out whether someone has non-celiac gluten sensitivity is by how they report their symptoms.

AW: Right now there is no biomarker  for nonceliac gluten sensitivity. So, that is one of the key problems in the field right now is that there's no established marker for it. So it’s really all done by well, if you take gluten out of someone’s diet, do they report feeling better and then it becomes very important to run a double blind placebo study, so that people aren’t simply reporting ‘well, yeah, I removed gluten and I’m feeling great.’ And those studies that have kind of looked at FODMAPS versus gluten in a blinded way have found in some cases that the FODMAPs are the problem and that when people are eating gluten and not knowing it they’re actually doing okay. For some studies. Other studies show the opposite. And so – the evidence isn’t all converging, at this point, which makes for a very messy science right now.

AC (voiceover) and it's not just the hard sciene that's making it complicated..

AW: A strand of this too is kind of this trust in science and skepticism of science, and I think we’re at a particular moment in our history where that is really kind of coming to a head, and I always find it kind of interesting, you know in a political sense, I have many colleagues who will defend science and its benefits against the current skepticism, but have their own kind of, again we are our own experiments, and so in my, I have this particular experience, it doesn’t match up with the science, and so I, what am I trying to say here, I privilege my own experience over the science. And that’s fair, in some respects, science only tells you about probabilities of things, they don’t tell you about experiments of one, and I think gluten is a good example where, you know, skepticism and science kind of ride, skepticism of the science, skepticism of this as a real phenomenon, are present with science trying to figure out what this is.

AC (voiceover): In other words, it’s really hard to tease out the cultural aspects of this from the biological ones. Are we thinking we’re feeling better because we’ve been hearing for decades that carbs are bad for us? Is there something about our immune systems that are having more trouble dealing with wheat than we used to? Or is there something different about the wheat itself? There’s good evidence for all of these things, even though they seem like they would cancel each other out. What’s to be done? Well, one thing I would say is, don’t pay too much attention to individual studies. As Andrea pointed out, they’re pretty quick to contradict each other. When you can, eat whole grains. There’s consensus on that. As for wheat, and gluten, and FODMAPs, do what works for you. The research is probably going to converge eventually. The scientists—and the anthropologists—are on it.


...For earth Eats, I’m Alex Chambers


KY: Production support comes from Elizabeth Ruh, enrolled agent providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses and disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying and estate services.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net. Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio.  And Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838


ES:  I'm Eric Schedler.  I'm the owner and baker at Muddy Fork Bakery.  Today we're going to make some challahs. Challah is a traditional, slightly sweet, egg bread for the Jewish sabbath and typically it's eaten in the home on a Friday night or at any kind of Jewish holiday, any holiday at all.  There's always challah. Except Passover. It's usually done in a three or four strand braid and it's got egg wash on top and it looks shiny and golden and pretty. I use filtered water to make the bread so then I heat some in a kettle and mix it with the cold and see what we have here.  Looks pretty good. I'm actually gonna throw two eggs in the bucket of warm water to warm them up. I didn't think to bring the eggs to room temperature without cracking them


KY:   You know by 'throw', I think you mean 'gently set'.


ES:  okay to make the challah dough we're going to do it in a few different steps.  So we want to hydrate the yeast in the water. We have to crack a couple eggs and measure's not going to be two full eggs, to make the dough this size and then we're gonna mix the dry ingredients together which is flour, sugar and salt.  We'll start with the yeast. It'll have a moment to sit. Just gonna take 128 grams of water. It doesn't have to be to the gram, within a couple grams is fine and more yeast than you would put in some other doughs because an enriched dough that has a significant amount of fat in the dough, that inhibits the action of the yeast so you have to add a little more and it's also a really stiff dough and it also slows down the fermentation.  So this dough needs five grams of yeast and about half a tablespoon. That's gonna take a minute so while that's sitting, I'm going to measure out flour, sugar and salt. For making challah, if you can, you want to use bread flour as opposed to all purpose flour. A little bit stronger gluten structure in the bread flour is gonna be helpful because that oil in the dough is gonna counteract against the gluten development and I recommend against using any kind of bleached flour.  Bleaching, the reason for it is actually not to make the flour look white. It's done as an artificial way of aging the flour because white flour changes as it ages and the gluten bonds are stronger once its aged a little bit. Space is money so it's cheaper to not have a bunch of warehouse space where your flour can age and oxidize. It's cheaper to artificially oxidize it by bleaching. Alright, here's the sugar. It's the closest thing I have to white sugar-


KY:  And how much sugar is that...


ES:  This is 32 grams of sugar.   Professional bakers use percentages to measure their ingredients.  That system, called Baker's math. In that system the total flour counts as a hundred percent.  So your recipe adds up to more than a hundred percent because the flour was already a hundred so the sugar in this recipe is 8 percent so it's definitely noticeable amount of sugar.  You can't use a lot more than that in yeasted bread without causing it to burn when you bake it. And then we'll put some salt in, eight grams, which is a litle bit less than two teaspoons.  Alright, I'm gonna check the looks pretty dissolved but I'm gonna whisk it just to make sure it's all hydrated before I start throwing a bunch of other ingredients on it. Okay so we've got our water and yeast dissolved and our dry ingredients measured out so let's add the oil to the water and yeast.  This dough has 30 grams of olive oil in it which as a percentage is 7 1/2 percent. Alright, we've got two, warm eggs that we stuck in a bucket of warm water and we're gonna weigh them out here. A large egg is usually 50-55 grams. Now this recipe calls for 85 grams of egg so I'm gonna scramble it and then add 85 grams to the dough and we don't have to throw out the rest because the challah needs to be egg washed before baking so you can just save the rest of that egg to brush on the outside and we start mixing 

In goes the dry into the wet.  This is another one that's going to get tough to finish with the wooden spoon here because it's such stiff dry dough.  Until you get your hands in there you almost think how can you even make that into dough. Alright getting my hand in there because I can only get so far with a spoon.  I'm trying to pick up all the little bits that are stuck to the bowl before I get too far into the mixing and then use my hands to knead and get everything evenly incorporated and then pulling.  Each time I go around I'm pulling a piece of dough from the edge of the bowl and pressing it down into the middle and spinning the bowl and repeating that process. I can tell I'm not done because there's darker yellow pieces of dough in there where there's a little bit more egg in those spots.  These are beautiful, deep yellow-yolked eggs from Shacked Farm. This one's a bit of a workout to mix. Okay that looks pretty good. So we're setting our dough aside, covered to start its fermentation process and we want to fold the dough every thirty to sixty minutes so if you have a kitchen's a good way to not forget.  Just set the timer for thirty minutes and every time it goes off just come buy and fold your dough.



KY:  Folding the dough occasionally while it is rising is helps develop the gluten in the dough. So every 30 minutes or so, do this.


ES:  It's gonna be less messy if you have a little bowl of water next to your dough and if you have one of these plastic bowl scrapers. So we're gonna uncover the dough, stick our hands in the water and fold the dough.  So I'm going around the edge of the bowl pulling the dough up into the middle and I've gone once around. It feels like it's gettins some tension in it. This particular dough feels like it could go just a little more than once around and you're helping build that tension in the dough so that it has more strength.


KY:  A few folds (and hours) later, it is time to shape the loaves for their final proof, which is basically the last chance they have to rise a bit more, before going into the oven.

ES: Now our challah dough has been sitting at least 3 hours.  You can mix your dough and let it go for a few hours or you can move it into a fridge over night and then braid the next day or you can braid the bread and put the shaped breads in the fridge and then finish proofing them the next day and bake them the next day so you kind of break up the process how you need to to make it work for your schedule.  So this dough is ready to go. The recipe that we're making makes two small 12 ounce challahs. We've found in our house that if the challah's too big then the kids only eat challah for dinner. So we like to make them small and serve only half. So we're going to cut this into four pieces. I have a nice two strand braid that simplifies some of the work.  You actually braid it like a four strand braid but you only have to cut and roll two strands per loaf so that's where we're going to start. So we're gonna get a little bit of flour on the table. You don't want too much for any bread but challah is a pretty stiff dough and if you get too much flour it'll just swim around and you won't get any traction. Alright there's the dough coming out.  Gonna make some six ounce pieces. It doesn't have to be perfect but the more even you get them the more symmetrical you're likely to get your finished challahs. I'm just not even using flour because my dough is so dry and the table's dry. Everything is dry today. So I'm going to flatten these pieces out. If you can you cut them sort of rectangular so you start with an evenly shaped strand so I'm going to roll it up and then roll it out....oh 16 to 20 inches long here.  The longer we can get it because this strand is gonna get folded in half to serve as two strands. You start the braid int he middle and you work all four ends down one way. So this recipe makes two challahs so I'm just gonna get all four strands rolled out before I start to work with any of them. Challah is also one of the stiffer things that you would ever make out of bread dough. A lot of your loves are a lot more hydrated than an enriched dough. Challah is considered an enriched dough because it has some oil in it.


KY:  I wanted to know why oil and not butter?


ES:  It could be made with butter but it's definitely traditional to use oil to make challah because if you keep kosher, which most people don't who eat challah, but if you do you want to seperate your dairy and your meat.  If you put butter in your challah then it would be a dairy food and you would have to not eat it with a meat meal so people like to be able to eat challah with anything.




ES: I’m gonna do my best to describe a braid with words.  So I'm going to make a plus sign with these two strands and I'm putting the horizontal one over the vertical and the point where they meet in the middle is going to be the top of the loaf so the whole braid is going to work down from that point in the middle. It's a two step process that you keep repeating the two steps over and over again.  So we're going to take the vertical strand and we're going to flip the ends with the one that is currently down passing to the left and the one that was up passing to the right. So we flip them over and then we're gonna flip the horizontal pieces starting with the left and remember we're working down and then the right over the top of it and then we're gonna repeat.  Flip the vertical strands...


[[fade down the audio of  Eric describing the steps of the braid]]


KY:  Okay, so Eric gave it a good effort, but no matter how specific and detailed he gets these are not radio-friendly instructions. You’ll need to go to our website for this one. I’ve got photos of Eric making the braid, step by step. The photos and the audio work really well together. So check that out, earth Eats dot org. 


ES:  You don't want to braid a challah too tight.  You wanna let it be relaxed as you're braiding so that the strands just pop out more.  If you pull everything tight then it doesn't pop as much after it rises. Okay, after you've braided your challahs, depending on the weather you might need to spray just a little water on them as they're proofing.  If the dough gets dried out on the surface, that kind of prevent it from expanding, loses its ability to stretch so today is definitely dry. I'm getting them a little wet and I'm gonna cover them with plastic.


We're checking on the challahs and looks like they've risen by at least fifty percent and so it's time to brush on the egg wash.  So we're going to take that part of an egg that we didn't use in the dough and pastry brush and we're going to brush it on the outside of the dough and that is gonna give these challahs a nice shine to them as they bake.  So we're gonna bake the challahs in our big brick oven which is seven and a half feet deep and five feet wide and it's a little bit cool right now because we have a weekly heating and baking cycle and the oven just retains heat for the whole week and we start, when we're finished heating it on Friday night, it's about 670 and at this point on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, it's at 365 which is a little cool for challah but we're gonna put it in the over anyway.


KY:  About 20 minutes later we check on the loaves. When Eric pulled them out of the oven they looked perfect. They were deep golden brown in color and had poufed out evenly throughout the braid. Unfortunately, bread needs to cool before you cut into it. Eager bakers have been known to ruin good loaves by ignoring this step. The bread is still cooking inside, and you have to learn to walk away and let it cool, or you can end up with a gummy mess in the middle.  Challah, I can tell you though, is a soft, light bread, slightly sweet, with a tender golden crust. It's beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. 


This recipe lives with all of the others, on our website, Earth eats dot org. 

Eric Shedler is the co-owner and baker of Muddy Fork Bakery near Bloomington Indiana. Find out more about Muddy Fork at Earth Eats dot org.

[theme music]

RR: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.


KY:  Special thanks this week to Eric Schedler, Andrea Wiley and Christa Voirol


Production support comes from insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch insurance.  Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage in affiliation with Pekin Insurance.  Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838. Elizabeth Ruh, enrolled agent with Personal Financial Services assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over 15 years.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net and Bill Brown at Griffy Creek studio. Architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world.  Bill at Griffy creek dot studio

A grid of black and white images of the steps to braiding a challah loaf

Eric Schedler demonstrates the steps for braiding a challah loaf using a 4 strand braiding method. Eric says it is important not to make the braid too tight or the sections won't rise nicely. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Today on our show we start with a story from earlier this year when Alex Chambers was still on our team. He sat down with Andrea Wiley and Christa Voirol on the IU campus to talk about gluten. It's a conversation that might clear up some confusion, or possibly raise more questions.

Andrea Wiley is an anthropology professor in the Human Biology Program at Indiana University in Bloomington. Christa Voirol, her research assistant, graduated from Indiana University in the spring of 2019.

A close up of a shiny, golden-brown baked challah loaf.
The finished Challah loves--shiny, golden-brown and beautifully risen.

We follow our interview with a recipe from Muddy Fork Bakery that is decidedly pro-gluten. In fact, it relies on gluten to do its thing.

Eric Schedler standing in front of brick oven door, with long-handled pizza peel.
Eric Schedler with the two Challah loaves, at the entrance to the brick oven at Muddy Fork Bakery. Next to him is a custom-made, iron peel handle support.

Learn More About Muddy Fork from the WFIU/WTIU Archive

Listen to a 2014 story about croissant making at Muddy Fork, with producer Mark Chilla

Here is a piece about Muddy Fork's on-site flour mill, from Earth Eats Founder and former host, Annie Corrigan.

And another piece on Muddy Fork from the early days.

Here's a video with Annie Corrigan from 2013.

And a story about Muddy Fork's recovery after a fire burned their bakery.

The Earth Eats' theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Stories On This Episode

Muddy Fork Bakery's Challah

Finished Challah

Challah is a light, enriched dough that is enjoyed on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media