Gluten-free products are big business - it is estimated to be $1.77 BN in the US and grow to $23.9 BN by 2020. It isn't clear why it is that more people now are gluten sensitive these days than were 50 years ago. Some blame modern wheat, others generally increased allergies, others just think gluten is plain evil. There are some indications that when your biome is limited or compromised (e.g. by not having enough exposure to bacteria - dirt - when you are a child), that subsequently limit your body's tolerance for certain proteins or enzymes.
Gluten is actually a pair of starches, glutenin and gliadine. These two proteins work together to give bread dough its extensibility and elasticity, both of which are necessary to both capture the gas created by yeast into bubbles to form the bread's crumb, and to retain the shape of the dough as it rises. The advent of commercially available white flour in at the turn of the last century (I've written about this elsewhere.), made light airy, high-gluten breads a foregone conclusion in Western diets.
Hard wheat (Winter or Spring) produce flour with enough protein (Including gluten) - 11 - 14% - to make good bread. Soft wheats (Typically Winter) are used for pastry or cake flour, where an open, crumbly texture is desired.
Back to the gluten free thing. This article about gluten that I thought was interesting: it may not be gluten itself that causes trouble but fructans and FODMAPs. And perhaps, the way modern bread is made (Industrially processed bread can be processed in as little as four hours, from flour to loaf).
This list of chemicals used to bleach white flour (And where they are banned) is instructive:
This Week's Bake
In honor of gluten, this week I am going to bake straight up organic white sourdough bread, using a stiff levain. Let's see if I can deliver an open crumb (something I struggle with): the flavor should be fine (deep, complex). Great fresh, nice toasted with some butter and jam.
Your Canadian Baker