Do You Know What Gluten Is?

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Gluten_4_RockieNolanPhotographed By Rockie Nolan.
It seems like everyone and their health-conscious mother is avoiding gluten at all costs. But, just how many of them really know what the dreaded G-word actually means? On his show last night, Jimmy Kimmel decided to put a bunch of gluten-free Angelenos to the test. Predictably, hilarity ensued, which you can enjoy in the video below.

But, while Jimmy and Co. talked to regular Joes on the street, the video got me thinking about all the supposed "health experts" I've spoken to who are shockingly shaky themselves on just what gluten is, and whether we should be eating it.

While the second question has many, many different answers depending on who you ask and what your particular health situation is, gluten itself is a very real thing — and, it's actually pretty simple to define.

The word itself, which means "glue" in Latin, refers to two different proteins in cereal grains like wheat. Called glutenin and gliadin, the proteins are found in the endosperm, or seed, of the plant, which is ground into the flour we use every day. Proteins like these are vital for nourishing most flowering plants. It's worth noting that even supposedly "gluten-free" grains, like rice and corn, contain similar compounds, although they're not considered "true gluten" proteins.

The gluten proteins are activated during the kneading process, when glutenin binds to gliadin and forms a network; this is what gives dough its structure and elasticity. This process (and gluten itself) plays a key role in giving bread and other gluten-containing products their texture — which, as anyone who's tried to give up gluten knows all too well, is notoriously difficult to replicate without it.

So, while the question of whether or not you should eat gluten has way more answers than even Jimmy Kimmel could chase down, gluten itself is one (well, two) specific compounds that aren't nearly as mysterious as they're made out to be. Gluten-free evangelists, take note.