Gluten deteriorates in high temps???

So.  I had heard rumors of the “fact” that gluten can be modified so greatly when exposed to high temperatures that it renders it harmless to those with celiac disease.  I was highly skeptical.  Still, I didn’t really know for certain one way or another.

Then, a guy on my local celiac Yahoo group, Chef David Hall, did the research for me.  Well, for himself, and then shared it with the group.  I asked him, and he gave me permission to print the response of the chemist he consulted to find out the scoop.  I found it very interesting.  (All the more so, as it confirmed my suspicions. 😉 )

David wrote:

I found and contacted a Chief Scientist at API Purifications LLC, in the Greater St. Louis Area, and posed the question to him with the cursory temperature range given to me by someone at the meeting, which was about 600 F to 1200 F. Below is his reply. I am withholding his contact information, as I do not have permission to distribute it.

His reply:
“First of all, nothing I write here should be construed as medical advice. I am not a medical expert. If you require medical advice, you’ll need to contact a physician.

I can provide a chemically sound response to your inquiry, and that is what I will attempt here.

The information you have received from other sources appears to be sound. If you wish to chemically change gluten to such an extent that it no longer behaves as gluten in biological systems, you will have to do more than heat the molecule to temperatures usually used in cooking. What you need is severe oxidation or pyrolysis (heat-induced destruction of the molecule). However, such severe conditions are likely to cause the formation of carcinogenic compounds in whatever material you are cooking, and that of course would be a severe health problem. Therefore, from this chemist’s point of view, in any case, chemical or thermal destruction of gluten is not feasible, and should not be attempted.

It is possible that in the cooking process you will denature the protein. However, denaturing the protein is not sufficient, because to say the protein is denatured is simply to say that the tertiary structure of the protein has changed. The primary structure–the “chemical formula” if you will–has not changed in the process. What you need to do is to chemically or thermally destroy the primary structure. What that means in essence is that you must chemically change the molecule. Usually this would be accomplished through oxidation or pyrolysis. If for some reason you were interested in doing this, you would want to heat the material to at least 350 C (650 F) for 30 minutes, and you would need to have some way of proving that every part of the material (and especially any interior parts) had been exposed to that temperature for the entire length of time. Also, you would need to ensure that air flow around the material was unimpeded. But all of this is quite an academic exercise, since as I said above, you would never wish to serve anything like this to another person, or even to an animal.

My advice would be to use gluten-free products. There are many such products available, and all manner of food can be prepared gluten-free. There are many good gluten-free cookbooks, and as you are a chef, you will have a much better idea than I of where to find these.

If you do receive medical advice indicating some less severe conditions suffice to render the material suitable for gluten-sensitive patients, as a chemist I would certainly be wary of this advice. Gluten is quite a robust little protein, not an ordinary feeble protein, and it does quite well under harsh conditions. It’s a tough nut to crack, and very definitely a difficult material to degrade chemically or thermally.”

So.  I think that’s a pretty definitive answer.  Now, like me, you know.  😀

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 23, 2009, in Celiac Disease, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Science. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. glutenfree4goofs

    Wow, there you have it! It’s nice when it’s so clear although I know you did a bit of digging to find the source and relay the info. Sure beats hours of googling?

    I responded to your comment about my “girl” 😉 You are SO right! I love that she is a daddy’s girl. I had to convince him it was okay though because (I didn’t put this on my blog cause his sis reads it) his sister was the last child and only girl and was spoiled rotten! She was rotten to him and his brother and got away with EVERYTHING. She is married now and God has done a beautiful work in her to be more servant hearted but boy can she still give a certain look and dad’s pocket book comes open…. My husband is all about self sufficience so I had to convince him it’s a good thing to be daddy’s girl!

    On other non-related business- we tried to get pics for you of our new “pet” Stellars Jay’s. I thought we had two but the boys tell me there are 4 that hang out around the chicken coop sneaking corn 🙂 If I get a good pic I’ll post it and let you know. Do you have them in AZ?

  2. I’ve heard this too but I have trouble thinking much good of it. let’s say that “denaturing” the protein would help… I would then wonder what ill effects long term would there be in heating a protein so high it’s no longer recognized by the body. that’s the kinda thinking that creates that whole idea of “fat causes me to get fast so to loose weight i wil only eat fat free brownies”. ugh. when you change something chemically to make it less harmful in one way it often ends up being far more harmful in another. (like GMOs for example).

    • Actually, I think that’s exactly what the chemist is saying, Henny! If you heat it high enough and long enough to destroy the protein, you create carincinogens in the process. So, even if you COULD, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD. No gluten, but it now will cause cancer. Hm. Gluten-free is still the way to go.

  3. This is really good info though if you want to de-gluten something that can withstand that kind of high heat. My boyfriend’s grandparents gave us their really good, but used, cast iron pan. I am very sensitive and would not have used it unless I knew I could be sure there was no gluten left on the surface.

    I threw it in the oven on self-cleaning mode for 3 hours (my oven won’t clean for a shorter period), re-seasoned the pan, and voila! I have been using it risk-free for over a year.

  4. I am an English coeliac (OK, celiac). I normally have a steak and `fries’ (`chips’ in English !). Some meals have put me on the toilet in 35 minutes flat. Other similar meals from a different Pub leave me fine. I can only conclude that there is gluten transfer in a deep fat fryer. Paradoxically I find fried rice, easier on my system than steamed rice.

    • I have traveled the the UK — twice to Scotland — the only part of England I saw was the inside of two airports. I found that one of the most reliable things to eat was baked potatoes. I don’t know if it’s similar in England, but in Scotland, one could order baked potatoes with a HUGE variety of toppings, enough to make a truly satisfying meal. Those potatoes, plus the g.f. section at Tesco, really saw me through.

      I’m sure you’re right about the deep fryers for the chips. Might you be able to ask, in the pubs you frequent, what they fry in them? I found that most places in the UK were much more knowledgeable about celiac disease than in the US.

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