Wednesday 1 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 4 - What is Gluten?

Lots of people are diagnosed Gluten-intolerant, but it's very hard to understand what that actually means. It's very easy to 'make' Gluten, and when you do then you will be able to understand why people with Coeliac Disease have trouble digesting it...

What Is Gluten? 
Separating flour.

1 cup of flour - strong bread making flour is best.
A bowl.

If you don't have bread flour then use plain flour. I've used plain flour here just to show that it can still be done, but bread flour gives a much better result. If your mix doesn't seem to be working, wait half an hour and come back. It's not failure, it's science!

1. Take a cup full of bread making flour and mix it to a dough with about 1 1/2 cups of water. Precise amounts are not important, it's more important that your dough is soft, but not very sticky. If you do add too much water by accident and your dough is stuck all over your hands, add a little more flour.
2. As you mix the flour and water, gluten is formed. Stretch and pull the dough to mix it really well. If you added a little salt and oil, you could use this to make bread - not today though.

3. This is meant to be 5 minute science, but I forgot you need to rest your dough for 10 minutes, so put your dough to one side, wipe the table and sweep the floor. Your grown ups will be ecstatic - it's that easy.
4. Now we need to split the mixture up into gluten and starch. We do this by washing away the starch with water.
5. Rinse the dough under a tap or in a bowl. You can use a colander under the tap so that you don't lose as much gluten down the plughole.

6. Fold and stretch your dough to get rid of more of the starch. Your mixture shouldn't fall completely apart. You can save some of the white starchy water for later.
7. Keep working the dough and rinsing until you are left with only the sticky, almost chewing gum-like substance. This is the gluten. This is what some people's tummies struggle to digest.

If you have enough Gluten to make a ball, you can try sticking a straw into it and blowing to make a Gluten Balloon. If it doesn't work, leave it for a while and try again. This is also called Seitan, and the gluten has a high protein content. It is a popular alternative dish to meat when flavoured and cooked correctly.

Don't waste the opportunity to explore something else. What happens if you put a cloth or a sock in the starchy water and then let it dry? What could starch be used for?

I also used this experiment in my post for the Pretty Curious campaign to encourage young people to choose STEM careers. They have a great website with loads of advice and information, and a neat widget which asks a few questions and suggests a STEM career that might be perfect for you - there's a link in my #PrettyCurious post.

You can find the first 5 Minute STEM Activity here - Fish In The Tank.
The second here - The Floating Arm Trick.
And the third here - The 5cm World Challenge


  1. oh i love this. Going to do it with the kids. This would be great for understanding why my husband can't eat food with gluten in it. And what it exactly is.

    1. That's excellent! Thanks Susan - I'm sorry your husband is intolerant, but when you get a feel of the gluten after it's sat for a couple of hours, you can appreciate it much more!

  2. That's brilliant! We often make bread so we could easily set this experiment up. I didn't know you were doing these STEM activities. I'm going to use them when we start up Home School again. Oh the Little Man will be thrilled (until I get him to write it up!)

    1. Awww that's great! I think your big kids will like tomorrow's challenge - it's a good one for teenagers even :)

  3. this is ace - I bet everyone had a top time (esp starching socks). It takes me back as my first job was working for a biol sci membership association. did lots of outreach activities/festivals - inc extracting dna from onions. Have fun with the STEM activities. love Bec xx

    1. Aww thank you! It's comments like these that make it all worthwhile :D I bet that was an amazing job - so varied! Thanks Bec :)

  4. I’ve been loving your five minute science activities, such a great thing to do over the summer.


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