The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Adding vital wheat gluten to whole wheat flour

yankeedave's picture

Adding vital wheat gluten to whole wheat flour

All I have on hand at the moment is finely ground WW flour. I would like to make some baguettes (I know they won't be "authentic" with 100% WW flour, but that's the shape I want). I've never made any 100% WW bread before, and I don't want them to come out dense. Does it make sense to add vital wheat gluten? The WW flour was milled from hard wheat, and supposedly the issue with most WW flour is not low protein, it's the effect of the bran cutting into the gluten strands. If that's what's going on, then it seems that adding VWG wouldn't help, yet part of me thinks that it might.

I've seen some of these things touched upon in other posts but not this specific question. If it has been covered, sorry for not finding it. But the basic question is, if the reason WW bread tends to be dense is the bran, not the lack of protein, does it make sense to add VWG?

Oh, one more thing - I know some people have said you need to do a long soak to soften the bran, but let's assume that you're somewhat pressed for time and would like to get the loaves done in a few hours. Not the best way to make bread, I know, but humor me here. Thanks.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I've never found VWG to be necessary for WW breads, personally. Nor have I found soaking to be necessary. If the flour is finely ground and from a good quality hard wheat, you really shouldn't need it. Adding gluten unnecessarily, can make bread unpleasantly rubbery and negatively impact the flavor in my opinion. Bran doesn't cut the gluten strands, so much as it gets in the way of gluten developing into a nice strong network. Gluten proteins need to be able to connect together, end to end, to form nice long elastic strands, and bridge side to side with neighboring strands to form a strong mesh. Kneading (and folding too) helps to move these proteins past each other in a way that helps them align and grab hold of each other. But a bran particle presents a physical barrier to their coming in contact with each other and forming a bridge. With enough mixing/kneading, the gluten network will form around these particles, it just takes a bit longer with bran in the mix. And the bigger the bran particles, the more difficult they are to get around. You'll find that WW doughs require more kneading to develop, but they do in time. If bran were truly cutting the gluten strands, more kneading would just make things worse.

As kneading progresses and the gluten mesh forms, bran particles become trapped and imbedded in it, and incorporated into the membranes surrounding the air bubbles also trapped in the dough. As fermentation gases accumulate, the bubbles expand. But only the gluten can stretch. The bran particles cannot, and that creates stress points in the membranes that are more likely to tear and become leaky.  That may mean that ww doesn't have the same potential for loftiness as white, but with care, you can still make very light ww breads.

White bread logic doesn't translate well to whole grain, because it's a different animal. A lot of emphasis is placed on long fermentation, but if you want light, non-sour ww breads, you don't want to get carried away in that regard. Everything happens faster with whole wheat because a) there are more enzymes present in the flour, and b) there are more microorganisms. The microorganisms produce acids, and those acids accelerate the activity of proteolytic enzymes. That means that the longer you ferment, the more leaky your gluten mesh becomes and the heavier your bread will be. Use enough yeast to get the job done in a reasonable length of time, say, a 3-4 hour bulk fermentation (for strait doughs), up to 30-min bench rest after pre-shaping, and a 1-2 hour proof. That's it.

Best wishes,

yankeedave's picture

That's a very informative answer, thank you.

suave's picture

I've read exactly opposite opinion - that the smaller are the bran particles the harder it is to develop gluten

(1) Noort, M. W. J.; van Haaster, D.; Hemery, Y.; Schols, H. A.; Hamer, R. J. Journal of Cereal Science 2010, 52, 59.

Yerffej's picture

From the study referenced:

"The particle size of the bran fractions was varied by various milling techniques. All fractions were added to white flour and water addition was adjusted to obtain dough with a constant consistency."

While this undoubtedly makes for fascinating study in the university environment, one has to wonder how many bakers are following this procedure in real world application.  That being the world of real bakers baking real bread for real consumption.


suave's picture

If you are not finding this point interesting, you are most welcome to abstain from participating, which I am sure, you were planning anyway, you know, considering your disdain for science and progress.


BBQinMaineiac's picture

Thanks! That explains what I found with my loaves made with fresh ground WW flour. I about went nuts with loaves rising, getting to a certain point and then falling. The dogs enjoyed the cripsy treats it made for them however (baked in a 225°F oven for way too long).

I finally solved the problem by grinding my flour 3x to get the bran smaller. My take was more or less as you explained it... the bran was hindering "something" in the gluten. Extra grinding was the answer for me, and now I know why!

I was going to add gluten, but was determined to find a solution for using the wheat only.

Janetcook's picture

Debra's answer just about covers it all.  

Only one thing I will add and that is ww flour is thirstier than white so add a bit more water.  My rule of thumb is 1-2tsp. of extra water for every ounce of bread flour you are replacing with ww.

( I got that figure from my favorite baking book - Whole Grain Breads.  Author: Peter Reinhart.)  

It also takes longer to absorb  water so after mixing up you dough - let it sit for awhile before adjusting with more flour to get the consistency you are after.  I generally let my dough rest for 30 - 60 minutes before kneading to where I want it to be.  

Good Luck,



Dragonbones's picture

I do add vwg often, but haven't experimented side by side to prove a difference. If you do try it, you may need to add slightly more water. Janet notes that if you switch to ww you'll want more water. The same is true for higher protein flours, or if you add vwg. So if you do both (switch to ww and add vwg) you'll definitely need more water; failure to add it will result in a lower hydration dough, and if it's dry enough you may get a very dense product.

dabrownman's picture

Perfet for poor protein store bought whole grain flours or white spelt and white, medium and dark rye and to up the gluten in AP too when I am trying to mimic bread flour or when it is just plain low in protein.  I treat VWG (and malts that I make from whole grains) like flour and up the hydration accordingly.

I mill whole grains too and since they aren't malted we would usually put in 4-5 g each of red and white malt and about 8 -15 g of VWG per 850 g loaf depending on how much wole grain is in the mix.  No sense spending a ton of dough on expensive specialty flours when you can mimic them for peanuts and achieve the similar results.

I do autolyse whole grains for a long time if they are not in the levain.  Making bran as soft as possible is a good thing when it comes to bread crumb being moist, soft and being able to rise to its full potential.

Even though I don't use much VWG and it is easy enough to make whole grain bread without VWG, the ones I put it in are much, much better than they would be otherwise  - every time.  It is also fun to make VWG at home too just like it is making malts but a whole lot easier :-)

i was convinced whre I took a classw at the Bosch dealer and we made100% whole wheat bread one had VWG and one did not.  The non VWG bread was not nearly as good and i made both of them exactly the same otherwise.  Non autolysed whole grain breads are also not as good.    The best method i have found to soften the bran to date is to mill your own grains and sift out the 25% hard bits and feed them to the SD starter and resulting levain - over a 3 stage 9 hour levain build and then refrigerate the levain for 48 hours.  Then autolye the 75% for 4- 8 hours. before mixing the two.   Works every time and sour is about as strong as i can male it too if the resulting dough is also retarded for 24 hours. 

Happy baking