Could vital wheat gluten (VWG) be the secret sauce for consistently good sourdough? Or is it only necessary in certain scenarios? This blog will answer all your questions about Vital Wheat Gluten and how to use it in your sourdough baking.
What is Vital Wheat Gluten?
Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) is basically made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. It’s made by washing the wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed. It can be added to All Purpose or Plain flour to increase protein levels and gluten development. It is not actually a flour itself and cannot be used to bake with alone.
Wheat Gluten is not just used in baking bread. VWG can be cooked as a meat alternative in vegetarian or vegan diets. It’s also a popular alternative to soybean based foods like tofu in Asian countries. When used in this way it is referred to as seitan.
How does VWG work?
Vital Wheat Gluten is used in sourdough baking to increase the protein content in flour. It helps to provide structure to the bread by adding more gluten, thus building up the gluten network which is necessary to support all the gas bubbles produced by your starter.
When making sourdough, you’re always aiming to have an adequate gluten network before you go into the bulk ferment stage.
You can check the gluten development of your dough using the window pane test.
If you don’t have an adequate gluten network, your dough will collapse and won’t be able to hold onto all of the gas. This will have a negative impact on your oven spring, making your dough gummy and dense. You can read more about how the gluten formation affects your sourdough oven spring here.
Why Would You Use VWG in Sourdough?
Vital Wheat Gluten is not necessary or essential in sourdough baking. You can make perfectly delicious bread without it, particularly if the flour you are using is already high in protein.
It can be handy, however, in a few different scenarios:
- You can increase the protein content of All Purpose or Plain flours with a VWG. You would use around 15-25g per 500g of flour.
- You can use VWG in a rye or whole wheat bread. These flours typically have trouble developing gluten (and don’t often get the same rise as good old bread flour). Adding VWG can help to overcome this issue by providing a boost of gluten to your bread.
- Add VWG to sourdough recipes with lots of nuts, seeds and/or fruit. Recipes like this delicious Coffee & Maple Infused Date Sourdough Bread use Vital Wheat Gluten to help the structure of the bread. It also gives the bread the most delicious crust.
You can also add VWG to Bread Flour if you want to. It will create a very high protein flour. Sourdough is all about experimenting and finding out what works for you, so it’s definitely worth doing to see if you like the effect the Vital Wheat Gluten has on your dough. You could add 10-15g to this basic sourdough recipe and see what happens.
How To Add Vital Wheat Gluten To Sourdough
When you use VWG, you need to add it to your flour first. You don’t need to sift it or anything, however you want to make sure it’s incorporated well. A good mix through with a spoon is fine. You can then add your flour to your dough as you normally would, for example, at autolyse.
Your dough will start to develop the gluten network as soon as water is mixed into the flour, so you always want to add the Vital Wheat Gluten at the very start of the sourdough process.
What Happens if You Don’t Have A Good Gluten Network
While VWG is not essential, so long as the flour you are using has a high protein content, a good gluten network is necessary. If you do not develop the gluten adequately, you will not get good oven spring – and really this is the aspiration of most sourdough bakers, right?
If you’d like to read more about how gluten development affects oven spring, as well as the other factors that come into play, you can read more here.
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