Glutteny is an exploratory study of gluten as a material. The gluten found in flour is essentially what gives bread its airy texture. This is a material design project heavily inspired by the deceivingly simple, domestic act of cooking while drawing parallels between the design of objects and the making of food, in terms of materials, processes and techniques.
As a material designer with a love for cooking, this is an ode to one of the most versatile raw materials around the world: wheat flour. Understanding the behaviour of flour and its main component gluten, exploring its viscoelastic and adhesive qualities and the chemical composition that allows it to be so wonderfully versatile in its cooked forms.
By mixing flour with yeast and water and kneading it to form stretchy gluten strands, these products mimic the process of making bread, right until before it is baked. After the dough has risen, the outer surface is harvested which then leaves its inner side with an interesting texture. After drying, the product shows great strength and integrity. In order to ensure longevity, the material is coated with a bioplastic mixture to prevent it from rotting.
The combination of its various properties and its relatively low cost make gluten valuable to both food and non-food industries.
Wheat flour has been a staple food item consumed in the Indian subcontinent, with the high level of consumption largely unaffected by changes in its price. India is the 2nd largest producer of wheat-producing nearly 100 million metric tons (MMT) every year, accounting for 12.05% of the total world wheat production.
40 to 45 MMT of wheat is ground to produce whole wheat flour, locally known as atta, in stone mills known as chakkis. The Indian market is largely dominated by local flour mills, but they are now facing competition from branded packaged atta manufacturers who are campaigning for hygiene and convenience factors. With the rise of modern retail formats and health awareness, the category is undoubtedly evolving. Glutteny could lead to a potential additional income stream for local mills through the production of gluten-based products.
Being at home due to the lockdown, this past year Sachi had been cooking a lot more than usual. She became mindful of the rituals and processes involved before and during the preparation of food and observed how food, like all matter, changes over time with the way it is treated. Different ways of cooking change the matter, its form, composition, chemical state, taste, longevity and texture. Similar to materials in design, edible raw materials also have a specific behaviour, and on handling them and combining them with the right ingredients, we can make magic!
This project loosely mimics the process of preparing bread. The kneaded dough rises as the yeast within respires, causing it to grow and achieve the airy texture of the network formed by gluten strands, however, every sample is different. There is no uniformity in the rising of the dough. Although atmospheric conditions and the proportion of ingredients can dictate it to some extent, two samples of dough will never rise in the exact same form. It is as if it has a mind of its own, similar to a foot or thumbprint. Like biometrics, two would never be the same. The rising of dough can be compared to growth of any living organism – a plant, an animal, a human. It grows in all directions and can be controlled to grow in a certain way to a certain extent, yet cannot be fully dictated.
The dough inflates like it was taking a breath in and deflates, contracting like letting breath out. Breathing is considered the essence of life, the dough has had a life-like quality to it. Not unlike human and plant respiration.
Text submitted by the maker
Wheat flour, yeast, water, natural dyes