Does French flour have less gluten in it?

The answer?  Surprisingly: YES!

haaallleeellluujah.

…if you’re in France.

Wait.  I’m back in the states.

-merde!

Ahem… A few things lead me to question this percentage of gluten in French flour:

1. There are FAR fewer “gluten intolerant” in France.  Substantially less.  Does this mean that they did not eat too much and therefore did not have an unbalanced digestive system for processing wheat’s protein?

2. Before I figured out that I had a gluten intolerance, I had lived and traveled in France, and eaten lots of bread.  My digestive system?  Amazing!  In the duration that I was there, I had fewer food processing “issues” than I have ever had in America.  …and I was eating MORE bread in France!

3. Their bread simply TASTES different.  As many bakers will tell you, cooking with French and American flours is a completely different experience.  Since there are many different factors contributing to the feel and texture of bread, namely the protein, sugars, ash, etc, gluten just had to be a factor.

After consulting MANY sources, it turns out that the biggest similarity between American and French flour is that they both come from wheat and both contain some sort of starch and protein from this wheat.  Otherwise, factors such as “ash content” (minerals left in flour from the grain), gluten (insoluble protein), and starch are completely different.  Where many French flours have as little as 8-9% gluten content, American flours will have 15-16%*.

What’s more, is that the French have two types of flour, “Hard” and “Soft”.  The soft, used frequently for pastries and baking, has a minimum of only 7% gluten, and a maximum of 10.5% flour.  King Arthur flour in the states has about 14%!**

For those Bubble Children with severe gluten intolerances or full-blown celiac disease, this does not, by any means, indicate that French bread is going to feel good to eat.  However, for those with mild gluten intolerances, or willing to take the risk for a freshly baked croissant or luscious baguette, this might be some food for thought.

Interesting.  When in Rome (France)…

*Source: Quaglia of the Instituto Nazionale della Nutrizione in Rome, Italy

**Source: Schunemann and Treu 

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Does French flour have less gluten in it?

  1. Pingback: Smoked Trout Avocado Wasabi Tartine | bubblechild

  2. I always enjoy my annual France trip where I can eat unlimited amounts of gluten, something I cannot do at home in North America. Mere crumbs at home can cause problems for me. I’ve pondered whether the use of Glyphosate on crops here could be the problem. Gmo’s and round up are banned in France and many other European countries.

  3. Lorraine

    Oops forgot to tick notify me of replies box.

  4. Lorraine

    Thanks for this information – it’s interesting, but confusing for me. We are British, living in France and are trying to understand some digestive problems that my husband has been having. All tests so far have shown nothing of concern. Strangely though he seems to have the opposite problem to other posting here, in that he is fine eating British or American style bread, but becomes unwell if he eats french bread! This is why I started looking for differences in the ingredients. I’m wondering if it’s not the gluten content in his case but another ingredient that is present in french bread but not in a sliced loaf – any ideas?

    • Lorraine,
      That would be quite confusing for you, indeed! While I am not a doctor, I am an active observer of myself with my dietary issues with changes in both food and environment and also someone professionally trained in making bread. Thus, here is my guess of what issues could possibly be arising:
      -Bread is made up of essentially the following: flour, water, salt, yeast, and some sort of sugar. Sometimes, depending on the variety, there could be some oil or grains or milk added, say it’s pain de mie or something, but generally those are what you’ll find in a traditional baguette.
      -Since it is in fact true that French flour has a lower ash content than both American and British breads, therefore lower gluten, I don’t think that your husband’s irritation is coming from wheat protein (gluten).
      Thus, what I think it might be is one of two things: perhaps it is the yeast that we use here in France. It’s an alive thing and is difficult to take down sometimes. I do know that we use more yeast here to create that delicious baguette-like taste that is unique to French breads. I sometimes, and sadly, find myself having issues with it, too. Even making bread at home. While developing recipes for the gluten-free bread for the second Bubble Child cookbook, I made a very yeast-y gluten-free bread, and was out of commission for the next few days. I could basically taste the yeast for a few days afterwards… very odd. So, perhaps that’s the culprit.
      Another thought would be perhaps some trace minerals found in French soil that are affecting your husband that he has an allergy or intolerance to. They would be found in both the flour and maybe anything consumed accompanying the bread– wine, cheese, etc. I also have some sensitivities to minerals, so that could be another cause.
      One last supposition, and while this is quite simplistic it may very well be the case: maybe it’s simply the stress of moving to a new country? People hold stress in different areas, and I know that my digestive issues are on the upswing whenever I am under stress, positive or negative. Could be this… maybe a massage would help. :)
      Anyways, hope this aids a bit. And enjoy France! If you live in Paris and want to try a great bakery that has bread that is super facile à digerer I recommend De L’Autre Boulange (Metro Nation)… their Kamut Bread is divine.
      Cheers to you!
      Erica
      Le Bubble Child

    • Another thing that I’ve researched but have not tested (as I am scared to) is the added ingredient of Lupin flour to many gluten-free breads here. Here’s an article on it… never tried it as my nut allergy makes me want to not potentially fight that battle: http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Lupin-flour-and-allergic-reactions-case-building-continues

  5. Terrie

    This has been very helpful. I have a gluten intolerance , but was recently in Afghanistan for 6 months on a NATO base where I ate Italian food and bread every day. I never got sick. Since I returned to the states, I can’t eat wheat without having major stomach issues. Something must be different with European foods!!

  6. Pingback: Vegetarian and Gluten Free Camino | Walking To Bring Love In To Orphans and Widows

  7. cassandra

    I was buying a gluten free cupcake from a woman from France and she told me she cannot eat US bread products, but has no problem back home in Paris. Is it different yeasts therefore a different breaking down of the proteins or different seeds or what? I wanna expat to France now!

    • Cassandra,
      There are many different reasons for this, and yes, expat-ing has its perks, especially in the food sensitivity realm because of how pure food is over here! The yeast is different here… the lovely smells early in the morning are the first indicator of how precious this stuff is across the pond. Also, the ash content is lower in French flour, and the percentage itself is 8-10% on average, whereas the American version is typically 12% or higher. Do you have any good gluten-free bread recommendations back in the States for people on this site?
      Cheers to you from France!
      Bubble Child

  8. Timskier

    I had a similar experience in Italy last Fall. I and 2 others in my party had joint pains and other adverse symptoms that went away when we stopped eating wheat products in the US (and returned when we did). 2 weeks in Italy eating everything was symptom-free for all 3 of us. Where can I buy wheat flour that avoids these health problems?

  9. I had he same experience when I was in Spain…..where can I buy european flour????

  10. Brenda Pfeil

    I too am Gluten sensitive. I grew up in France and never had any digestive issues until I started living in the States. I am currently spending three weeks in France and against my doctor’s orders am eating French bread, croissants and an occasional patisserie. It’s been two weeks and I am doing great ! I actually did a web search to see what the difference could be between the flours and found your comments. Don’t know if it’s just me, but I’d say if you don’t have celiac or are super sensitive, if you ever make it over here, give it a try. As they say “Bon appetit”

  11. This is an interesting exploration! Thanks for sharing.

    Quick clarification: Different types of King Arthur flours have different protein contents (our all-purpose, for example, has 11.7%, our bread flour 12.7%, our whole wheat flour at the extreme high end of the spectrum has 14%, and then we have pastry and cake flours with much less protein). You can learn much more at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/flours/.

    We also have a very highly rated line of gluten-free baking mixes and ingredients – hope you’ll check them out! http://www.kingarthurflour.com/glutenfree

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