picnic 2008

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 

28 thoughts on “Does French flour have less gluten in it?

  1. 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

  2. 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”

  3. 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?

  4. 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!

    1. 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

  5. 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. 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?

    1. 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

  7. I would be very interested to see your many sources on the “percentage of gluten” in american vs french flours. First of all, this is totally subjective…depending on the style of flour. Second of all…most of the wheat in France is actually from the US, as is the same in Italy (imported). Creating an average is simply inaccurate and without any foundation.

    The common misconception that you are also missing here…is that its far more about the processes than the wheat. You cant really compare industrial american store bought breads or refined white industrial flour with prevalent french and italian long fermented artisan breads and higher whole grain percentage.

    If you are seeing that kind of separation in gluten percentage…you are comparing two totally different types of flour, which is just a false, meaningless comparison in the end. There are MANY lower gluten flours in the US. And once again…the issues arise more in the adding of vital gluten during the bread process as well as quick industrial bread processes that don’t include fermentation.

  8. 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.

  9. Interesting observations. I tend to agree with Mark, but if it were the Round Up then it seems like we could eat organic flours in the States. Any thoughts?

    Happy 4th, by the way.

  10. This is all very interesting. I live in England & need to avoid gluten if I want to breathe! (Sinuses & throat swells). But I had a pain au chocolate a few years ago in Grance with no ill effects. I’m due to drive to Audtria through Grancs & Germang in a months time & am wondering if German & Austrian baked goods are lower in gluten like France ?? Does anyone know?

  11. I am Canadian but I am studying in the U.K right now and someone who is celiac that I know from back home told me that the wheat grain itself is different over here. Because we have genetically altered the North American grain so much over the years or something. I am also celiac and I’ve recently been trying to test the theory on myself. So far I have not had any issues with eating small amounts of gluten in England!

    1. Mikayla, that’s great you’re having more ease with gluten on this side of the pond! I also can eat trace amounts without feeling completely obliterated. however, if I eat too much, I do still feel it. Enjoy your studies!

  12. My grandson is lactose intolerant. The ingredients don’t list any dairy products but there is no mention of the baguettes being safe for people with that allergy. Would these be safe?
    Thanks.

    1. Jennifer,
      A traditional baguette should be fine. However, if you’re looking at sandwich bread “pain de mie” or brioche, those do have dairy and/or milk, which would not be OK for him!

  13. My son is cœliac and I have hypothyroidism ( both related ) . I find constipation a problem in U.K. despite eating wholegrain products . However , in France , this problem disappears although French bread appears to be lighter and white .

    1. Yeah, our bodies can be so sensitive the environment changes!! I’ve found after much experimentation with diet and changes in where I live that when it comes to issues like constipation while the question of fiber and gluten do come into play, for me it really also varies based on whether or not:
      a. I’m physically active. If I don’t move around a lot, nothing does there, either.
      b. I drink a lot of water. Like, a lot.
      c. I eat cooked or raw produce. Eating raw fruits and vegetables I’ve found is super aggressive to my stomach, and will either put me in a state of constipation (joy) or everything leaving very quickly.
      I hope this helps, and that’s great that you feel better when you’re in France. 🙂 And the bread here is lighter, due to the lower ash content and technique.

      Cheers!

  14. All similar to my experience – in Europe I can eat bread, no rash, no diarrhoea, in UK not even worth bothering to think about trying anything with any flour in it, least of all bread itself.

  15. I have a gluten intolerance and had been gluten free for over a year now. Had not had bread, pasta, or pizza. After reading on a website that had testimonial of how people are fine eating bread and last in Italy, France and other European countries got me curious. I also research more on the different wheats and their processing. I’m convinced that the US wheat had been tainted with round ups that changed their genetic make up. I recently tried a pizza restaurant that uses strictly Italian flour. I was a little worried at first but I felt fine during and after the meal. Wow, it proved the hypothesis that US wheat is toxic for people that is gluten intolerant. I sinced had bought Einkorn flour and be fine making and eating bread from it.

    1. That’s awesome you were able to enjoy wheat a bit again! You know, I haven’t tried einkorn flour really. I’d be curious to see how it sits with me. Finger crossed.

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