Difference Between Wheat and Gluten

Key Difference – Wheat vs Gluten

The difference between wheat and gluten often confuse ordinary consumers as many commercially available food products use the term “gluten free” and “wheat free” interchangeably. Wheat and/or gluten can cause allergies for a number of peoples around the world. Thus, it is important to identify the difference between wheat and gluten and in this article, we are going to  discuss how wheat differs from gluten. The key difference between gluten and wheat is that, what is a cereal grain and gluten is a protein that can be found in cereal grains.

What is wheat?

Wheat (Triticum spp.) is one of the major cereal grains in the world and it is the most cultivated and produced cereal in the American region. Thus, wheat grain is a principal source of food for many parts of the world and wheat flour is mainly used for making bread and other bakery products, biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereal, pasta, noodles, and processing of alcoholic beverages. Wheat is also used for non-food applications such as bio fuel production.difference between wheat and gluten.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, barley, rye, and many other cereal grains.  Gluten plays a significant role in pastry and bread making industry because it contributes elasticity to bread dough, assisting it to rise and keep its shape and frequently provides the end-product a chewy texture. Gluten is the composite of gliadin and glutenin and it is a storage protein in the endosperm of various cereal grains.

wheat vs gluten

Gluten-free bread

What is the difference between Wheat and Gluten?

Definition of Wheat and Gluten

Wheat: a cereal grain which is the most important kind grown in temperate countries, used to make flour for bread, pasta, pastry, etc.

Gluten: a protein present in cereal grains, especially wheat, which is responsible for the elastic texture of the dough.

Characteristics of Wheat and Gluten


Wheat: Wheat is a major cereal grain in the world.

Gluten: Gluten is not a cereal grain.


Wheat: Wheat contains carbohydrate, protein, fiber, fat, minerals and vitamins.

Gluten: Gluten only contains protein. It does not contain carbohydrate, fiber, fat, minerals and vitamins.

Nutritional component

Wheat: Wheat cannot be considered as a nutritional component of gluten.

Gluten: Gluten is considered as a nutritional component of wheat.


Wheat: Wheat flour or starch is extracted only from wheat grains.

Gluten: Gluten is extracted from wheat, barley, rye, oat and many other cereal grains.

Function in the food matrix

Wheat: Wheat mainly contribute overall organoleptic properties (colour, texture, flavor and aroma) of bakery products. Wheat starch is mainly used as a thickening agent in some processed foods such as sauce, ketchup, etc.

Gluten: Gluten mainly contributes to the texture of bakery products. It is the key compound that provides elasticity to bread dough and makes bread chewy.

Processing method

Wheat: After cultivation, wheat is harvested followed by dehusking and milling. Thereby, wheat flour is obtained, and further refining and treatment are required to obtain wheat starch.

Gluten: It is extracted from wheat, barley or rye flour by kneading the flour followed by agglomerating the gluten into an elastic network also known as dough, and finally washing out the starch.

Related diseases

Wheat: Some individuals can experience adverse effects after consumption of wheat because of wheat allergy. Wheat is comprised of albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten proteins. The majority of the allergic reactions are mainly caused by albumin and globulin protein. Similar to other allergic reactions, a wheat allergy is due to the body recognition of wheat proteins as a threatening foreign body and thereby triggers immune system responses. Symptoms and signs of a wheat allergy include skin irritations, rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and discomfort of digestive tract, etc. A wheat allergy is a very common allergy and is one of the eight most common food allergies that occur around the world. The treatment of wheat allergy is to avoid consumption of wheat or wheat containing food products. In other words, consume only “wheat free” food.Wheat allergy and celiac disease or gluten allergy are totally different disorders. If a person is allergic only to wheat he/she can still consume cereal grains that contain gluten such as barley, rye, malt, and oats.

Gluten: Celiac disease is one of the most common chronic, autoimmune digestive syndromes that results in inflammation of the small intestine when they consume gluten containing foods including wheat. Signs and symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal bloating, diarrhea and constipation. This disease can also cause iron deficiency anemia, calcium deficiency, osteoporosis, weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition. The recommended treatment for celiac disease is to consume a gluten-free diet. A gluten-free food product does not contain gluten protein, which is originated from the grains wheat, rye, and barley. Thus, all gluten-free food products are also considered as wheat-free foods.

Main raw material of bakery industry

Wheat: Wheat flour is the main raw material of bakery industry.

Gluten: Gluten cannot be considered as a raw material of bakery industry because gluten is already present in wheat. But in some situations, artificial gluten is added as a raw material. For example, when bakery products prepare using rice flour, gluten is added because true gluten is not present in rice flour.

Variation of consumer products and utilization

Wheat: Wheat is the key ingredient in bread and other bakery products, biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereal, pasta, noodles. It has some non-food applications including biofuel production.

Gluten: Gluten also contains wheat, barley or rye flour containing products such as bakery products, biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereal, pasta, noodles. It is also present in beer, soy sauce, ice cream and ketchup. In addition, it is also used in cosmetics, hair care products, and some dermatological treatments. The protein content of some pet foods may also be enriched by the addition of gluten.

In conclusion, wheat is a cereal grain whereas gluten is the adhesive protein that is originated in wheat and other cereal grains such as barley, rye, malt, and oats. Gluten-free foods will always be free from wheat; conversely wheat free foods may not always be free from gluten. This is the key difference between wheat and gluten.

Belderok, R., Mesdag, H. D. and Dingena, A. (2000). Bread-Making Quality of Wheat, Springer, p.-3.
Green, P. H., Lebwohl, B. and Greywoode, R. (2015). Celiac disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 135 (5): 1099–1106.
Humbert, P., Pelletier, F., Dreno, B., Puzenat, E. and Aubin, F. (2006). Gluten intolerance and skin diseases. Eur J Dermatol, 16 (1): 4–11.
Shewry, P. R. (2009). Wheat, Journal of Experimental Botany, 60(6), 1537–1553.
Slafer, G.A. and Satorre, E.H. (1999). Wheat: Ecology and Physiology of Yield, Determination Haworth Press Technology & Industrial, pp 322-3a
Image Courtesy:
“Pain sans gluten à la farine de châtaigne et charcuterie corse” by Shutter_Lover  (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons