What are proteins?

6 October 2021
What are proteins? | Bakery Academy

Proteins are building blocks. This is however a very simplified view on proteins. In making it hopefully not too complex, we can say that proteins are basically polymers, e.g. different lengths of molecules connected to each other. Here we call those molecules, amino acids, combining amino acids will make different peptides or and combinations or peptides make polypeptides or proteins, but these words are used interchangeably to identify the same..

Those amino acids are abundant, over 500 different ones can be found in nature, although about 20 types are dominant in living species and the way they sequenced makes a set amino acids unique. This sequence is fixed based on its origin in a mRNA/ DNA or genetic code. Within each type of amino acid, we can identify them based on if they have an amino or carboxylate part and where it is positioned. These parts consist of expected functionality, sometimes in combination with the so-called side-chain.

Those amino and carboxylate parts tend to make connections and depending on where they connect, structures are identified, functionalities are disclosed (colouring, flavouring) but also if there are other parts binding, such as Sulfur-ions as found in certain side-chains, such as cysteine; a famous amino acid in the baking industry. They way these amino acids are organised and in which order they follow is determined by their ‘origin’ or source. Therefore there is an actual difference between proteins in for example dairy products or plants such as wheat, soy or rice. This means that there is a difference in taste and functionality.

Next to these type of distinctions we know that proteins can also have different functions, and based on solubility we can further classifify into ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ types of proteins. Examples of these are ‘Albumins’, a simple protein which is soluble in water. Albumen can be found in wheat, but also in eggs and in many cases aiding in stabilising incorporation of air in several bakery products. Another type are ‘Globulins’, being in simple and complex variants and soluble in saline solutions, but mainly known for also having the proteins that we would identify as ‘enzymes’.

2 proteins that are considered to be the most important ones in traditional baking are joined in what we call ‘gluten’. Gluten are basically 2 protein types of which one of them is gliadin, a simple protein that dissolves in purified water or alcohol is responsible for viscosity properties in wheat flour. The second one is a more complex one and is called glutenin responsible for its elastic properties we see in the bakery when working on breads, laminated products, such as crackers, puff pastry and croissants.

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