"Wheat meat" has been around for centuries, although the name "seitan" (pronounced SAY-tan) is a much more recent development. Although it is made from wheat, seitan has little in common with flour or bread. Seitan becomes surprisingly similar to the look and texture of meat when it's cooked, making it a popular meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. It is also called gluten, wheat protein, or wheat gluten.
What Is Seitan?
Seitan is the base for many commercially available vegetarian products such as Tofurky deli slices, meatless frankfurters, fakin' bacon, and others. You can generally find it in a variety of styles, such as ground, in slices, or in strips. Seitan can be prepared by hand using either whole wheat flour (which is a very labor-intensive process) or vital wheat gluten (which is a much simpler process). It is made by rinsing away the starch in the wheat dough, leaving just the high-protein gluten behind.
What Does It Taste Like?
Seitan has a savory taste, probably closest to bland chicken or a portobello mushroom. Seitan has a mild flavor on its own but can take on many more flavors from different recipes. It can be hot and spicy as in seitan "chicken wings " or savory in a succulent Indian or Thai massaman curry.
The popularity of seitan is due more to its texture rather than its taste. This is especially true when compared to other alternatives, such as tofu or tempeh, which don't have a "meaty" texture.
How to Cook Seitan
Whether you make it or purchase it ready-made, seitan always needs to be cooked to use it in a vegetarian or vegan meal. A quick pan-fry with a splash of tamari, soy sauce, or nama shoyu is one way to cook your seitan. You can simmer it with a bit of curry powder and top it off with nutritional yeast for an enjoyable dish.
Seitan is great grilled, whether on an outdoor grill or an indoor grill pan. Just top it with your favorite barbecue sauce and heat it up. A barbecue seitan sandwich is a delicious and fun option for your cookout.
Toss seitan into a pan to get it lightly browned before you add vegetables to make a vegetable stir-fry. You can add seitan to just about any vegetarian curry recipe, or add bits to a soup or stew for a plant-based protein boost. Once you get started, you will find many creative ways to use seitan in your vegetarian and vegan cooking.
Many vegetarian and vegan recipes call for seitan similar to the way tofu is used. It can be cut into nearly any shape and adapts to nearly any flavor.
Where to Buy Seitan
Prepared seitan can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores. It is usually in a tub similar to the way tofu is sold, or sometimes in sealed plastic inside a box. You can find plain seitan or flavored varieties. You can also purchase it online, either as a refrigerated product or a dry mix.
You can keep homemade seitan in the refrigerator for a few days; look for an expiration date on store-bought packages. You can also freeze prepared seitan for up to three months.
Nutrition and Benefits
A half cup serving of seitan provides 46 grams of protein, however, it lacks some of the essential amino acids, so it must be combined with other protein sources such as grains, beans, and nuts to gain complete protein from a meal. It's also low in carbohydrates, with 8 grams per serving, and fat, with 1 gram per serving. Seitan provides about 20 percent of the daily allowance for iron. Anyone on a gluten-free diet needs to avoid it, though.
Prepared seitan products can be heavily processed, with added high amounts of sodium and other preservatives and additives. Read package labels to determine the nutritional value of different brands.
Seitan vs. Tempeh
Though seitan and tempeh share similar uses, the two products differ in important ways. Most notably, seitan is made from wheat, so it contains gluten, whereas tempeh, a soy product, does not, making it an appropriate ingredient for gluten-free cooking. Tempeh is fermented, so it's easier to digest even for people who don't have a gluten sensitivity.