Seitan: The Ever Popular Wheat Meat

Vegetarian meat - seitan
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A definition of seitan: Although it is made from wheat, seitan has little in common with flour or bread. Also called “wheat meat”, "wheat protein", “wheat gluten” or simply “gluten”, seitan becomes surprisingly similar to the look and texture of meat when cooked, making it a popular meat substitute.

Seitan is also high in protein, making it a popular protein source for vegetarians and vegans. Asian restaurants often use seitan as a vegetarian mock meat, and seitan is also the base for several commercially available products such as Tofurky deli slices and other vegetarian meat substitutes.

Similar to the way tofu is sometimes used in vegetarian cooking, many vegetarian and vegan recipes call for seitan as a meat substitute, such as seitan stir-fry or grilled seitan

What Does Seitan Taste Like?

Seitan can have lots of different flavors, just like chicken can be hot and spicy as in chicken wings (See: Seitan hot wings recipe), or savory in a succulent Indian or Thai curry (See: Seitan Massaman curry recipe). It has a savory taste, somewhat mild on its own, probably close to a bit bland chicken or a portobello mushroom.

But the real reason seitan is so popular is more because of its texture than its taste, especially when compared to other alternatives, such as tofu or tempeh, which don't really have a "meaty" texture. 

Where Can I Find Seitan?

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) and is made by rinsing away the starch in the wheat, leaving a high-protein gluten behind.

Although not as common as tofu, seitan is quickly gaining popularity, particularly in vegetarian restaurants, due to its ability to take on the texture and flavor of meat. You'll find it thinly sliced as a meat substitute on vegetarian sandwiches, turned into saucy and succulent wings or "ribs" and I've occasionally seen it as a vegetarian pizza topping.

At Asian restaurants, it's often just called "gluten" on the menu.

Prepared seitan can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, usually in a tub similar to the way tofu is sold, or sometimes in sealed plastic inside a box, but always in the refrigerated section, or occasionally with the frozen foods, or you can try making your own.

How to Cook Seitan

Once you've made your seitan (or purchased it), seitan always needs to be cooked in one way or another, in order to turn it into a delicious vegetarian or vegan meal. A quick pan-fry with a splash of tamari, soy sauce or nama shoyu is one way to quickly cook your seitan, and I also like to simmer it with a bit of curry powder and top it off with nutritional yeast if I'm not doing something fancy with it. 

Need more ideas? Seitan is great on an outdoor grill or on an indoor grill pan - just slap on some barbecue sauce and heat it on up. Toss some seitan into the pan to get it lightly browned before you add vegetables to make a vegetable stir-fry, add to just about any Thai curry or really any vegetarian curry recipe, or add bits to a soup or stew for a plant-based protein boost. 

Need more ideas? Check out a few of these seitan recipes below to get some ideas.

All are vegetarian and most of them are vegan as well.