Seitan (pronounced say·tan), is a popular vegan, high protein meat substitute, which has been around for centuries. Made from vital wheat gluten, seitan is a healthy meat alternative that can be transformed into plant-based meats like chicken, deli meats, sausages, burgers, bacon, and more.
What Is Vital Wheat Gluten
Vital wheat gluten is the natural protein found in the endosperm of the wheat berry. Vital wheat gluten is made by separating the starch in the wheat from the protein, or gluten. Once the gluten is separated, it is dried and ground up into flour. When combined with a liquid, vital wheat gluten flour becomes very elastic and chewy.
Vital wheat gluten can be used when making bread, to help improve the chewiness and elasticity of the finished loaves. You can also add about 1/2 a tablespoon of vital wheat to each cup of all-purpose flour, if your recipe calls for bread flour, which is high in gluten, but you don’t have any.
One of the best uses for vital wheat gluten is for making Seitan, a vegan meat substitute. Because of the high gluten content in vital wheat, seitan is chewy with a texture that mimics many different types of meats.
History of Seitan
Seitan is said to have been developed as a meat substitute by vegetarian Buddhist monks in the 6th century. The monks would make seitan, by mixing wheat flour with water into a dough, and then repeatedly rinsing it until all the wheat starch washed away, and all that remained was the elastic, stringy gluten.
Luckily, these days you can buy vital wheat flour that has already had the starch removed, so rinsing the starch out of the flour is no longer necessary.
Is Seitan Healthy
Seitan also known as vital wheat protein, and wheat meat, is made from wheat protein or gluten. Gluten has gotten a bad reputation in recent years, and of course it should be avoided by anyone with celiac disease, or any sensitivity or allergy to gluten. However, in people without any gluten sensitivity, vital wheat gluten can be healthy and nutritious.
Unlike meat, seitan is free from antibiotics, saturated fat, hormones, and cholesterol. Vital wheat is low in calories and fat, but is very high in protein and nutrients. It is an excellent source of calcium, B vitamins, potassium, iron and is comparable to beef and chicken when it comes to protein. Seitan is also a great alternative protein source for anyone on a plant-based diet that may be allergic to soy.
Studies have also shown that gluten may act as a prebiotic, feeding and stimulating the activity of the good bacteria in the gut. These beneficial gut microbes communicate with the brain and can effect every aspect of your well-being. So the healthier they are, the healthier you are, too.
Cooking with Seitan
Seitan can take on any flavor, so depending on the spices you add to the mix, you can create seitan that tastes like chicken, bacon, ribs, burgers, steak, etc.
Making seitan is not very different from making bread. You add the wet ingredients to the dry, and knead so that gluten forms and makes the finished product stretchy and chewy.
Depending on the recipe, the wet ingredients can include a variety of vegetables – onions, garlic, beets, mushrooms, beans, chickpeas…As well as flavorings and seasonings like soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, mustard, broths, marmite or miso, herbs and spices.
The dry ingredients include the vital wheat gluten flour, and often a small amount of another, less glutinous, flour. I usually like to add chickpea flour because it makes the seitan more tender, and cuts down the extreme chewiness of the high gluten flour.
Once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, they are kneaded for about 10 minutes to activate the gluten and make the seitan chewy, similar to the texture of meat. The seitan is then formed into whatever shape you want. It can be shaped into cutlets, meatballs, burgers, a slab of bacon, ribs…It is then baked, steamed, or braised in a flavorful broth.
Seitan can expand quite a bit during cooking. Depending on the recipe, seitan can sometimes expand too much and the texture can become spongy. To avoid this from happening it’s usually a good idea to wrap your raw seitan before cooking it. Seitan can be tightly wrapped in cheesecloth, parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Once the seitan is cooked you can use it in any recipe exactly as you would use meat. You can grill, fry, bake, batter, broil, or stir-fry the seitan.
Why Would Vegans Want To Eat Meat Alternatives?
This is a question that vegans hear often. Why would we even want to eat meat? A legitimate question, with a very simple answer. The reason vegans don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, or fish is not because we don’t necessarily enjoy the taste of these foods. We choose not to eat animal products because we don’t like how these products get on our plates. The fact animal products taste good, simply does not justify the suffering it causes to innocent beings!
Meat alternatives can be extremely helpful for anyone just transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, because they don’t have to give up all their favorite foods. These alternatives are also a great way to create vegan versions of traditional foods and recipes that may have been in the family for generations. And last, but not least, they are healthy and delicious!