You may have heard of the meat substitute seitan (pronouced ‘say-tan’)–but not the one your mamma warned you about. It can sometimes be found on restaurant menus and in health food grocery stores. But, my guess is that you’ve wondered what the heck IS seitan anyway?
What is seitan?
Seitan is becoming more and more popular in the vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based communities as a meat substitute. It has a look and texture amazingly similar to cooked meat.
The history of seitan dates back to at least the 6th century AD. Its use was first recorded in Chinese literature for making noodles, and it has been a common meat substitute in Asian cultures for thousands of years.
Seitan is not made from soy–unlike tofu and tempeh. It is made from wheat and is also known as wheat meat, which means it is obviously not gluten-free.
Whether you make it yourself or buy it precooked, seitan is quite healthly. It is low in calories with only 100/calories per 3-ounce serving. It is also very low in fat and has a whopping 21 grams of protein!
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How to cook seitan
Seitan is simple to make and the process is much like making bread with kneading and allowing the dough to rise.
However, it does differ from bread because with seitan, the starch is removed from the dough, leaving behind just the protein. This is accomplished either by kneading the dough under water to release and wash away the starch, or it can be done by using a special flour known as vital gluten wheat.
I personally use vital wheat gluten, but for those interested in making their own gluten flour checkout this article, Making Raw Gluten from Flour.
When cooking seitan yourself, it has to be kneaded and allowed to set and rise, just like baking bread. The longer it is kneaded, the chewier the seitan will be after baked. It is surprising how close the texture is to meat.
Once it is completely kneaded, press into a pan for baking. This is where the fun is because the ‘dough’ is so spongy, and can’t really be pressed completely into a pan. It just keeps springing back into place. Such a neat texture to work with!
Ingredients for seitan
- vital wheat gluten
Where to buy precooked seitan
If cooking is not your thing, there are a number of options for purchasing seitan already cooked and ready to eat or use in recipes. Though it is available on amazon in shelf-stable boxes that don’t require refrigeration, I much prefer buying it in the cooler section of health food stores.
Unfortunately, only a very few traditional grocery stores carry it at this time. However, our local Ingles grocery just began carrying a brand called No-Evil Foods that I really like. Whole Foods and Earth Fare carry other brands that are also good.
I like to buy a bunch when it’s on sale and freeze it. When we are ready for a quick barbecue sandwich, I can defrost and add our favorite Bone Suck’n Barbecue Sauce. On a whole grain bun, loaded with fresh spinach and onions, this stuff is amazing!
Having a neutral flavor allows seitan to absorb other flavors well, which is great when adding spices and sauces to recipes. It can easily be added to stir fries, sandwiches, and wraps.
Because it’s high in protein but low in calories, seitan can help support satiety to keep you feeling full, which could help promote weight loss.
Seitan has a mild flavor on its own but can take on many more flavors from different recipes. It can be savory and succulent for Asian dishes like Soba Noodles with Seitan and Sweet and Sour Stir Fry or tangy and saucy in a barbecue recipe like Shedded Barbecue Sandwiches.
In the United States, many people are beginning to use seitan as a healthier main dish option for traditional holiday meals like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The meaty texture lends itself well to recipes like Mushroom Seitan Roast by Susan Voisin, with FatFreeVegan.
Seitan is a delicious option for healthy vegan meals that is packed with protein and flavor. It’s so versatile and can be made into just about anything. Time to give it a try!
Great seitan recipes
- Barbecue Sandwiches
- Soba Noodles with Seitan
- Sweet and Sour Stir Fry
- Vegan Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
To adjust the serving sizes of any of my recipes, simply go to the ‘Servings’ listed in the recipe card right above the ingredients list. Hover over the number of servings, and a sliding bar will appear. Slide to the number of servings you would like, and the ingredients will automatically adjust the amounts.
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- 2 cup vital wheat gluten
- 1.5 cups water
- spices of your choice garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, oregano, tahini, etc
Vital wheat gluten can be found in the baking section of many grocery stores.
Assemble the dry ingredients of wheat gluten powder, spices, and herbs. Combine in a large bowl and whisk together.
In a medium bowl, mix together spices of your choice. In the past I have used garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, oregano, tamari or soy sauce, vegetarian "oyster" sauce, tahini
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. It will thicken very quickly. Begin to knead everything together for approximately 3 minutes.
Set to the side and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then knead another 2-3 minutes. The longer you knead, the chewier the seitan will be after baked.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and press seitan into the pan. Bake at 325 for 40 minutes.
Remove from oven and slice or dice to use in your favorite recipes. One of my personal favorites is to place in crock pot with with barbecue sauce. Allow to cook on low for 1 hour. By allowing the seitan to cook slowly in the barbecue sauce for at least an hour, it achieves a tender, pulled texture.
Remove from crock pot. Use a couple of forks to pull and shred the seitan apart. This can be shredded in a food processor, but I like mine chunkier and did it by hand. Then place back into the crock pot with barbecue sauce and cook 6-8 hours on low. Serve warm on whole grain buns. We added fresh spinach leaves and sliced onion to ours. Delish!
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