Seitan, also called "wheat meat," is a popular substitute for meat in vegetarian and vegan meals. Made with just two ingredients—vital wheat gluten and water—it's a high-protein, soy-free alternative to many meat-free products available commercially today.
Learn how seitan is made, why it's so easy to make at home and how you can enjoy it in a variety of dishes.
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Pictured Recipe: Dan Dan Noodles with Seitan, Shiitake Mushrooms & Napa Cabbage
What Is Seitan?
Seitan has been used for centuries in many Asian cuisines. Today, it's widely available in grocery stores and health food markets.
When it's cooked, seitan becomes dense and chewy. Its texture makes it closer to meat than tofu or even tempeh. It also absorbs flavors well and can be used in a variety of dishes. Indeed, seitan is an extremely versatile ingredient.
Luckily, seitan is surprisingly easy to make at home. The base recipe requires you to knead vital wheat gluten and water until it forms a dense ball or loaf. Flour is sometimes added to improve the texture. The remaining dense mass of gluten protein is then rinsed or boiled to wash away starches and solidify the dough.
Seitan can be used to make "chicken" patties for sandwiches. It can be crumbled for a stir-fry or tofu scramble. It's also delicious marinated and grilled. Cooks have a variety of great options with this protein alternative.
What Does Seitan Taste Like?
Seitan has an almost neutral flavor, which is why it's great in so many recipes. The flavor can best be described as similar to chicken or a neutral mushroom like a portobello.
Seitan is often preflavored if you buy it at a grocery store. If you make it at home, it's easy to add dry spices to the gluten mix, or flavoring agents to the boiling liquid, to boost the final flavor.
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Pictured Recipe: Homemade Seitan
How to Make Seitan
Premade seitan is available in the refrigerated or frozen sections of many grocery stores. However, these products may contain unnecessary ingredients that are added to improve taste or texture or make the product shelf-stable.
If you prefer to make your own, there's good news: it's incredibly easy. Making your own seitan also means you can have control over ingredients. You can experiment with flavors, adding ingredients you think might benefit your final dish. Wheat gluten is the only necessary ingredient (along with water), so any additional ingredients will be purely to boost the wheat meat's final flavor.
Pictured Recipe: Crispy Seitan "Chicken" Tenders
The Easiest Way to Make Seitan at Home
1. Combine vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast and other flavoring ingredients like garlic powder, dried ginger or dried minced onion in a large bowl. If your stand mixer has a dough hook, you can add these ingredients to a mixer bowl.
2. Add water or flavorful liquids like vegetable broth, miso or soy sauce to the dry ingredients.
3. Mix the dry and wet ingredients on medium-low until an elastic dough forms, about 3 minutes. If you don't have a stand mixer, combine the ingredients with a whisk, and then knead by hand to form a dough. If the dough is dry, add water or vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon at a time.
4. Once the dough forms, separate it into two loaves.
5. Transfer the loaves to a stockpot filled with water or broth. Add flavoring ingredients like ginger, soy or lemongrass to the water or broth. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer until the loaves are firm, about 30 minutes.
6. Remove the stockpot from the heat, and remove the lid. Let the loaves stand in the water, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain the loaves, and allow them to cool.
7. Once the seitan loaves are cooled, you can refrigerate or freeze them for the future. The loaves can also be immediately chopped, sliced, crumbled or otherwise prepared for any number of dishes.
Pictured Recipe: Garden-Fresh Stir-Fry with Seitan
How to Cook with Seitan
The great thing about seitan is that it is versatile. It can go from Italian "chicken" Parmesan to Asian stir-fry, southern "barbecue" to tropical skewers with pineapple and peppers.
That's because the wheat meat has very little taste, but it absorbs flavors from seasonings, sauces, marinades and glazes. It can also pick up smoky flavors from the grill or a high-heat broil in the oven.
Seitan can be sliced into "chicken" tenders, breaded and then baked for a kid-friendly option. It can also be simmered in soups and stews, or sautéed with peppers and onions to make fajitas.
Seitan is also used to form a chewy, meat-like base for many meat-free substitutes like veggie or black bean burgers, vegan sausages and sandwich patties.
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Pictured Recipe: Malaysian Seitan, Broccoli & Mushroom Fried Rice
Is Seitan Healthy?
Seitan is high in protein, low in carbohydrates and fat, and a good source of fiber. It is not, however, a complete protein for vegans and vegetarians. (That means it's lacking essential amino acids.)
Seitan does have roughly the same amount of protein as animal meat. A 3-ounce serving has about 110 calories, 20 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and half a gram of fat. It's also a good source of selenium, potassium, folate and iron.
Though you might associate wheat and flour with carbs, many of the carbs in seitan are washed away in a rinse or boil, after the wheat protein dough is made. That means it's as close to low-carb animal protein as you may get with meat-free alternatives. Many commercially available meat substitutes are packed with rice, beans or flours that boost calorie and carbohydrate totals.