Whether you're looking to eat less meat or cutting it out entirely, exploring the world of plant-based meat alternatives is a fun and exciting journey. With so many vegan and vegetarian meat options on shelves, you might have trouble knowing which to choose. That's where we come in. The Bob's Red Mill team has tried and tested nearly all of the plant-based products out there to help you determine which ingredients deserve a spot in your recipe book. With plant-based diets gaining in popularity, the available options for meat alternatives have never been more incredible. From simple, wholesome ingredients to convenient products, the options are plentiful for those looking to expand their protein sources. Seitan, pronounced "say-tan," is a long-time favorite of plant-based eaters. And as a meat alternative that has been a staple in health food stores for several years, it's time that you try it out for yourself. If you're considering adding seitan to your diet, continue reading as our cooking experts explain what it is and how to cook with it.
What Is Seitan?
If you're trying seitan for the first time, it's important to note that this is not a new product. So, what is seitan exactly? Seitan is an old ingredient that has been incorporated into dishes for centuries. Previously referred to as "mian jin," seitan has been enjoyed in China since the 6th century. Much later, in the 1960s, "main jin" was reintroduced as seitan, combining the Latin words "sei" (meaning "made of") and "tan" from "tanpaku" (meaning protein).
Since its reintroduction, seitan is most commonly used as a vegan meat substitute due to its chewy texture. Premade seitan is available in several different varieties ranging from sandwich-style slices to sausages and patties. The type of seitan you choose to purchase or make will largely depend on the recipe you're making. As with all convenience products, it's essential that you check the ingredients and expiration dates when purchasing seitan from the store. Many pre-made seitan products are loaded with processed ingredients and preservatives that are not a part of a healthy diet. If this is the case, we suggest making a basic seitan recipe at home instead. By making seitan at home, you'll know exactly what's inside and prepare it in a way you enjoy.
What Is Seitan Made Of?
Knowing how to cook seitan properly requires learning more about the ingredients it's made of. Seitan is primarily made of wheat gluten flour—a pure protein that is derived from wheat. If you've baked a loaf of bread before, chances are you've used wheat flour. When you bake with wheat flour, the wheat protein in it works to build up long chains that hold the mixture together. This protein is directly responsible for adding elasticity, structure and texture to your baked goods. Using wheat protein to make seitan helps create a chewy and "meaty" texture, making the ideal plant-based meat substitute for all of your favorite dishes.
This being said, if you're gluten intolerant, then seitan is not the best option for you. For individuals able to tolerate gluten, it is entirely safe to enjoy and an excellent choice if you're looking to spice up your meals without overloading them with calories and fat. As a low-fat, low-calorie food, seitan doesn't contain any cholesterol. However, it does boast a robust amount of protein. While the protein found in seitan is a vital part of a healthy diet, it's important to note that it does not contain all essential amino acids. Because of this, seitan is not considered a complete protein. Luckily, completing the amino acid profile can quickly be done by combining seitan with other protein sources like legumes, chickpeas and nutritional yeast. Additionally, small amounts of chickpea flour, soy flour or soy sauce can be added to your seitan dough to complete the amino acid profile.
Ingredients Commonly Used to Make Seitan
Wheat Protein (Vital Wheat Gluten Flour)
Gluten, the natural protein found in wheat, helps improve the texture and elasticity of the dough it's used to make. As the main ingredient in seitan, it acts as a binder for the popular meat substitute and can be used to make meatballs, meatloaf, veggie burgers and even tofu. To make seitan, vital wheat gluten is mixed with spices and combined with water to make a dough. The dough is then cooked through a process of steaming, baking, broiling or grilling. Seitan's texture becomes chewy and meat-like when cooked, making it the ideal vegan/vegetarian substitute for popular meat-filled dishes.
Bob's Red Mill Chickpea Flour is stone ground from whole garbanzo beans. An excellent source of fiber and a popular ingredient in many baked goods, chickpea flour, is commonly used in gluten free recipes. However, it's recently become a popular addition to vegan seitan dough as it helps complete the protein source with additional amino acids. In addition to essential amino acids, chickpeas are loaded with protein, dietary fiber and iron. As one of the creamiest and tastiest beans, chickpea flour lends a sweet, rich flavor to whatever recipe it's added to.
Nutritional yeast is commonly used as a vegetarian dietary supplement and grants a cheesy flavor to recipes. High in vitamin B-12 and protein, it's a great addition to your favorite basic seitan recipe. Additionally, nutritional yeast can be added to any sauce, scrambles, kale chips, crackers, biscuits and sprinkled over foods like vegetables, popcorn and baked potatoes.
In addition to the ingredients listed above, extras like legumes, spices and crumbled tofu can be added to your seitan to boost the nutritional value and texture.
How to Cook Seitan
There are many different ways to cook seitan. To help you get started, we've listed a few of our favorite cooking styles below.
What You'll Need:
- A pot
- A large portion of seitan
Simmering seitan is a popular way to cook this meat alternative. To properly simmer seitan, you'll need to start with a pot and a large portion of seitan. Instead of placing your seitan in boiling water, be sure to simmer it until it's fully cooked. Water or vegetable stock can be combined with soy sauce, miso paste, nutritional yeast or additional spices. Because the seitan will be directly combined with the liquid you create, it will soak up the different flavorings and create a soft, sponge-like texture. This smooth texture can be used to create a meat alternative that works well when sliced into thin slices and fried for sandwiches, cut into strips and tossed with veggies and rice, or chopped into chunks, simmered in gravy and served over mashed potatoes.
What You'll Need:
- Steamer or steaming basket
To steam properly, start with a steaming basket or steamer and add water to it. While the water simmers in the pot, you'll want to add the seitan to the steaming basket. Doing so will allow the seitan to develop a pleasant texture that is neither too soft nor firm. When steaming seitan, the protein will remain smooth instead of creating a hard crust.
What You'll Need:
- Baking sheet
For a seitan recipe with a firm consistency, instead of steaming or simmering it, we recommend baking it in the oven. Baking seitan will dehydrate the batter and present an even crust on the outside. To bake the seitan properly, start by placing it on a lightly greased baking sheet and cooking it at 180°C - 200°C/360°F - 390°F. To prevent your seitan from becoming too dry, make sure you marinate it beforehand.
Add Seitan to Recipes
Beef and Potato Farro Pilau
A dish that commonly uses basmati rice, this recipe substitutes farro to provide an added heartiness and deep, nutty flavor. To transition this Beef and Potato Farro Pilau into a plant-based one, use vegan seitan as an alternative to beef. Doing so will keep the filling nature of the meal while adding comfort and warmth that vegan and non-vegan guests will enjoy.
Beef Empanadas with Peppers and Onion
Craving empanadas sans the animal products? Start by making these Beef Empanadas with Peppers and Onion, and replace the beef with cooked seitan. A great alternative to a meat-based filling, seasoned seitan will help capture the original flavors of this recipe, creating a dish that will leave everyone full and satisfied. Additionally, a recipe that's naturally gluten free, just a little bit of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Masa Harina is added to our Gluten Free Pie Crust Mix to make an enticing crust.
Now that you know the best way to cook seitan, let's put that knowledge to the test! Whether you use one of the recipes listed above or choose to create a dish of your own, adding seitan to your weekly meals is a great way to boost your intake of plant-based protein. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you a healthy and happy day!