If you've spent some time in the vegetarian and vegan sections of a health food store, you've probably come across various plant-based meat substitutes, with tofu, tempeh and textured soy protein being the most popular. Whether you've dared to try these alternatives or not, there's another meat-like protein taking the spotlight—seitan. If you're like many and are left wondering what exactly is seitan and how you make it, you're not alone. Continue reading for a complete guide covering all there is to know about this plant-based cooking product and how you can make it from scratch.
Where Does Seitan Come From?
While seitan has recently gained popularity, it's not a new product. Instead, it's a vegan meat substitute that has been around for years and more recently emerged with a new name. Enjoyed in China as early as the 6th century, the seitan was initially known as "mian jin" and served for centuries. However, in the 1960s, mian jin received a "makeover" by George Ohsawa, who founded the macrobiotic diet and introduced seitan as a new term combining the two Japanese words "sei" (made of) and "tanpaku" (meaning protein).
What Is Seitan?
What is seitan, exactly? A popular meat substitute used primarily in vegetarian and vegan meals, seitan is often referred to by many different names, including wheat meat, gluten meat, vital wheat gluten, and gluten. It's made by combining two ingredients—wheat gluten and water—and is a soy free alternative to many of the meat-free products available for individuals following a plant-based diet.
But what is the difference between seitan vs tempeh? When cooked, seitan takes on a meaty texture that is both dense and chewy. Because its texture is similar to that of meat, most people prefer it to tofu or tempeh when making a genuinely meaty dish. Additionally, seitan absorbs flavor exceptionally well, making it easy to include in various cuisines ranging from sweet and savory to spicy.
Luckily, making this versatile ingredient at home is easy. Creating seitan requires you to knead vital wheat gluten and water until it forms into a firm ball or loaf. Wheat flour or additional ingredients can be added to improve the texture; however, they're not always needed.
After the dough has been formed into a ball, it is rinsed and boiled to wash away the starches. Seitan can be used to create everything from vegan chicken strips to plant-based taco meat and is a favorite amongst vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
Can Everyone Enjoy Seitan?
Ideal for those following a plant-based diet and people who have a soy allergy, seitan is entirely soy free and high in protein, making it an excellent choice. That being said, while seitan is a delicious meat alternative, it's not for everyone. If you're gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, seitan is unfortunately not the meat substitute for you.
Made entirely of wheat gluten, seitan is not a gluten free food and shouldn't be treated as such. Additionally, while seitan contains high amounts of protein, it is not a complete protein source. Because of this, it must be combined with other sources of protein when you eat it. Ingredients like chickpea flour, soy flour, and soy sauce can be added to your seitan dough to complete the string of essential amino acids.
While seitan can be made in several different ways, here's an overview of how to make seitan and the ingredients commonly used in this dish.
Vital Wheat Gluten
Vital wheat gluten, also known as gluten, is a protein naturally found in wheat. Commonly used in bread baking, when a small amount is added, it improves the texture and elasticity of the dough. Additionally, it's the main ingredient used to make seitan and helps create a chewy, meaty texture.
Nutritional yeast is a top-rated vegetarian dietary supplement. Known for its pleasantly cheesy flavor, it's loaded with good-for-you nutrients like vitamin B-12 and protein. Mix it into your favorite sauces, or add it to plant-based alternatives to recreate traditional flavors.
Spices and Flavorings
Seitan soaks up whatever is around it as dehydrated food, making it an easy ingredient to flavor. To make a delicious lunch or dinner seitan recipe that tastes similar to meat, we recommend using herbs and spices garlic, onion, fennel, turmeric, soy sauce, molasses, tahini, and olive oil.
Broth or Liquid
Seitan is a dehydrated food, which means that it needs to be rehydrated before enjoying it. While seitan can be rehydrated using water, the result will often be a bit bland, especially if other flavorings are not added to the recipe. To rehydrate your seitan and flavor it simultaneously, choose a pre-flavored liquid like soup or vegetable broth.
How to Make Homemade Seitan from Scratch
Making basic seitan in the comfort of your kitchen is easy. Keep scrolling for a step-by-step guide to make seitan from scratch.
What you'll need:
- Medium bowl (2)
- Basic seitan ingredients
- 18-inch-long sheet of aluminum foil
- Measuring cup
- Medium pot and lid
- Steamer basket
- 1 ¾ cups Bob’s Red Mill® Vital Wheat Gluten
- ⅓ cup Bob’s Red Mill® Nutritional Yeast
- 2 tsp Garlic Granules or Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- 2 tsp Crushed Fennel
- ½ tsp Turmeric
- 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp Molasses
- 1 tsp Tahini
- 1 ½ Tbsp Oil
- 1 ½ cups Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
Start with wheat gluten. In a medium bowl, combine the wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and dry spices—whisk them together. Combine the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and stir until they're smooth.
Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture in slowly. Use a fork to bring the dough together until you notice that it's lumpy and springy.
Pour the mixed dough onto a sheet of aluminum foil (or parchment paper) and wrap it, forming it into a log-like shape.
Bring 4-6 cups of water to a rolling boil in a medium pot and place a steamer basket inside. Next, add the seitan that's been wrapped in foil and cover the pot with a lid allowing 80 minutes of cook time without removing the lid.
Once the seitan is done steaming, allow it to cool for 30 minutes before cutting it into slices or chunks. Enjoy your cooked seitan as is, sear it on the stovetop, or combine it with another recipe to create a truly satisfying meal.
Ways to Cook Seitan
Now that you know how to make homemade seitan, it's time to decide how you'd like to cook it. Seitan can be baked, steamed, or boiled, which will all result in different textures. Whether you are looking to make vegan seitan patties, a steak, sausage, or a stir fry, there are many dishes you can make once you've created the seitan dough. Before determining how you'd like to cook this vegan meat substitute, we recommend finding a recipe to add it to first. Knowing what you'll be combining the seitan with will help you decide what method to use.
To simmer seitan, you'll want to begin with a pot and a large portion of it. Instead of cooking your seitan in boiling water, ensure that you have simmering broth (vegetable broth or vegan chicken broth) or water and cook it until it's fully done. Though proper simmering can be achieved with water alone, for a boost of flavor and nutrients, season the seitan with vegetable stock soy sauce, miso paste, nutritional yeast, and other spices.
Because the seitan will be set directly into the liquid, it will soak up its flavors and develop a soft and spongy texture. Though delicious, this smooth texture won't hold up well in firm dishes and is best when added to soups, pasta and stews.
To get properly steamed seitan, you will need a steamer or a steaming basket that can be easily set up in a pot. Making steamed seitan is easy, first, bring the water in the pot to a simmer and then add the seitan to the steaming basket.
This process will allow the seitan to develop a pleasant texture that is neither too soft nor too firm. Instead of creating a crust, the outer layers of the seitan will remain smooth, ideal for combining with other steamed foods like vegetables.
If you want to create a portion of seitan with a firmer consistency, we recommend baking it in the oven. Because the baking process will slightly dehydrate the seitan, it will create a firm texture and crusting outside. To bake it to perfection, simply place the seitan on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 180°C - 200°C/360°F - 390°F. Be sure to marinate the seitan beforehand to add flavor and prevent it from drying out.
Making seitan is an excellent way to ensure that you know what's in your food. While cooking it for the first time might seem a bit intimidating, it's actually quite simple. Follow the step-by-step guide above to ensure that your cooked seitan turns out perfectly. If you're a pro at making seitan and are having trouble figuring out what meals to make with it, check out these five quick and easy seitan dinner recipes. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, have a filling and flavorful day!