Written by Ciara Danay Gradillas
I was scrolling through YouTube some years back, and I came across what, at the time, looked like a crazy dish to me: It was called seitan. Although I have a vegan aunt who loves to cook extravagant vegan dishes, I hadn’t heard of seitan before. A search on Google, revealed that seitan was simply “Wheat meat”, a plant-based meat substitute that is made from wheat gluten. The word ‘seitan’ is a Japanese term thought to have come from the combination of several words: sei, meaning “made of” or “proper/correct” and tan, the first character in the Japanese word, ‘tanpaku’, which means “protein.” Seitan dates to ancient China in the 6th century with the Buddhist monks. Like most of the amazing creations we have today, seitan was a delicious accident. Once they discovered what they could make after soaking the wheat dough overnight, they wanted to make a meat substitute as an alternative to killing animals.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How do you even make seitan;” and, depending on what the “meat” will be used for, determines what spices will be added. A popular seasoning used in the making of seitan is: liquid aminos, which kind of tastes like soy sauce, they are made with soybeans that are fermented in a different way. Another interesting seasoning that is used in the seitan dough, is a seasoning called: ‘nutritional yeast,’ which is a yellowish powder that tastes nutty and cheesy. If you don’t have any of these ingredients, you can make your seitan with just two simple ingredients: vital wheat flour and some water. You start off by making a simple dough of just water and flour. When your dough is made, you go to town – rinsing off all the starch from the dough ball and making sure only the pure wheat gluten is left. The finished ball of wheat gluten dough is then boiled for 30 minutes, or until tender. To add more flavor, it is boiled in vegetable stock instead of water. A quick way to fully cook the ball is to throw it in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes. When the seitan is done, it has a chewy texture of cooked chicken, or the texture of jackfruit. Seitan can be sliced, shredded, fried, grilled. The delicious preparation possibilities of seitan are endless. This cooked chewy, savory loaf has minerals from the added ingredients, it is high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. A 4-ounce serving of seitan usually contains 31 grams of protein. A 4 oz portion of roasted turkey on Thanksgiving contains 32 grams of protein, and seitan turkey roast is just as yummy and has the same amount of protein as a turkey made of meat.
There are 8 major food allergies today. One of the top allergies being to soy products. For those with a soy allergy, seitan is the perfect plant-based meat alternative to tofu. Although both seitan and tofu are vegan substitutes for meat, the seitan can absorb flavors better than tofu, and has a better “bite” than tofu. Tofu is still more widely recognized and sold in most stores where seitan is not easily found. As a chef and a baker, I’m always hearing the word gluten being thrown around, but what exactly is gluten? Is it something we can buy off the shelves at the store? Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat grains and is a complex mixture of hundreds of related by distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin and the protein networks are responsible for the elasticity and chewiness of doughs. I’m sure you’ve known a person or two who has a gluten intolerance. For a gluten intolerant person, the gluten can cause their bodies to not digest nutrients and can cause inflammation in the small intestine.
Eating green doesn’t have to mean sacrificing foods that are tasty, savory and well-seasoned. It is all about which umami flavors you add. Make seitan for your friends and family and see if they can tell the difference between real and plant-based meat. Or, try to impress those vegan friends of yours with a delectable plant based “meaty” treat. Not only can seitan be used for white meat it can also be used for dark meats like steak, and you only need to add a little bit of beet juice to the dough before its boiled to give the dough that “rare” look when you slice into it. A juicy, tender, seitan steak is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Are you brave enough to try this plant-based meat alternative meal?
Picture, Free to use under the Pixabay License
Hopkins Ed, February 2020, website, https://www.loveseitan.com/2020/06/02/seitan-secrets-an-ancient-food-rich-in-history-and-protein/#:~:text=adding%20flavours%20afterwards.-,Where%20does%20it%20come%20from%3F,a%20high%20protein%20wheat%20gluten.
Panoff Lauren, January 2022, website, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/seitan
Biesiekierski JR. What is gluten? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:78-81. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13703. PMID: 28244676.
About the Author: Ciara Danay Gradillas
The author is pursuing her graduate education at California State University, Fresno in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. She currently serves as the President of the Food Science and Culinology Club.