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Seitan: What Is It?

Veganism has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. This lifestyle which was once considered rare now accounts for 3% of the world’s population, and the number of vegans is growing and growing with every day that passes. 

Those who follow a vegan diet choose not to eat any animal products. This not only includes meat taken from chickens, cows, pigs, etc., but it also includes animal byproducts such as eggs, dairy, honey, and gelatin. When you choose to follow a vegan lifestyle, the list of foods that you can eat suddenly becomes a lot shorter. This is why so many vegans love to eat meat-alternatives, and one of the most popular is seitan. 

vegan burrito bowl, with seitan as the meat substitute, served <a href=rice, lettuce, red and yellow bell peppers, and a sliced avocado on the side.” class=”wp-image-21813″/>
vegan burrito bowl, with seitan as the meat substitute, served rice, lettuce, red and yellow bell peppers, and a sliced avocado on the side.

If you are a vegan, or have friends and family who follow this diet, then you have probably heard of seitan. But despite having heard of it, you might not actually know what it is. So what is seitan? Let’s find out. 

What is Seitan?

First things first, let’s take a look at what Seitan is. Seitan is primarily known as being a meat-alternative, and so it operates in the same area of the market as Quorn and Tofu. While seitan is sold in its basic form, most of the time it is actually used in ‘meatless’ products that are sold to market. So, if you have ever eaten meatless frankfurters, Beyond Meat, or this isn’t bacon, then you have probably tasted seitan. This is because seitan is usually used as the base ingredient in these products. But what is it made of?

seitan cooking process

Seitan is made using hydrated gluten. Gluten is the main protein taken from wheat, and it is actually a very common allergy. So, if you are gluten intolerant, then seitan will not be suitable for you. But, if you can eat gluten, then seitan is an excellent source of protein. Especially if you are a vegan. This is because one of the main places where people get protein from is meat, so if you are not eating it, you have to get protein from elsewhere. This is why seitan is so popular. 

Where does Seitan Come From?

As is the case for many alternative foods, seitan actually originates in the East. In both Japan and China, seitan has been used for centuries in cooking, and it is thought that it was developed by vegetarian monks. Seitan has quickly become the more popular meat alternative because it is believable, and it mimics meat excellently. Unlike other meat alternatives which lack something, the gluten used to create seitan gives the meat an elastic quality, and this gives it a more authentic, meaty texture. After all, it is this elastic quality that gives bread dough its elastic quality, too. 

How to prepare seitan

To make seitan, water is mixed with wheat flour until a dough-like consistency is formed. Once you have achieved this consistency, the mixture should then be rinsed multiple times to ensure that the starch is washed away. With the starch gone, all that will be left is the stringy gluten which is then cooked in soy sauce, water, and other flavors. Once cooked, the seitan is complete and ready to serve. So, as you can see, creating this meat alternative is actually very simple. A lot of people automatically assume that vegan food is healthy, but is this true of seitan? Let’s find out.

Is Seitan Healthy?

Most people assume that any food which is suitable for vegans and vegetarians is automatically healthy, however this isn’t always the case. For example, Jelly tots, Starbursts, and Skittles are all vegan-friendly and are all suitable for vegans, but none of them are healthy. So, what about seitan? Is this healthy?

Seitan is nutritious. This is because it is made almost entirely of wheat gluten. The fact that it is made of gluten means that it is very high in protein, which makes it the perfect meat-alternative. It also contains an ample amount of carbohydrates, which means that you will be able to get lots of energy both slow and fast-burning out of seitan if you eat it. As well as this, it is also high in minerals, which ensures that you will be getting health benefits every type you eat. 

Grilled vegan seitan steaks with pimientos de padron and served with a herb soy sauce
Grilled vegan seitan steaks with pimientos de padron and served with a herb soy sauce

As well as the benefits listed above, seitan is also very low in calories. This does mean that it can help make up part of a healthy diet, especially if you are on a diet that counts calories. So, yes, overall we would say that seitan is healthy. But of course, the overall healthiness of it will depend on the meal that you use it in and the way that it is cooked. 

What does it Taste Like?

As we have said, seitan is a meat-alternative. But, you might be wondering just exactly what a meat alternative tastes of. Well, out of the meats that seitan might be used as a replacement for, it probably tastes the closest to chicken. This is because chicken is rather flavorless and neutral, and so is seitan. When cooked on its own, seitan doesn’t really taste of anything, but this is actually a benefit because it means that you can easily add flavors when cooking to make your seitan your own. 

The great thing about seitan is that it absorbs flavors really easily. So, whether you want to make your seitan spicy or saucy, the flavor will soak all the way through the “meat”. For this reason, quite a lot of people prefer cooking with seitan to cooking with chicken. If you were to eat seitan on its own, then it is highly likely that you would be left disappointed. But, once you add some seasoning, seitan tastes great. 

How to Cook Seitan

Most of the time, when you buy seitan, it will be ready-made. This means that all you have to do is cook with it. Of course, you can always make seitan yourself, but this is often a lot more effort than it is worth. If you have bought pre-made seitan, then you might be wondering how to cook it. So, let’s take a look at some different ways you can use seitan in cooking. 

seitan steak on the grill
seitan steak on the grill

When it comes to seitan, there are generally 2 ways in which people choose to cook it. They either grill it, or they fry it. Both of these options are great, and they give you plenty of opportunity to add flavor to your seitan. You can easily season your seitan prior to grilling it, likewise you can add a variety of different ingredients to your seitan when frying it. Another way in which some people choose to cook their seitan is to cover it in breadcrumbs or batter before frying it. This isn’t the healthiest way to cook your seitan, but it is completely delicious, and you will not be disappointed. 

How to Store Seitan

If you were wondering how to cook your seitan, you are also likely wondering how to store your seitan. In most cases, the specific seitan that you buy will come with storage instructions. But, generally speaking you should store it in the fridge. Seitan should be kept in an airtight container, and once opened it will be safe to eat for around 10 days. Alternatively, you can freeze your seitan, and it will be safe to eat for around 6 months. Additionally, you can also extend the life of your seitan by boiling it in its broth 2 times a week for 10 minutes. This way, you will have plenty of time to enjoy your seitan before it turns. 

Summary

In short, seitan is a meat-alternative that is very popular in both the vegan and vegetarian communities. It is made using hydrated gluten, and it has a neutral flavor, which makes it perfect for cooking. So, you can add whatever flavors you want to your seitan, and it will taste great. 

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.