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What is Seitan?

Everything you need to know about seitan– a plant-based meat alternative.

So you’ve scrambled your tofu. You've seared it and made tacos with it. You've even taken on tempeh, which you've marinated, blackened, and even crumbled into every sauce and stew you cross paths with. By now, you're a bonafide meatless maven well-versed in the art of plant-based cooking. So what's next?

Enter: seitan.

While it may sound evil, the only thing devilish about this meat substitute is how convincing it is for the real thing. If you've ever tried mock duck at a Chinese restaurant, then you've tasted just how eerily similar the taste and texture can be compared to actual meat.

So what exactly is this mysterious meat alternative? Find out everything there is to know about seitan — from how it's made to what to try it with. You'll add it to your kitchen repertoire in no time!

What is It?

Seitan is a plant-based meat alternative with a stretchy meat-like texture.

Aptly nicknamed "wheat meat," seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is made from gluten, the stringy protein that gives dough its stretchy texture. When starch is removed from the dough so that only the gluten is left — voila, you've got seitan! You might also find seitan listed on ingredient lists as vital wheat gluten, but it's simply another pseudonym for the same product.

How Is Seitan Made

how seitan is made
Seitan is made from two ingredients: gluten and water.

"Like tofu and tempeh, seitan dates back over 2,000 years ago."

It was first developed by vegetarian Buddhist monks in China as a filling alternative to meat before gaining popularity throughout much of East Asia.

Seitan technically only requires two ingredients: gluten and water. The dough is repeatedly washed and kneaded, which removes the starch and develops the gluten. The more the dough is kneaded, the more gluten that's developed. Once the dough is rinsed and all the starch washed away, the chewy, elastic result that remains is what we know as seitan.

Making seitan is a simple enough process that many people opt for in lieu of buying packaged versions. This allows you to add your own custom seasoning or marinades, and comes with the added plus of avoiding preservatives or unnecessary ingredients.

Thanks to the trial-and-error of savvy at-home chefs, many DIY recipes have found ingredient hacks to make the kneading and washing process a bit easier. Several recommend powdered vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour in place of regular flour to make the dough more pliable and cut down on the wheat-y flavor. After rinsing, the dough is boiled, then cooled before cutting or cooking. Some homemade versions also call for the addition of veggie broth, olive oil, or soy sauce to add more flavor. Want to try making it yourself? Try one of our go-to recipes from Live Eat Learn. 

What Does Seitan Taste Like?

Seitan has a fairly neutral flavor that acts as a nice blank canvas for cooking. On its own, it's most comparable to plain chicken or a portobello mushroom, but absorbs any flavors and spices incredibly well.

However, seitan is typically appealing to people more for its texture than its taste.

"Compared to tempeh and tofu, seitan has a chewier, thicker bite to it that, once cooked, is almost indistinguishable from meat.”

Is Seitan Good For You?

You might expect a wheat product to be high in carbs — in seitan's case though, that's not true. Since seitan is made by washing away starches from wheat dough (the source of carbs), what's left is majority protein, not carbs.

In fact, a single 3-ounce serving of seitan has about 20 grams of protein, compared to 4 grams of carbohydrates. Here's what else you can expect from a serving of seitan:

  • 120 calories
  • 1 gram fat
  • 1 gram fiber
  • Iron: 8% of daily recommended amount
  • Calcium: 2% of daily recommended amount

While seitan does boast a high protein content, there's one caveat. It doesn't contain all the essential amino acids, so you shouldn't rely on it alone to fill your protein needs. To get your full dose of protein, you should supplement seitan with other plant-based sources like beans, nuts, and legumes.
And while gluten isn't a problem for most people, those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should definitely steer clear.

How to Cook Seitan

seitan tacos
Seitan is a great meat alternative for dishes like tacos.

Cooking seitan is incredibly simple — and hard to mess up — so don't be afraid to get creative! When in doubt, just swap it into any recipe where you'd normally use meat. For instance, to mimic ground beef, you can cut it into bite-sized chunks, mince it, or grind it in a food processor (perfect for tacos, chili, or spaghetti). If you're looking for a pulled pork or chicken dupe, you can rip it into strips. The fibrous texture of seitan makes it look just like the real thing.

Then, you can pan-fry it with vegetables and a splash of your favorite seasoning; marinate it in barbecue sauce and grill it on skewers; or add sauteed, golden-browned pieces to a soup or on top of a salad. You can even make a batch from scratch and bake it whole in the oven! The possibilities are truly endless.

Many ready-made seitans make it even easier to cook with a wide variety of flavors and seasonings. Plus, most are offered in strips, slices, satay, or already ground so all the prep work is done for you.

Where to Find Seitan

Seitan can be found in the refrigerated section, next to where tofu and tempeh is typically located. It's usually packaged like tofu in a sealed plastic container, or in boxes. You can find plain versions, but brands like Upton's and Sweet Earth also offer a variety of flavors like seitan bacon or chorizo. While prepared options are definitely convenient, be sure to read ingredient labels to find the least processed option made with fewer additives or preservatives.

Both homemade and store-bought seitan will keep in the fridge for several days, or up to three months in the freezer.

Seitan Recipes to Try

Ready to chow down on some seitan? Here are a few recipes starring seitan to try out:

Vegan "Chicken" Pad See Ew: Wide rice noodles, seitan "chicken," and Chinese Broccoli are sizzled together in Chez Jorge's vegan take on the classic Thai street food dish.

Seitan Portobello Stew: A hearty, flavorful stew of seitan and mushrooms simmered in a tomato broth of garlic, rosemary, and thyme.

Vegan Seitan Roast: Savory seasonings and dried herbs make this easy seitan roast perfect for holiday dinners, or sliced up for sandwiches during the week. Cook in the Instant Pot or bake.

Mongolian (Seitan) Beef: Seitan gets pan-fried to a light crisp, then simmered in a sticky, sweet and spicy sauce. Serve with rice and a side of broccoli!

And there you have it– everything you need to know about seitan. Happy plant-based eating!