Seitan: a Versatile and Protein-Rich Vegan Ingredient

Seitan is a vegan meat alternative made from wheat gluten, spices, salt, and water. Chinese Buddhist monks of the Seventh Century were the first to discover how to separate the gluten from wheat. They discovered that seitan makes an excellent meat replacement—it’s chewy, satisfying, and flavorful.

During the 1970s, America’s counterculture experimented with vegetarianism, and seitan became a staple at communes. Seitan’s popularity within the counterculture no doubt arose from the fact that it was one of the cheapest sources of protein imaginable. Plus, a seitan-based meal will fill you up for hours.

seitan in bibimbap
Strips of chewy spiced seitan elevate this bibimbap (a Korean rice bowl) from good to great.

Purchasing Seitan Products

Today, many of the most popular brands of vegan meat are based on seitan. One reason for seitan’s popularity is its versatility. You can season it any number of ways. Next, you can slice it thinly (perfect for vegan cheesesteak sandwiches!), cut it into chunks, or crumble and fry it like ground meat.

Many of the vegan meats made by Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and Upton’s Naturals consist mostly of seitan (which can appear on the ingredients list as either seitan or as wheat gluten). You can find these as well as several other seitan-based products in the refrigerated section of most natural food stores.

You can buy seitan in the refrigerated section of most health food stores. There are a million ways to prepare it. Here’s my favorite: slice thinly and lightly sauté, then serve on a baguette with a heap of fried onions and vegan barbecue sauce.

Countless vegan cookbooks feature at least a few seitan recipes, and there’s even an all-vegan cookbook devoted entirely to seitan: Crafting Seitan, by Skye Michael Conroy.

Related pages: tofu, tempeh, and protein.

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