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 figure out that by pouring water over flour, you can separate out the wheat protein. They then discovered that this seitan makes a superb 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.
Purchasing Seitan Products
One reason for seitan’s popularity is its versatility. Many popular brands of vegan meat feature seitan as the main ingredient.
The vegan meats made by companies like Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and Upton’s Naturals consist mostly of seitan. These products as well as several other seitan-based brands are sold in the refrigerated section at any natural food store. Note that the ingredients panel of these products will sometimes list wheat gluten rather than seitan.
When dried and spiced appropriately, seitan gains a texture and flavor indistinguishable from beef jerky. You can find at least a dozen seitan-based jerky products worldwide. They’re all loaded with protein, while bypassing the health, environmental, and animal welfare concerns associated with red meat.
Cooking with Seitan
There are countless ways to prepare seitan. Here’s my favorite: slice thinly and lightly sauté, then serve on a baguette with a heap of fried onions and vegan barbecue sauce. To take your your sandwich up another notch, add a couple slices of melted vegan cheese.
You can also cut your seitan into chunks, or crumble and fry it like ground meat. Prepared this way, it’s a terrific addition to any sort of savory vegan bowl. Also try it in place of meat or tofu in your next stir-fry. Whether added to bowls or stir-fries, seitan only needs a quick searing, so don’t overcook it.
Many vegan cookbooks feature seitan recipes. There’s even a title devoted entirely to seitan: Crafting Seitan, by Skye Michael Conroy.