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Friday, April 16, 2021

What is seitan, is it healthy and how do you make it?

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No, it’s not a demonic vegan deity, but what is seitan? The short answer is that it’s a delicious protein source. The long version gives you a recipe to try. Guess which this is?

Who amongst us hasn’t stifled an eyeroll when questioned about our protein sources? There’s only so many times that you can repeat that plenty of vegetables enjoy a high percentage of protein in their make-up. Yes, watercress is 84% protein, but who wants to talk about that when there’s a meme that compares broccoli to steak?

There is one vegan food stuff that really hits the protein nail on the head, though, and that’s seitan. The chewier, more flavourful cousin of tofu, it offers a big protein hit, is versatile and is easy to make in your home kitchen.

Sounds great, but seriously, what is seitan?

vegan chicken

In the simplest of terms, seitan (also called ‘wheat meat’) is a viable alternative to soy-based products such as tofu or tempeh. It is made from vital wheat gluten, which looks like flour. You simply season with flavour profiles that you want to enjoy in the end product, mix with liquid and knead until the gluten becomes stretchy. After cooking, you’ll have a ‘loaf’ that can then be added to recipes or eaten as-is. 

Because seitan is made from wheat and there is no possible substitution, it is an unsuitable protein source for gluten-free vegans or those intolerant to gluten. There are a number of other meat alternatives — such as those made with pea protein — that offer a similar authentic ‘meaty’ texture and easy-to-flavour composition.

Do I have to make it or can I buy seitan?

homemade seitanYou are probably already buying it, just without realising. A lot of store bought vegan meat products are made using seitan. Deli meat substitutes are frequently recreated using seitan as it can be heavily seasoned and kneaded to make a firm loaf, which is perfect for slicing.

Health food stores will usually have a selection of brands to choose from, with some sticking to the seitan base and others looking to create recognisable flavours but without the use of gluten. Always read ingredient lists if you are unsure. If you see vital wheat gluten, you know you are looking at a seitan-style product.

Read our review of Kiss vegan seitan roasts.

What is seitan like, taste-wise?

vegan proteinThis all depends on how it is flavoured. Plain seitan will be all but flavourless and not terrifically exciting. That’s why it is either highly seasoned during production or added to intensely flavorful dishes, such as curries and barbecue recipes.

With the right ingredients, seitan can be made to taste like regular meats. The stock used is key here, as are the herbs and spices added. 

Is seitan healthy?

seitan burgerAs with so many plant-based meat substitutes, seitan is something to enjoy in moderation. It’s low in carbohydrates and fat but very high in protein, making it a good addition to your plate, but be cautious of readymade varieties. You might find that the sauces, marinades and ingredients contain a lot of sugar, which can negate the benefits of this nutritious alternative to animal protein. Even the healthiest stir-fry can be compromised by processed protein full of sugars.

Vegetarians and vegans are recommended to try and master a homemade seitan recipe themselves, to keep a tighter control on exactly what is being added. This will also help ensure that things like essential amino acids and even nutritional yeast are being added back in for maximum mineral benefits.

There’s always space for a treat now and then, though, and if the Temple of Seitan doesn’t tempt you for a little plant-based indulgence, nothing will.

 

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A post shared by Temple of Seitan (@templeofseitan)

Read our story on how London’s vegan fast-food joints like Temple of Seitan are challenging the big chains.

Okay, I’m convinced. How do I make seitan at home?

seitan recipeThere are so many amazing vegan recipes for seitan and ultimately, the one you use you’ll probably adapt to your own tastes and preferences. As you experiment, you’ll discover whether you like a firm or soft finished product. You might like to try a part-steam, part-boil method and you’ll definitely want to see if you can make ‘chicken’, ‘beef’ and other styles.

Here at The Vegan Review, we have a team of budding home chefs and we’re no strangers to some homemade seitan. Below are our favourite recipes for chicken and beef styles, which are easy to adapt and personalise. The cooking method is the same, but the composition differs.

‘Chicken’ seitan

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

180g vital wheat gluten, plus enough to dust your work surface
300g silken tofu
2 tbsp lukewarm water
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp vegetable stock powder or 1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 tsp garlic powder (not granules — they leave a texture)
½ tsp salt

‘Beef’ seitan

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

180g vital wheat gluten, plus enough to dust your work surface
300g silken tofu
2tbsp lukewarm water
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 to 3 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp liquid smoke
Salt and pepper to season

Method

  1. Add everything into a food processor and blitz until thoroughly combined and formed into a ball. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mix in a large bowl by hand, but it will take a little longer. 
  2. Turn out onto a surface dusted with more vital wheat gluten. If you are looking for firmer seitan, you can knead a little here, just to get the gluten really stretching and activating. For a softer and more tender variety, don’t knead; just bring everything together into an easy-to-manage shape.
  3. Steam your seitan loaf for 30 minutes, turning over at the 15-minute mark. You can divide your seitan into chunks if you have a small steamer.
  4. Once steamed, let the seitan cool completely before putting it in an airtight container. We highly recommend marinating at this stage. If you can bear to wait, let your loaf steep in a flavourful broth of your choice, overnight in the fridge. The seitan will soak up all the deliciousness and get a little firmer and denser after an overnight rest.
  5. Cook as you would any other plant-based protein. The seitan is delicious when griddled, pan-fried or added to sauces. Leftovers should keep well for a few days in the fridge, though we’ve never had any last that long!

Once you’ve nailed down your perfect seitan recipe, you’ll find yourself making it all the time. A great way to add zing to sandwiches or a hearty chew to an evening meal, it’s a viable vegan protein that even omnivores fancy trying their hand at.

Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and their beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor, before moving into her external content director role. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.

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