When it comes to plant-based proteins, you’re all about tofu and veggie burgers. But what about seitan? Wait, what is seitan, anyway? Whether you just saw it trending on TikTok or you’re dabbling in a newly vegan lifestyle, here’s everything you need to know about the delicious and versatile protein (plus, how to cook with it).
What Is Seitan? Here’s What You Should Know About the Popular Plant-Based Protein
What is seitan?
Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan or SAY-tahn), originally known as wheat gluten, is a food made from gluten—but it has little in common with bread. It’s made by washing a dough made from wheat flour with water until all the starches have been removed. (Yep, like what you’ve seen on TikTok.) What’s left behind is a springy, elastic mass of gluten that’s then cooked and eaten as a meat substitute. It originated in 6th-century China but is also popular in other Asian and East Asian cuisines and, more recently, Western diets. At the grocery store, you can find it in the refrigerated aisle alongside other meat alternatives.
What does seitan taste like?
Whereas tofu is mild, seitan is a little more flavorful. Like tempeh, seitan has a savory, slightly umami taste, kind of like a mushroom. It also has the magical ability to soak up the flavors of whatever it’s paired with, making it ideal for marinades and spicy preparations. The texture is chewy, hearty and meatier than other meat analogues.
Are there any nutritional benefits?
Yes—seitan is high in protein and low in calories. According to the USDA, a ½-cup serving of seitan contains 240 calories, 1 gram of fat, 8 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber and 46 grams of protein. It’s also rich in iron and has small amounts of calcium. But since it’s low in the amino acid lysine, it’s not a complete protein—you’ll want to pair it with other lysine-rich foods (like beans) to meet your full protein needs.
How do you prepare seitan?
Seitan is a like a blank canvas for savory flavors, and it can be sautéed, fried, roasted, grilled, steamed and braised like other meats and meat alternatives. You can pan-fry it with a splash of soy sauce, stir-fry it with mixed vegetables, or grill it and top it with barbecue sauce. You can even slice it into small pieces, fry it, slather it in Buffalo sauce and turn it into “chicken” wings. It’s often treated like tofu in recipes, but unlike tofu, seitan has to be cooked before eating it. It should be stored in the fridge (and can even be frozen for up to three months).
Can you make DIY seitan at home?
Yep, you can make seitan at home (although buying it at the store is a lot easier). You’ll need vital wheat gluten (such as Bob’s Red Mill) and water (plus seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder and salt, if desired). To make the seitan, mix three parts vital wheat protein with one part flour and knead the mixture into a dough. Place the ball of dough into a bowl filled with cool water, and knead and stretch the dough in the water (aka wash it). Keep washing the dough, replacing the cool water with fresh as you go, until the water is nearly clear and the dough is stringy. Transfer the dough to a colander, let it rest for about 30 minutes, then shape and cook as desired.
Seitan vs. tofu vs. tempeh: What’s the difference?
While all three of these plant-based proteins can be seasoned and cooked in similar ways, they’re not one and the same. For starters, seitan is wheat-based, whereas tofu and tempeh are both made from soy (and are both gluten-free friendly). Tempeh is fermented, so it’s often easier to digest than both tofu and seitan. Tofu comes in a variety of formats, like silken, soft, firm and extra-firm.