Often referred to as “wheat meat,” seitan is one of the most popular types of vegan protein on the market.
A single serving of seitan has just as much protein (and just as few calories) as a single serving of chicken breast, making it an affordable, high-protein alternative to meat.
Vegans are constantly being accused of “not getting enough protein.” When you consider the fact that high-protein foods like seitan are a vegan staple, though, this accusation simply falls apart. Plus, when it’s cooked right, seitan can be made to taste just like meat!
Today’s post is going to be all about seitan. Below, I’ll give you a bit of background on seitan and where it comes from. Then, I’ll show you where to buy seitan, and even how to make your own at home (it’s super-easy).
Before long, you’ll be a lean, mean, wheat meat-eating machine!
What Exactly Is Seitan?
Simply put, seitan is concentrated wheat gluten.
Gluten is the primary protein found in wheat and all-purpose wheat flour. Usually, gluten only makes up a small part of flour, which is why a serving of bread or pasta typically only has around 5 grams of protein per serving.
By contrast, a single 110-calorie serving of seitan has a whopping 23 grams of protein! That’s just as much as a cut of lean meat or fish.
Where did the name come from?
As it turns out, seitan isn’t some new innovation. In fact, records show that the ancient Chinese used to consume seitan all the time. In those days, the majority of Asian cultures consumed very little meat.
Almost all of their protein came from plant-based sources like wheat and soy. Tofu is also another popular vegan protein that’s been around for hundreds of years!
So, how does a high-calorie, high-carb food turn into a low-calorie, high-protein food? It all has to do with the way that the flour is processed.
By processing the flour and removing all of the starch, you’ll leave pure, high-protein wheat gluten behind. This is the base dough used to make seitan.
The process is simple and all-natural. It can be done by anybody at home by kneading a ball of wheat dough under cool water for fifteen minutes! Keep on reading for the full tutorial…
What Does Seitan Taste Like?
By itself, seitan doesn’t taste like much. Imagine a really thick, chewy piece of bread that really fills you up when eaten. That’s seitan.
Thankfully, most people don’t eat seitan all by themselves. Instead, it’s prepared just like meat. It’s almost always seasoned. Then, it can be fried, baked, pan-seared, or even cooked on the grill! The only limit to how good seitan tastes is how good of a cook you are.
Plain seitan doesn’t have the strong aroma and scent that soy-based foods like tofu and tempeh have. This gives you far more options when it comes to seasoning and cooking the food.
Is Seitan Expensive?
If you thought seitan couldn’t get any better, here’s another thing I love about it – it’s cheap!
Pre-cooked seitan typically doesn’t cost any more than tofu and is usually a good bit cheaper than tempeh. It’s also a lot cheaper than meat, which is why even some non-vegans are replacing their meat with it.
If you bake your own seitan at home, it gets even cheaper! With a few simple ingredients and a batch of flour or wheat gluten, you can make some banging seitan for pennies on the dollar.
Where To Buy Seitan
By now, hopefully, I’ve got your attention. Seitan is awesome, cheap, can be made to taste just like meat, and is an amazing source of plant-based protein. Now, the only question is, “Where can I buy seitan?”
Pre-cooked seitan is a little bit harder to find because it doesn’t have a super-long shelf life. So, unless you live in an area where there’s a strong vegan community and lots of seitan eaters, you may have a little bit of trouble finding fresh seitan.
The good news is that you can buy the ingredients you need to make your own seitan at almost any grocery store. Seitan can be made using either all-purpose wheat flour or vital wheat gluten. Outside of that, all you need is water and your favorite seasonings.
So, with that in mind, here are the best places to find pre-cooked seitan as well as the ingredients you need to make your own homemade seitan.
The once online book store is now a one-stop-shop for everything you could possibly need. You can even order groceries direct to your doorstep from Amazon, thanks to their partnership with Whole Foods Market.
If you have a Whole Foods close to you, you can get some items delivered in as little as two hours through Amazon, which is great if you’re looking for fresh seitan.
Amazon also offers several different options for pre-cooked seitan, mostly from specialty Asian retailers who sell comfort food classics. I’ve seen fried seitan in a can as well as seitan-based “vegan jerky” sold by various Amazon retailers.
You can also buy high-quality wheat flour and find great deals on organic vital wheat gluten if you’re planning on making your own seitan at home!
2. Health Food Grocery Store
If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy grocery store like Whole Foods, Earthfare, Harris Teeter, or something similar close to where you live, then you might try there.
Due to the growing popularity of the vegan diet, grocery stores have more vegan protein options than ever before.
If you’re in a grocery store, the seitan will typically be sold in the deli section near the dough or bakery section. If there’s a special refrigerated section for vegan or international foods, you might check there as well.
If you don’t have any luck finding fresh refrigerated seitan, you might try your luck on the international food aisle. Often, pre-cooked seitan can be found sold in cans. While this option may have more preservatives, it might be easier to find.
Of course, you can also buy all of the ingredients you need to make your own seitan at the grocery store as well!
3. Asian Supermarket
As I mentioned seitan is a traditional Chinese food. To this day, seitan is still far more popular in Asian cultures than it is in the West. Very few Americans know what seitan is, which is why it can often be hard to find in American grocery stores.
However, if you have an Asian supermarket in your general area, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find some pre-cooked, packaged seitan! If there’s an in-store bakery, then you may even be able to find freshly-cooked, preservative-free seitan (which is always better).
4. Vegan Restaurant or Deli
If there’s a small plant-based grocer, deli, or bakery nearby, there may be a chance that they’ll offer freshly-cooked seitan.
Some of these small, local-style spots have a tight-knit community of local vegans and vegetarians who frequent them. To cater to their market, some may offer hard-to-find vegan protein like seitan, natto, or tempeh.
Does Seitan Expire?
Seitan is a natural product, so yes– it will expire.
Freshly-cooked seitan can stay fresh for up to ten days in the refrigerator. Seitan that’s canned or processed with more preservatives may last for several months.
If you have a batch of seitan that’s about to expire, keep in mind that you can freeze the seitan in the freezer indefinitely (although it may not be very good after six months).
Buying Pre-Cooked Seitan vs. Baking Your Own Seitan
Buying pre-cooked seitan is obviously the easier route if you can find it somewhere nearby. Before you decide whether you want to buy it or bake it, though, here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between both options:
|Buying Pre-Cooked Seitan||Baking Your Own Seitan|
|It’s fast, easy, and requires no cooking.||May require up to an hour to prepare the dough and cook the seitan.|
|Usually affordable in the store. Freshly-cooked seitan may be a bit more expensive.||Incredibly affordable, as you only need flour and water.|
|May include unwanted ingredients like excess salt or chemical preservatives.||Always fresh and seasoned just how you like it.|
How To Make Your Own Seitan At Home
At this point, I hope you’re starting to get curious. Because making your own seitan at home is a fun, creative process that I think everybody should try at least once in their life. There are two different ways to do it:
- Making seitan from wheat flour (the longer, more involved method)
- Making seitan from vital wheat gluten (the shorter, easier method)
Both methods are fairly simple, but I’d say that making it with vital wheat gluten requires less time and effort. If you’ve never done this type of thing before, then I’d go with option two for simplicity’s sake.
Making Seitan With Wheat Flour
Making seitan with wheat flour is the oldest, most traditional method. To start, you need two simple ingredients:
- 5 cups of whole wheat flour
- 3 cups of cool water
Mix the flour and water in a bowl. If you have a bread hook and a mixer, this will make your job a lot easier. If not, use a wooden spoon and mix it together until it’s a thick, homogenous dough. You can add extra water or dough if you need to make the dough softer or firmer.
Then, collect the dough into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover the bowl, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. This will give the gluten time to activate and will allow the dough to rise a little bit.
The next day, remove the dough, put it in a large kitchen bowl, and rinse it under cold water for about ten minutes. As the dough is being rinsed, you should be constantly kneading it.
This will separate the starch (carbs) from the gluten (protein), leaving the loose, gooey-looking gluten behind.
An easy way to tell that all of the starch has been rinsed out is that the water will run out of the bowl clear instead of opaque white color. Then, you can take the resulting uncooked seitan dough and cook it however you wish!
Here’s an in-depth video detailing the whole process:
Making Seitan With Vital Wheat Gluten
Making seitan with wheat gluten involves a similar process to making dough. However, you don’t have to worry about the lengthy process of rinsing the starch out, since you’re already dealing with pure gluten.
Also, since you won’t be losing any product from the rinsing process, you only need to use a small amount of wheat gluten. Simply make a small ball of dough, let it rest in the refrigerator overnight, and then cook it however you wish!
Conclusion – Should You Try Seitan?
Seitan is, hands down, one of the healthiest, tastiest, and most cost-effective sources of vegan protein.
Every vegan should try seitan! Although it may be a bit difficult to find pre-cooked seitan in stores, making your own homemade seitan is simple, easy, and clean.