The myth that people on a vegan diet can’t get enough protein has long since been busted thanks to plenty of educational and illuminating conversation around the topic in recent years, but one of the oldest-known and most well-loved vegan alternatives, seitan, has always been a truly amazing source of protein for both vegans and non-vegans alike. Seitan contains almost the same as (if not more than) beef on a per-calorie basis, but less fat – and it’s also cholesterol free. However, it is made of gluten, making it unsuitable for those with coeliac disease or who are gluten-sensitive or intolerant. Seitan is made of raw wheat gluten, and is also often called “wheat meat”. Since it’s also quite low in carbohydrates, it’s also popular with those who are able to consume gluten but who are avoiding a high carbohydrate intake. It is a good option for those who are avoiding soy, however, which is typically present in many other meat alternatives. It’s also a good source of iron, but just be sure to watch out for the sodium content in it, since depending on the brand and product, it can be high.
How do you use it?
Due to its ability to take on pretty much any flavour, seitan is a bit of a chameleon food that can be used in countless ways. Its texture (and look) are quite similar to meat, or harder and firmer types of “meatier” tofu, and this texture holds up well to grilling, frying, and stir-fries, as well as burgers and steaks. It’s even been used in “chicken wings” or “ribs” and, thanks to its naturally mild savoury flavour, it works excellently in curries or other very flavourful dishes that can give it a more intense taste. It’s also often flavoured with a dash of soy sauce or tamari (or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, in many vegan recipes), and can be served in sandwiches (usually thinly sliced) as an alternative to deli meats, or used as a pizza topping.
The name may look funny, but it’s pronounced “say – tan”, and this product was named by a Japanese advocate of the macrobiotic diet back in 1961. It obtains its elastic texture from the fact that it’s made by washing wheat flour dough until all the starch in it has dissolved, before it is cooked and eaten. Along with tofu and tempeh, seitan is one of the longest-standing meat substitutes in vegan diets, and around 130,000lbs of it are produced annually in the USA alone.