The Oxford English dictionary describes Seitan as a chewy protein-rich food made from wheat gluten which is used in cooking as a wheat substitute.

Seitan is rich in proteins and contains many other nutrients like calcium, selenium, and potassium. Unfortunately, the seitan available in stores today has many unhealthy ingredients like sodium and fillers, which can be bad for health.

In this article, we will learn about seitan and its pros and cons.

What is seitan?

Seitan is a popular substitute for meat that is made out of hydrated gluten. Seitan was first developed by Buddhist monks centuries ago.

Pronounced ‘say-tan,’ this vegan meat substitute is a staple ingredient in many Asian Buddhist dishes. It is also known as wheat meat, wheat gluten or wheat protein.

The word ‘seitan’ is a Japanese word that means ‘made of proteins.’ The Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa brought this meat substitute to the west in the 1960s.

It is made by kneading the wheat flour with water till the time turns into sticky strands of gluten protein. The dough is then washed under water to remove wheat starch, bran, and other water-soluble proteins.

This sticky mass of pure gluten protein that can be cut into pieces and used in vegan dishes as a substitute for meat. These days you can also buy vital wheat gluten flour and mix it with water.

You can use seitan to make fajitas, kebabs, steaks, sandwiches, pancakes, and pies.

Nutritional value of seitan

Seitan is a rich source of protein and is low in carbs and fats. However, seitan should be avoided by those on a gluten-free diet. One serving of seitan made from one ounce of vital wheat gluten contains (1) –

  • Calories: 104
  • Protein: 21 grams
  • Total fat: 1 gram
  • Total carbs: 4 grams
  • Sodium: 8 mg
  • Calcium:  39.8 mg
  • Iron: 1.5 mg
  • Selenium: 11.1 mcg
  • Phosphorus: 72.8 mg
  • Potassium: 28 mg

Many store-bought seitan products have additional ingredients in them to improve their flavor and texture. So, their nutritional values may differ.

Advantages of using seitan

1. Rich source of vegan protein

Seitan is made from gluten, which makes it a good source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Protein is an important nutrient since it helps in building muscle, repairing tissue and producing hormones.

A three-ounce serving of seitan contains 21 grams of protein. Since it is high in protein and low in calories, it can also promote satiety which helps in weight loss.

2. Ideal for vegans with soy allergies

Many vegan meat substitutes are made up of soy. Unfortunately, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, soy is one of the top eight food allergens (2).

So it can be challenging to look for meat substitutes for vegans that have soy allergies. Since seitan is made up of just wheat and water, it makes the ideal meat substitute for such people.

However, you must read the ingredients list on the prepared seitan products as they may contain soy for flavoring.

3. Versatile and easy to cook

Seitan is a versatile meat substitute as it is neutral in flavor and takes on the flavor of sauces and seasoning well. It can be marinated and baked.

It can be cut and fried into strips for fajitas. Seitan can also be ground and used in pies or cooked in broth.

4. Heart healthy

A meat diet is usually rich in fat. Seitan, on the other hand, does not contain saturated fats. It helps reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

Disadvantages of eating seitan

1. It is not a complete protein

Although seitan is a rich source of protein, it does not contain enough lysine to meet the needs of the body (3). Lysine is an essential amino acid which we must get from food sources.

To solve this problem, vegans must consume other lysine-rich foods like beans.

2. It’s highly processed

Most people do not make seitan at home but buy it from grocery stores. These ultra-processed foods tend to be higher in sodium which can lead to blood pressure and other health problems.

These products also contain unhealthy additives and fillers. Though seitan is not high in calories, fat and sugar like other processed foods, one must still not consume too much of it.

3. Can cause an allergic reaction

If you have celiac disease, wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, you should stay away from seitan. People with sensitivity to gluten can develop side effects like bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and abdominal pain after eating seitan.

4. Bad for the gut

Several studies have found that eating seitan can be bad for the digestive system. In a healthy digestive system, only a small number of particles can pass through the intestines into the bloodstream.

However, in some cases, the intestinal permeability increases, and this condition is called leaky gut. Some test tube studies have found that consuming seitan can increase intestinal permeability in people without the celiac disease (4, 5).

If eating seitan causes gas, diarrhea or joint pain, you must stop consuming it immediately. Contact a dietician or a nutritionist to see if your symptoms are due to seitan.

How does Seitan taste?

The taste of seitan is quite bland, and it can easily take on the different flavors of sauces and spices. It is a bit savory like chicken or portobello mushroom.

Seitan is popular as a meat substitute due to its texture, which is quite similar to meat. Other substitutes like tofu and tempeh, do not have a meaty texture.

Where can I find seitan?

You can find seitan in a block, strip or shaped form in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets, health food stores, cooperatives or Asian food markets.

If you want to make seitan at home, you can use either whole wheat flour or vital wheat gluten. Making seitan using whole wheat flour is a labor-intensive process and there many different recipes available online to make it.

Using vital wheat gluten to make seitan is a much simpler process, though you must look for right kind of wheat gluten for it. Look for gluten that contains at least 75 percent protein.

Easy seitan recipe

Though seitan is traditionally quite bland, you can add seasoning of your choice to add flavor to this dish. In this recipe, we have added soy sauce and garlic for flavor.

Ingredients

  • Vital wheat gluten: 2 cups
  • Yeast: ½ cup
  • Vegetable broth: 5 cups
  • Soy sauce: 2 tbsp
  • Garlic powder: 2 Tsp
  • Diced onion: ½ cup
  • Garlic (crushed): 1 clove

Method:

Mix wheat gluten, yeast and garlic powder in a bowl. Stir in one cup of vegetable broth and soy sauce and knead. Knead this mixture well, adding more broth if necessary till it turns elastic in texture.

Once the dough is ready, you should shape it into two loaves. Place these loaves in a saucepan and pour in the remaining broth. Add onion and crushed garlic. If the loaves are not submerged in the broth completely, add some more water.

Cover and bring this mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 35 to 45 minutes or till the seitan is firm.

Remove from the heat and let the seitan cool in the broth.

Other high-protein vegan meat substitutes

Tempeh

Tempeh can easily replace seitan in many recipes as a meat substitute. Tempeh is made from soy, so it is gluten-free. Though this fermented soy food originated in Indonesia, it is quite popular all over the world now.

It is made by soaking and dehulling soybeans. They are then cooked and fermented, which helps bind them to form a cake. The fermentation process adds to the vitamin and mineral content of tempeh.

As compared to seitan, tempeh is slightly higher in calories and protein. It is lower in sodium and higher in manganese, copper, phosphorus, riboflavin, and magnesium.

Natto

Natto is another excellent option for adding some vegetarian protein to your diet. It is made by soaking and steaming soybeans. To this Bacillus subtilis bacteria is added and it is left to ferment over time.

Though natto has a typical smell and it does not have a meat-like texture, it is an excellent source of protein. You can add natto to salads, rice, and noodles.

Other than protein, it is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, riboflavin, and thiamine.

Final thoughts

Seitan is a popular meat alternative that is made with wheat gluten and water. It is a rich source of protein and minerals like selenium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

This meat alternative is an excellent option for vegans who are allergic to soy as the other vegetarian meat alternatives like natto and tempeh are made from soy.

Seitan is low in carbs and fats, which makes it great for heart health. It is easy to cook, and you can use it in a variety of dishes.

Unfortunately, seitan can be bad for the gut and should not be eaten by those with gluten allergies. Seitan bought from the market is highly processed and should not be taken very often.

Seitan is made by kneading the wheat flour with water until it turns into sticky strands of gluten protein. It is a substitute for meat.