The trend towards vegetarian and vegan diets means that more and more people are looking for meatless protein alternatives.
Enter seitan (pronounced say-tan), the latest food trend that’s go viral online.
Seitan can be made by washing the starch out of flour, so you are left with only gluten. Wheat gluten has been used as meat substitute in Asian countries for centuries, especially among Buddhists who prefer not to eat meat. George Ohsawa, Japanese defender of themacrobiotic“Diet, coined the term seitan for wheat gluten in the early 1960s.
The versatility and “meat” of seitan, combined with the need for tasty, vegan protein options, has contributed to its huge rise in popularity around the world in recent years.
It is rich in protein and iron
In addition to being flavorful and reminiscent of meat, seitan is relatively high in protein and non-heme iron compared to other vegetarian protein foods.
A portion the size of the palm of your hand contains about 75 grams of protein, enough for most adults for a day. Gram for gram, that’s about three times the protein of beef or lamb.
With approximately 5 milligrams of iron per 100 grams, seitan has as much iron as kangaroo meat or beef. But as with other plant-based foods, the non-heme iron in seitan is not as easily absorbed as the heme iron in meats.
A small portion of seitan (100 grams) contains about 14 grams of carbs, which is roughly equivalent to a slice of bread.
Seitan does not contain soy, unlike tofu or tempeh. It is therefore a good option for people allergic to soy.
You can do it at home
You can make seitan from just flour and water, but it takes about an hour from start to finished product.
To prepare the seitan, mix the flour with a little salt and water to form a soft dough. Then continue to knead the dough under cold running water (to remove the starch) until it becomes a very firm and elastic dough.
If you’re in a hurry, you can cheat by mixing commercially available “vital wheat gluten” with water.
Either way, once you have the gluten-free batter, flavor it with spices or sauces, then fry or boil it.
You can serve it as a steak substitute, sliced and sautéed, “pulled” like pork, or breaded and made into a vegan cutlet. Seitan meals have been known to be mistaken for meat by some pretty serious carnivores!
It can be worth testing ready-made seitan at a store to see if you like it before making it yourself, but it often has salt added as a preservative. Make sure the sodium content is less than 400 milligrams per 100 grams. It’s a good idea to limit your sodium intake, and the Heart Foundation recommended no more than 2,000 milligrams per day.
So what’s the downside?
Well, it’s definitely not suitable for people diagnosed with celiac disease or with a known adverse reaction to gluten proteins in wheat.
If this is your case, tofu and legumes are suitable meat substitutes. Another sustainable and gluten-free option is Quorna protein-rich food made by fungi.
If you have a bloated belly or intestinal pain after eating bread or pasta, but you definitely don’t have celiac disease, it would be interesting to know if you tolerate seitan. If you do, you may not tolerate the carbohydrate part of wheat, but you can tolerate gluten. A research team from Newcastle University, of which I am a member, is investigating whether people who report stomach pain after eating wheat are sensitive to gluten or fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) in wheat.
For anyone who wants to reduce or avoid meat, seitan is versatile and one of the closest in texture and flavor to meat of all the vegetarian protein options – so break out the mixing bowls and knead.