What Is Seitan?

What is seitan? It's a plant-based meat substitute that will have you thinking you're eating a juicy chicken breast.

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If you’re over traditional tofu and veggie burgers, broaden your vegan horizons with seitan. This plant-based meat substitute can be easily shaped and cooked to look just like chicken. It’s loaded with healthy nutrients too.

What Is Seitan?

Seitan is a plant-based meat substitute that’s made from vital wheat gluten. Vital wheat gluten looks powdery like all-purpose flour but contains mostly protein-rich gluten. Seitan is made by kneading this ingredient with water and spices. Soy sauce and nutritional yeast are two favorite ingredients to pump up the taste.

Seitan has a juicy chicken consistency, which makes it a great option for meat lovers. The taste is subtle and has a savory umami bite to it. Seitan also easily soaks up any flavor it’s cooked with so the flavor options are endless.

Unlike tofu and tempeh, seitan is made almost entirely of gluten. Tofu and tempeh are derived from soybeans. While tofu has a creamy consistency and tempeh is very firm, seitan falls somewhere in the middle.

Where to Buy Seitan

Seitan is gaining in popularity and is now available at both health food stores and larger grocery stores. Whole Foods and Target usually stock several varieties. It’s often located in the refrigerated section near other meat substitutes like plant-based burgers. Some stores keep seitan in the freezer section.

Some of our favorite brands include:

How to Make Seitan

To prepare seitan, you can buy it premade at the grocery store or put it together yourself with vital wheat gluten and water. Seitan is usually cooked in water or broth and simmered until all of the flour is completely cooked through. This is an important step as eating raw flour can be dangerous (not to mention it doesn’t taste so great!).

If making your own, simmer the seitan mixture until it has expanded and reached 160° F in the center. It should feel firm to the touch. Once cooked, seitan can sit in your refrigerator for up to four days.

If you buy precooked seitan, most of the prep work is done for you. Buy a seasoned variety and just warm over the stovetop for a healthy dinner in no time. For plain packaged seitan, chop it up and add your favorite sauce or marinade. Seitan tends to dry out quickly, so use plenty of liquid when cooking it. It’s perfect for slow-cooked stews, soups and chilis. Next try slicing it for a stir fry, cutting it into cubes for the grill or grating it into chili or pasta sauce in place of ground beef.

Is Seitan Healthy?

As long as your body is able to tolerate gluten, seitan can be a tasty part of your healthy diet. One half-cup serving of seitan has 240 calories, 46 grams of protein, one gram of fat and two grams of fiber. It’s also rich in iron, which can be a tricky nutrient to get enough of when you’re a vegan or vegetarian.

While it’s high in protein, seitan does not contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs for building and repairing tissue. In addition to meat and dairy products, tofu and tempeh are both complete proteins with all of the essential amino acids.

Ready to start incorporating more plant-based goodness into your weekly meal plan? Here are a few plant-based recipes to get you started!

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.