By KD Angle-Traegner / Last Update: October 2019
Seitan, aka wheat gluten, is food that originated in China and Japan more than 1,000 years ago.
Traditionally prepared by Zen Buddhists, it was used as a substitute for meat or fish. It comes from the Japanese words “sei,” meaning “to be, become, made of,” and “tan,” as in tanpaku, which means “proteins.”
Freely translated, it means: “made of proteins.”
Since the mid-20th century, seitan (pronounced SAY-TAN) has become a staple among vegans because of its chewy, toothy texture and its ability to mimic the flavors of non-vegan meats.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve never heard of seitan, let alone eaten it, you might have some questions. Here are some common A’s for those Q’s to help you get started.
Seitan is the protein part of the wheat flour, also known as gluten or wheat gluten. It’s made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving a sticky, insoluble glue-like substance, which is then flavored and cooked.
Trust me; it tastes much better than it sounds.
Much like tofu, seitan has no taste at all and acts like a sponge which will absorb the flavors of the ingredients in any recipe. It’s the primary ingredient in many vegan meat products because of its ability to mimic the familiar toothy texture and taste of non-vegan meats.
Some commercially prepared seitan comes packaged with broth. You can drain it if you want, or not; it’s up to you. Packaged versions can be salty sometimes, so be sure to taste it before adding it to your recipe.
Yes! Gluten is not a water-soluble plant-protein, it’s stretchy enough to cope with water crystals forming. (1) So, freeze seitan without worry. Freezing either commercially prepared seitan or homemade, with or without the broth, does not change its consistency or texture.
Tip: Get the thinnest slices possible by using a serrated knife on partially frozen seitan.
Yes! Seitan has a toothy, meaty texture that mimics non-vegan meat and can absorb any flavor profile you can imagine. This versatility makes it perfect for stir-fries, in soups or stews, grilled on a kebab, or as jerky. It also works ground up in the food processor for things like chili, tacos, and sandwich fillings.
No. Because seitan contains gluten, it is off-limits for anyone with Celiac Disease or who otherwise needs to be gluten-free.
Pre-made seitan is sold in blocks, strip, and shaped forms, and found in the cold section of some supermarkets, health food stores, cooperatives, or Asian food markets. Often, you can spot it in refrigerated sections, near the tofu.
- Pacific (oil-free)
Original, Korean BBQ, or Italian Herb
- Sweet Earth Natural Foods
Traditional Slices, Strips, or Grounds, Chipotle Grounds or Strips, Tuscan Savory Grounds, Barbecue Savory Grounds, or Curry Satay
- Upton’s Naturals
Tradition, Ground, Italian, Chick, Bacon, or Chorizo
Cubed, Ground, or Strip Setian, Chicken-Style
Homemade Seitan-Making Supplies
If you want to make your own, look for powdered gluten — sometimes called vital wheat gluten or gluten flour— and it’s essential to get the right product. You want to look for a vital wheat gluten that contains 75% or more protein.
Another essential ingredient in homemade versions is stock. Cooking in stock is a great way to start building flavor in an otherwise flavorless product. I will use homemade stock whenever I can, but pre-made or made from bouillon is fine too. I use and love the no-chicken style bouillon from Better Than Bouillon, which adds a nice flavor base.
Since every recipe is different, be sure to check the ingredients list before heading to the store. (This is my most-missed step, is it yours too?)
Do you make a vegan product that isn’t listed? Contact me.
Obviously, I could never show all the creative videos or tutorials. I choose the following ones because I’ve personally tried each and they resulted in awesome-tasting food.
Recipes to Try
- Chicken Stylee Seitan
Isa Chandra Moskowitz
- Seitan Buffalo Wings
The Edgy Veg
- Spicy Beet Seitan
Mary’s Test Kitchen
- Seitan with Red Wine Sauce
Vegan Yak Attack
- Orange Sesame Seitan
- Truffled Seitan
Artisan Vegan Life
- Caribbean BBQ Wings
- Jamaican Jerk Seitan
The Veracious Vegan
- Vegan Seitan Steak
It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
- Tamarind Kabobs
Vegan Yum Yum
Truth in Advertising
I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. Meticulously researched, the topic explored in this guide contains the knowledge available at the time of publishing. Reviews and updates happen when new material becomes available.
Please contact me if you find incorrect data.
- Friedli, George-Louis MD. (1996). Gluten Proteins & Deamidated Soluble Wheat Protein (SWP). Retrieved from http://www.friedli.com/research/PhD/gluten/chap2.html
Article photos via Getty Images. Recipe photos via recipe authors. Used with written permission.