The Folklore. Seitan’s history dates to sixth century Asia, in countries like China and Japan, where it was especially common among Buddhists, who are vegetarian or vegan. Known as “wheat meat,” “mock meat,” or “wheat gluten,” among other names, seitan means “made of protein” in Japanese.With the increased popularity of plant-based diets, seitan has moved into mainstream cooking practices.
The Facts. Seitan is a vegan meat substitute made by rinsing wheat flour dough with water to remove the starch, leaving only the insoluble, pure gluten protein, which is a sticky, elastic mass. When cooked, it is very meat-like, not only in texture, but it also has the same amount of protein as chicken or beef. However, it lacks the amino acid, lysine, which makes it an incomplete protein unless eaten with lysine-rich foods like beans. Seitan is soy-free, but its gluten can be a problem for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. A 3-ounce serving packs 42% DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of protein, 16% DV of brain-protecting selenium, and about 100 calories.
The Findings. Plant-based diets, including seitan, can protect against cardiovascular disease, the leading global cause of death. This dietary pattern, associated with lower blood pressure than non-vegetarian diets, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and weight management benefits have even been shown to reverse coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis (Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 2018). In addition, replacing one to two servings of animal proteins each day with plant proteins could reduce cholesterol markers to help prevent cardiovascular disease (Journal of the American Heart Association, 2017).
The Finer Points. It’s simple to make seitan at home using the rinsing method or by rehydrating vital wheat gluten powder with water, but it can also be purchased premade, refrigerated, frozen, or canned. Seitan is very versatile because it readily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients. Remarkably like animal meat, marinate seitan “steaks” and toss on the grill or bake, shred and stir-fry or add to fajitas, soups, stews, or try it ground in “meat” loaf, burgers, or tacos.
Notable Nutrients: Seitan
3 oz (from 1 oz vital wheat gluten)
Protein: 21 g (42% DV)
Selenium: 11 mcg (16% DV)
Note: g=gram, mcg=microgram, DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day
Veggie Shepherd Pie
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium carrots
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 small bell pepper (any color)
1 c frozen peas
1 tsp poultry seasoning (vegetarian seasoning blend)
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp dried mustard
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch sea salt (optional)
8 oz seasoned seitan, sliced
1 ½ Tbsp flour
2 c vegetable broth
1 tsp reduced sodium soy sauce
3 c mashed potatoes, prepared
Fresh herbs (chives, rosemary, tarragon), optional
- Preheat oven to 400ºF.
- Heat olive in a large sauce pan, skillet, or sautè pan. Add carrots, onion, garlic, zucchini, and bell pepper and sautè for 10 minutes. Add peas, poultry seasoning, parsley, celery, salt, mustard, pepper, sea salt (if desired), and seitan and stir well. Stir in soy sauce. Simmer, covered, stirring frequently, for an additional 10 minutes, until vegetables are just tender.
- Divide vegetable stew among six oven-proof soup or mini-casserole dishes (about 11/8 cups each) or one large casserole dish. Top each dish with 1/2 cup mashed potatoes, smoothing over surface of stew. (If using one large dish then use the entire recipe of mashed potatoes to cover surface.)
- Place casseroles on the top rack of the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until mixture is golden on top. Remove, garnish with herbs, and serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 311 calories, 6.5 grams (g) fat, 1 g saturated fat, 51 g carbohydrate, 17 g protein, 6.5 g dietary fiber, 421 milligrams sodium, 8 g sugar
Recipe adapted courtesy of Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian