Seitan: Probably the Most Versatile Meat Substitute

The trend of going vegan is winning more and more hearts. It also means that the demand for meat substitutes is increasing, and those are found in Asian cuisines in abundance. One of them is becoming especially popular because of its versatility – you have probably tried it without knowing it. Yes, it’s seitan.

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What is seitan?

If you think that it is meat that is depicted in the image above, you are wrong. It’s chewy, the texture is the one you are used to, and its ability to pick up flavors is impressive. Yet it’s not made from animals: however surprising it may be, the food you see is wheat gluten.

Seitan is about to bring about a revolution in vegan cooking. It is a product made from wheat, and it’s easy to make even at home. To make seitan, one has to knead dough of wheat flour and remove the starches and other wheat components that are water-soluble by means of rinsing it thoroughly. All that is left is gluten, or wheat protein. That is why, unlike tofu or other meat alternatives like tempeh, seitan is a good source of proteins: 3 ounces of seitan can provide 18 g, which is more than tofu or tempeh can offer.

The texture of seitan can be adjusted with the help of acids, such as vinegar, because several characteristics of seitan depend on pH, including tensile strength and water retention. Another way one can affect the texture is physical manipulation, i.e. the way the gluten is stretched and compressed. That is why in most cases seitan is not like common spongy meat substitutes that are difficult to eat: in fact, it can mimic meat to such an extent that some can even find it disturbing, as it tastes almost like real chicken.

Why is seitan special?

Seitan is different from other meat substitutes due to at least three reasons.

First, it’s not made of soy. While the two alternatives mentioned above are made from soy (fermented and unfermented), seitan is a product made from wheat.

Second, it provides a lot of protein.

Third, it makes it possible for those working in the industry to introduce vegan fast food.

Yes, however odd it may sound, vegan fast food has become real. Burgers with seitan, tacos, pizzas, kebabs – vegan junk food is flourishing, and this way of development makes the trend less healthy.

Is it safe to eat it?

That is a tough question. On the one hand, Asians have been eating dishes made with seitan for decades, including Japanese people, who are considered one of the healthiest nations. If we look at how wheat gluten proteins were used a long time ago, we will learn that it was used in China as early as in the 6th century, which suggests that it’s not a thing which can easily kill you immediately. It is also a good source of protein for those who prefer to avoid meat.

On the other hand, there are several reasons for being very careful when buying seitan. First, there are people who suffer from celiac disease and cannot consume it without suffering afterwards. Second, chances are the wheat used to make seitan contained pesticide residue or other dangerous substances. Another reason for complementing seitan with some other food is that wheat gluten lacks an essential amino acid called lysine.

Besides, a research carried out by Brazilian investigators showed that wheat gluten consumption is associated with weight gain, though it was reported after analyzing how it affects animal models, not humans.

As seen from the reasons above, there is still a lot to learn about seitan. The conclusion we can make right now is that those people who want to find a substitute for meat must be careful and avoid junk food, even if it’s made with wheat gluten: consult your doctor to make sure your body can process gluten normally, and don’t forget to eat vegetables.

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