Let’s face it the word “Seitan” could do with some better PR, nobody seems to know what seitan is. The goal of this article is to shine a light on what seitan is, what it’s made from and importantly how it tastes.
First of all, we should clarify exactly how you say it. It is most commonly pronounced “SAY-TAN” which is a little unfortunate as it sounds pretty similar to something else.
What Is Seitan?
Seitan is made from wheat, the protein part of the wheat which is called wheat gluten to be precise. If you were to take all the protein out of regular all-purpose or bread flour this would be what the seitan is made from. This process of removing the protein from wheat creates a meaty texture and density.
It is sometimes called wheat meat or a derivative of the type of meat being made such as “chickun”.
Seitan has been around for at least 1500 years with records of monks in China making and eating it. The reason why it is such a unique food source is that it is really high in protein as well as being low in carbohydrates and fat and being derived from plants rather than animals.
Being high in protein and having a unique texture for a plant-based product makes it perfect for vegetarians and vegans who want something a bit more unique in their diet.
Gluten In Flour To Make Seitan
A lot of people will know all about gluten because of its association with bread. Gluten is what gives bread structure and allows bakers to shape loaves with nice crumb and texture.
If you take all the gluten out of the flour you essentially have the protein part of the wheat. It is this protein that is used to make seitan.
How Seitan Is Made
Seitan is made from wheat flour and usually a white flour that is high in protein or gluten.
As I said earlier in the article seitan has been made for over 1000 years so there are simple ways to make it which starts off exactly the same way you would make a loaf of bread, with dough.
Very strong bread flour is high in gluten with around 11-13% protein/gluten and the higher the protein the better the flour is for making seitan.
Traditional Method Of Making Seitan
The traditional way to make seitan is a process of washing flour to remove starch and leave gluten. This is called the “wash the flour” method and is really simple to do.
The process starts by making a dough exactly the same as how you would make bread.
Strong flour is mixed with water to form a dough. The dough should be around 62% hydration which means for every kilo of flour you would need 620ml of water. That is about 1 cup of water for every 3 cups of flour.
The dough is kneaded by hand or a stand mixer just like bread dough. Kneading activates the gluten which is key to the process. Hand kneading will take around 10 – 15 minutes and a stand mixer around 8 minutes.
Leave the dough to rest, completely covered in cool water for around 1 – 2 hours. This process is the start of washing the flour.
Washing The Flour
After resting for 1 or 2 hours the water can be poured off. Fresh water is added to cover the dough again and this time the dough is kneaded in the water, the water will turn cloudy, white and opaque.
Once the water is white, opaque and full of starch is can be discarded using a colander to catch any dough, new water added and the process of kneading repeatedly.
Kneading and straining the water off is repeated 2 – 3 times until the water starts getting visibly less opaque. The water will still be hazy but not completely full of starch. This point will take around 2 – 4 washes.
The dough can be left for around 30 minutes in a colander to drain.
Shape & Cook
After washing the flour you will be left with the dough which is primarily gluten. The dough is stringy and fairly tough. At this point, you could incorporate spices, flavourings and other ingredients.
The dough can now be stretched and pulled to form strands and is shaped by knotting in simple overhand knots. To form a small braid.
Once shaped the seitan can be cooked in a stock or broth at a gentle simmer for around 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the seitan being cooked.
Rest In The Fridge
After cooking it is a good idea to rest the seitan to firm up the texture. Although not necessary, resting the seitan overnight in the refrigerator will achieve a better texture. The seitan can then be shredded, pulled or sliced and sauteed to finish.
Vital Wheat Gluten Method
There is an easier way to make seitan than the traditional flour washing method and that is to use an ingredient called vital wheat gluten.
What’s Vital Wheat Gluten?
Vital wheat gluten is sometimes called wheat gluten or seitan flour is a flour that is composed of around 75 – 80% gluten or the protein part of the wheat flour.
It is made in a process very similar to the flour washing method but on a much bigger scale. The gluten dough made is then dried and milled to form flour and this is what vital wheat gluten is.
Making Seitan With Vital Wheat Gluten
The beauty of using vital wheat gluten to make seitan is the washing process is completely removed saving a large amount of time and effort.
Vital wheat gluten is a dry ingredient like flour which makes it much easier to add flavourings, herbs and spices to it compared to adding these to a dough.
To make seitan from vital wheat gluten the process would look something like this:
Vital wheat gluten is combined with other dry ingredients such as seasoning, spices and other flavourings.
Wet ingredients such as water, broth, soy sauce, tomato puree, etc are combined in a separate bowl.
The wet and dry ingredients are combined together and mixed just until they form a dough.
The dough is then shaped and wrapped in cheesecloth or foil to maintain that shape.
The shaped seitan is then cooked either in a steamer, low oven or pressure cooker typically for around an hour.
The seitan is then left to cool and rested overnight in the fridge to firm up and get a better texture.
What Does Seitan Taste Like?
On its own, seitan with no other flavourings is pretty bland. Seitan is just a processed type of flour so it needs some additional flavourings to bring it to life.
The beauty of seitan is the texture you immediately think of when eating it, so the trick is to try and mimic a meat type of flavouring.
There are a number of ways to do this and there are different types of meat to try and mimic but let me give you an example.
Pepperoni is a heavily spiced sausage so we can use those same and similar spices such as garlic, fennel, pepper, chilli and so on in our seitan. It is perfectly possible to make a really authentic tasting pepperoni from seitan.
Chicken is another example, in fact, there are vegan chicken flavoured seasonings available on the market that can easily be added to seitan to create a pretty close approximation of chicken breast, tenders, nuggets and even wings.
The taste of seitan is really whatever you want to introduce in the form of spices, flavourings and so on as it will soak these up.
What Is The Texture Of Seitan?
The texture of seitan is perhaps why it is so unique. It is dense, a little chewy and can form strands which all give it a feeling of being a meaty texture.
Depending on how it is made it can have a texture of chicken, ham, ribs, ground meat, sausages and more.
We can also vary how much we work or knead the seitan before cooking to make it chewier or softer in the mouth depending on what kind of texture you want in your meal.
There is also the opportunity to add ingredients to seitan such as tofu, chickpeas, beans and other flours such as tapioca or cornflour and these can change the density and texture in different ways.
Is Seitan Bad For You?
Seitan is not bad for you unless you are coeliac, gluten intolerant or sensitive.
It is similar to saying “is bread bad for you?”.
Seitan is made from exactly the same ingredients as bread. Of course, if you eat tons and tons of bread you probably aren’t doing yourself any benefits but in moderation, there is no problem. The same goes for seitan.
In fact, if you are vegetarian or vegan then seitan is a really useful source of protein. Seitan is not a complete protein as it is missing an amino acid called lysine is missing but this can easily be incorporated with ingredients like tofu or nutritional yeast which are often incorporated in the seitan dough.