Monday, February 05, 2007

The History of Seitan....

I promised, several posts back, to post the history, tips, and uses for seitan. Well, here it finally is! I found the fact that seitan (and the other meat alternatives) are so ancient, completely amusing, considering the funny looks you get for mentioning what so many assume to be a, "new wave," product!

This particular photo is of Seitan with Portobello Mushrooms and Red Wine Sauce, from the book, "366 Ways to Cook Tofu and Other Meat Alternatives," by Robin Robertson. It is so incredibly easy, juicy, and almost elegant! I served it with red quinoa, an unusual type I found at my local Ukrop's grocery store. At the time, I didn't have portobello mushrooms on hand, so I used cremini and button, but I have made it with the portobello before and I think it's definitely better that way! Enjoy!

The Long History of Seitan and What the *$! To Do With It:

Pronunciation: Sigh, unfortunately, this IS pronounced much like the devil himself, "SAY-tahn." Of course, you can mumble when you pronounce it and emphasize the second syllable, so that people don't think you're crazy to eat, "say-TAHN." It even sounds more glamorous, don't you think?

What is it? (How it's made): Also known as "wheat-meat," seitan is made from the protein part of the wheat seed (gluten- sorry to those who are allergic!). Traditional seitan is made from rinsing and kneading the starch out of wheat flour. It is then shaped and simmered in a broth and/or soy sauce. The result is a chewy, meat-like product that is as versatile as chicken (and tastes suspiciously like it, too....but less stringy and dry)!

History: The truth behind the following is not for sure, but it does make sense, combined with knowledge about Buddhist cuisine: Seventh century Buddhist monks were looking for a meat alternative besides tofu. As they were making a dough out of wheat and flour, the starch rinsed off and they had "wheat meat." Today, it is called, "Buddha's Food." It was the Japanese who developed the process of simmering it in soy sauce and seasonings.

We do know that seitan has been popular in the Asian countries for centuries, while only recently becoming popular in America, thanks to the Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and the macrobiotic diet (Timothy Aitken, Vegetarian Times magazine article, Feb. 1997).

Health benefits: High in protein, low in cholesterol and fat, there isn't much else to say!

Myths and tips: You may ask, "What the *** is it??" Now that you read the "what is it" and "history" part of this page (if you didn't, then just scroll up), it ain't so scary, now is it? In fact, this is probably the best meat-alternative to use when trying to entice (or trick!) meat eaters. It has the best meat texture among all other meat alternatives. Try it once and you're hooked!

Tip: You can buy pre-made seitan at Whole Foods Market, but I haven't seen this at local stores or even Ukrop's yet. White Wave, the company of the product at the top of this page, is a company well-known for its tofu and soy products. But seitan is not so cheap to buy, when it is pre-made.

Tip: Make your own seitan and save money! Use Vital Wheat-Gluten (I found this at Ukrop's grocery store, an Arrowhead Mills product) and follow the directions in either a vegan cookbook (like La Dolce Vegan! or Vegan with a Vengeance) or at an online source. The longer you simmer it, the firmer it gets. You can also buy Seitan Quick Mix from Harvest Direct.

Common uses: Seitan is used much like any meat alternative (fake meat). It can be baked, stir-fried, put in stews or chilies, stuffed into vegetables (or egg rolls- see below!) usual, the possibilities are endless! (So, why do people insist on asking, "What do you eat?!")


Gregg said...

i was wondering if anyone knows of any dangers or negatives of eating seitan. The whole soy thing that i jumped on is now not so promising.
i am looking for other protiens substitutes since i dont eat meat and have limited my fish now to wild salmon due to the mercury.


Peace, Love and Veganism said...

Gregg- thanks for your query.... there is no soy in seitan - yay! It's pure wheat flour (ok, it has soy sauce, I guess, but it's just the marinade!). I have never heard of seitan being dangerous or anything. As for the "soy thing" I think that if you read the post on Vegan Lunch Box (, you will find your mind more at ease. Japanese people have been eating soy for centuries, and are among the healthiest and longest living people. At the same time, there is definitely something to be said for "too much of a good thing." If you ate watermelon at every meal, or anything too much, you would definitely not be that healthy. So, too much soy could also be a problem with that outlook. However, there is definitely a link between too much meat and many health issues! I use a little soy milk on my cereal in the morning, and have a bit at night with dinner. I rarely buy the fake meats, and alternate between beans, seitan, nuts, and soy foods like tempeh and tofu. I think that if you try new foods, and don't get in a "tofu rut," you will find that you won't be "overdoing" soy! Please take a look at my older posts and stay tuned for newer ones about other protein sources!

Tim said...

Good Job! :)

Richard said...

I have a question about this post. I would appreciate it if you could contact me. Thanks in advance!

Samatha Grace Dowd said...

wheat gluten is just what it claims to be: glue. it is putting glue in, gumming up your digestive tract

Michael Abraham said...

Hi all, tested today . Buy SEITAN today and made as its on the Label. Horrible ! Its like soft Rubber and Taste ( + I used Soy Sauce Too ) like Nothing. I cant Eat. Sorry.
Never again. i try this Crap. Not Invented from Monks --- It is Invented from Marushima Shoyu Company 1962 , because they have Left Over from Industrial Food production. This is it. said...

I have only been aware of Setitan for 6 months. I had never even heard the word prior to having to change my diet due to having health issues. I find that the information on the history is very helpful. I have some great recipes that I've come up with using it. However the way I can eat it is baked. the simmered version is very rubbery. I'm not sure if I have prepared it wrong, but baked or steamed has a texture that resembles meat. If you are interested in some recipes visit