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Seitan (or wheat gluten) is pure gluten, vegetarian protein, extracted from several types of wheat flour by a kneading and rinsing process, after which it is boiled for some time before use.
It has been used for many centuries as a vegetarian substitute for meat and fish throughout China, Japan and some neighbouring countries and is now used in the West, particularly in macro-biotic diets.
It is important to note that, because seitan is made from grain, it is not a full dietary substitute for the protein of meat, milk and milk products or eggs but must be complemented with pulses in the usual way. Soya beans and such products as tofu are the only complete vegetarian substitute.
Seitan is somewhat flavourless and different processes can make it everything from slightly chewy to lightly puffed. It comes in pieces, larger blocks and also powder form. It has the useful quality of easily absorbing other flavours, particularly from robust sauces and stews. It is sometimes flavoured and might be found as an ingredient in many commercial vegetarian products. Powdered seitan is mixed with water, lightly kneaded and then ready to use.
Seitan must not be eaten by or included in any dish offered to coeliac sufferers. Its overuse as a meat substitute does not provide a balanced diet to those who do not eat meat, milk and milk products or eggs or understand the need to eat both grains and pulses in a vegetarian diet.
Try making your own meat alternative at home with our step-by-step seitan recipe.
Online and in health food shops.
Better to buy in sealed packaging with a clear use-by date. Seitan does not need the addition of preservatives or salt but the label of flavoured varieties should be carefully checked.
Should be kept refrigerated and only a few days once out of any packaging, but it does freeze very well.
Seitan usually comes with instructions for use in rough or neat pieces, which generally can be used instead of meat in stews, stir-fries, soups and broths. It is a very good addition to bean recipes of all kinds, as the finished dish will then offer a full protein substitute for meat and dairy.