Converting to Seitanism

Did you say “Satanism?”

If you’re looking for a blog about the religious figure of evil, you’ve come to the wrong place. This blog is about seitan (pronounced “say-tan”), the vegetarian and vegan-friendly meat-alternative. But Seitan isn't just for those avoiding meat, it is a worthwhile source of nutrients in your diet. Let’s take a closer look at seitan and what magical forces (or just basic nutrition) it provides.

What IS seitan anyway?

Seitan is a meat alternative, similar to tofu with a consistency more like chicken. This meat-free, dairy-free, soy-free food can be made at home by making a dough of wheat flour, yeast, and water. Sounds like the start of a nice loaf of bread, right? Once the dough has been kneaded and left to rest, the dough needs to be placed in a water bath and massaged. This causes the starches to leak out of the dough and into the water. Goodbye aspiring loaf of deliciousness and hello ball of gluten goodness. This ball of gluten is called seitan, otherwise known as “wheat meat” or “vital wheat gluten”. If you’re not the DIY type, you can buy it premade in the refrigerated vegetarian foods section of most grocery stores.

Did you just say the “G” word?

Yep, gluten. Seitan is mostly gliadins and glutenins, the two classes of proteins that make up gluten. But unless you have a gluten intolerance you really don’t need to avoid gluten. Studies show that a gluten-free diet has no added benefits from a normal, balanced diet. Just to be clear: seitan is gluten but gluten is not Satan. 

So what’s the benefit?

Seitan is considered a meat alternative because it is packed with protein. However, the jury is still out on if it is a complete or incomplete protein. A complete protein source is a food that contains all nine essential amino acids in the right amounts that our body needs. Some sources say that seitan only has eight of those nine essential amino acids. To play it safe, you should focus on getting a variety of amino acids in your diet every day from various sources, including seitan.

What do I do with it?

Just like tofu, seitan can absorb any flavor that it is cooked with. Many flavorings can be loaded with sodium, so try to use ingredients that will add flavor without adding sodium, like herbs and spices. Use seitan as a meat substitute in tacos, stir-fry, kabobs—you name it.  Countless recipes are available, or just wing it and use seitan however you want.

Verdict

Seitan is not the source of all evil. It is a protein-packed alternative to meat and tofu with a texture that mimics chicken. It is made from wheat and is essentially gluten, but there is no reason to avoid this versatile food unless you have a medical reason.

This blog was written by Rachel Parr, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.