Seitan is a vegan meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten.
While it may seem that you should pronounce “seitan” similarly to the name of a certain religious figure, the correct way to pronounce it is “say-tan” or “say-tawn.”
Seitan is often sold in slices, cubes, or strips but can also be easily made at home. The result is a dense, brown, somewhat chewy vegan meat alternative with a savory flavor.
I like to use strips of seitan in stir-fry, cubes in stews, and slices in sandwiches in place of foods like lunchmeat, beef, and chicken. In addition to a powerful nutritional profile, seitan contributes a unique and satiating texture to these dishes.
Many people like using seitan because it’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates, but some people wonder whether there are downsides to eating something made entirely from gluten.
This article examines the pros and cons of eating seitan so that you can determine whether it’s something you want to include in your diet.
Seitan is a plant-based meat substitute made entirely out of hydrated and cooked vital wheat gluten flour.
Gluten is a mixture of the proteins prolamin and glutelin found in wheat and similar grains, such as barley and rye. It’s responsible for the elasticity of dough made from these grains and helps hold the dough together.
While it’s often sold on its own, ready to simply heat and add to recipes, seitan is also used as an ingredient in many other premade plant-based meat products, such as certain burgers, hot dogs, and deli slices.
You can also make seitan at home.
What is seitan made of?
To make seitan, wheat flour and water are mixed and kneaded until a sticky dough develops into strands of gluten protein. Then, the dough is rinsed to remove the starch, leaving only the mass of pure gluten protein.
That protein can then be flavored and cooked to be used as a meat substitute in a variety of plant-based dishes.
Seitan is a plant-based meat substitute made out of wheat gluten. It’s made by rinsing prepared wheat dough to remove the starch, leaving a sticky mass of protein that can be flavored, cooked, and used in a number of dishes.
Seitan is easy to buy premade in most grocery stores today. It’s generally found near the tofu and other plant-based meat alternatives.
However, you can also make it at home using just a few ingredients.
All you really need is vital wheat gluten, which is a dried powder usually sold in the baking section with the nontraditional flours, and a liquid, such as water or vegetable broth.
However, many recipes also call for small amounts of other ingredients such as nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, or soy sauce, as well as herbs or spices like garlic and onion powder to add more flavor to homemade seitan. Some recipes also include chickpea or soy flour.
You’ll simply mix all the ingredients together to form a dough and then slice the dough into pieces and simmer them in liquid to cook them. From there, your homemade seitan is ready to use in any dish.
Note that while you can mix seitan by hand, the dough quickly becomes thick, so it may be easier to use a countertop mixer.
Below is a basic recipe you can use to make seitan at home.
- 1 cup (120 grams) vital wheat gluten
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable broth or water
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy sauce or liquid aminos
- 3 tablespoons (15 grams) nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon (14 mL) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (3 grams) garlic powder
For cooking broth:
- 4 cups (960 mL) water
- 4 cups (960 mL) vegetable broth
- Optional: 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy sauce or liquid aminos
- Add all the seitan ingredients to a mixing bowl and knead, either by hand or using an electric mixer, to form a rubbery dough.
- Meanwhile, combine all the cooking broth ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.
- When your seitan dough is ready, stop kneading it and remove it from mixing bowl. Slice it into 3–5 even pieces.
- Once your cooking broth is boiling, carefully place the pieces of seitan dough into the liquid. Bring it down to a simmer and cover the pot with a lid.
- Allow your seitan to simmer for 1 hour.
- When your seitan is done cooking, carefully remove it from the cooking broth using tongs or a slotted spoon and lay it on a cloth or paper towel to drain excess liquid and cool. Once cooled, it’s ready to use or store in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Keep in mind…
You can save the remaining cooking liquid for use as a vegetable stock for soups or stews!
Seitan is easy to make at home using vital wheat gluten, water or vegetable broth, and flavoring agents. All you have to do is knead it into a dough, slice it, and cook it.
Seitan is high in protein and fairly low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. It also contains a number of minerals.
Compared to beef loin, seitan contains fewer calories and less fat but nearly the same amount of protein. Seitan does contain some carbohydrate, while beef has none (
While nutrition content can vary among brands and homemade seitan preparations, below is an example of the nutritional value you can expect from vital wheat gluten, the main ingredient in seitan.
A 1/4-cup (28-gram) serving of vital wheat gluten, the main ingredient in seitan, offers the following nutritional makeup (
- Calories: 104
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Total carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 0.2 grams
- Protein: 21 grams
- Selenium: 16% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 8% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 7% of the DV
- Calcium: 4% of the DV
- Copper: 3% of the DV
Again, nutritional content can vary depending on what other ingredients and flavoring agents are used to make seitan.
If you buy it premade, you can compare the ingredient lists and nutrition panels of various options.
Thanks to the nutritional makeup of vital wheat gluten — its main ingredient — seitan is low in fat and carbs and offers nearly as much protein per serving as beef. It also contains several important minerals.
Because seitan is made entirely out of gluten, the main protein in wheat and related grains, it is a good plant-based protein option.
The amount of protein per serving of seitan can vary depending on what ingredients were used to make it. For instance, seitan products that include soy or chickpea flours can offer additional protein.
A 3-ounce serving of seitan usually contains 15–21 grams of protein. That’s roughly equivalent to animal proteins such as chicken and beef.
Like all plant foods, seitan contains some amount of all nine essential amino acids. However, basic seitan may contain only a small amount of lysine (
That just means it’s important to make sure you’re getting other sources of lysine in your diet, such as beans, soy milk, tempeh, quinoa, and lentils (
Seitan is rich in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. However, it doesn’t contain much lysine, so be sure to incorporate other lysine-rich foods, such as legumes, into your diet.
Whether you purchase premade seitan or make your own at home, there are a number of ways you can use it.
Some delicious ways to use seitan include the following:
- sliced and layered onto sandwiches
- used as a ground beef substitute in spaghetti sauce or tacos
- sliced into strips for fajitas or stir-fry
- slathered with barbecue sauce and served as a main dish
- breaded and deep-fried like chicken strips
- simmered in hearty bean and vegetable stews
- threaded onto skewers with baby potatoes and vegetables and grilled as kebabs
What does seitan taste like?
Seitan has a dense, slightly rubbery texture that many people say more closely resembles meat than tofu or tempeh.
It has a savory flavor that you can enhance by adding seasonings and sauces if you make it at home. Using nutritional yeast in your homemade dough, for instance, can give your seitan a nutty, cheesy flavor. Adding soy sauce can give it a saltier flavor.
If you’re using premade seitan, you can boost its flavor by marinating it or briefly cooking it in vegetable broth before adding it to a dish.
Seitan is a dense, somewhat rubbery meat substitute with a savory flavor that works well in a wide array of dishes, such as stir-fry, sandwiches, pasta, soups, stews, and kebabs. You can alter its flavor with seasonings and marinades as desired.
Many plant-based meat substitutes, such as tofu, tempeh, and premade veggie burgers and hot dogs, are made from soy.
But soy is one of the top eight food allergens, along with milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts (
Therefore, it can be difficult for those who eat a plant-based diet but have a soy allergy or intolerance to find suitable meat alternatives.
Fortunately, seitan is an excellent soy-free option if you need to avoid the allergen. Just be sure to check the ingredient list on packaged seitan products to make sure no soy-containing ingredients have been added.
Seitan is made with wheat gluten, so it’s a good soy-free meat alternative for people with soy allergies or intolerances. Just double-check the ingredient list on premade seitan to be sure it doesn’t contain soy products.
While seitan is a nutritious and versatile food, some people may need to avoid it.
For instance, seitan is a good option for people who follow a soy-free diet, but it still contains wheat gluten. Wheat is another major allergen, and many people have gluten-related disorders that require them to avoid it.
That includes people who have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune condition triggered by ingesting gluten (
Because the primary ingredient in seitan is gluten, eating it could cause a significant reaction if you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten.
High sodium content
Additionally, premade seitan products may contain substantial amounts of added salt, making packaged seitan a high sodium food.
As such, it’s a good idea for people who monitor the amount of sodium in their diet to check the Nutrition Facts panel on premade seitan just as they would with other packaged foods.
Another option is to make seitan at home, where you have more control over how much sodium is in it.
While seitan is a versatile plant-based protein, people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten allergy should avoid it. Premade seitan can also be high in sodium, so it’s important to read the nutrition label if you monitor your sodium intake.
Seitan is made from pure gluten, so some people are concerned that eating it may negatively affect your gut health.
There’s not much evidence that gluten harms gut health in folks who aren’t sensitive to it.
There are theories — especially in natural health spaces — that eating gluten may contribute to developing “leaky gut,” but this syndrome isn’t recognized by most mainstream medical professionals.
In a healthy, properly functioning gut, intestinal permeability is tightly regulated. That means only small food particles can pass through into the bloodstream (
There is some evidence that the gut may become “leaky,” allowing larger particles through. This is called increased intestinal permeability, and it may be associated with a higher risk of food sensitivities, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases in some people (
However, there isn’t enough evidence to support the claim that “leaky gut” itself is a true medical condition, and studies on gluten’s ability to affect intestinal permeability have produced mixed results.
While some test-tube studies suggest it can occur — even among people without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity — older human studies indicate that it’s more likely among people who have these conditions, as well as those with irritable bowel syndrome (
Overall, there’s not enough evidence to say whether eating gluten-containing foods such as seitan may affect gut health. Most people who eat gluten moderately and don’t have any underlying digestive conditions or intolerances shouldn’t experience significant issues.
And while the existence of “leaky gut” is disputed, the importance of the gut microbiome is less so. The best way to support your gut microbiome is to follow a well-rounded, nutritious diet. For most people, it isn’t necessary to completely avoid certain foods, including gluten.
But if eating gluten causes you unpleasant side effects such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or joint pain, you may want to try removing it from your diet for 30 days to see whether your symptoms improve. That would include refraining from eating seitan (
A registered dietitian can help you identify the possible link between your diet and any symptoms you’re experiencing (
Some suggest that eating gluten-containing foods such as seitan could affect gut health or digestion. However, more research is needed, and these side effects are unlikely to affect people without underlying digestive conditions or intolerances.
You may be wondering how seitan compares to other popular plant-based meat alternatives, such as tempeh.
While seitan is a soy-free option that contains gluten, tempeh is a gluten-free option that contains soy.
Tempeh is a protein-rich cake made from fermented soybeans. It comes in a densely packed rectangular shape and can be sliced and used in stews, chili, pasta, casseroles, and breakfast scrambles.
You can use tempeh in many of the same ways you would use seitan, but tempeh is more easily crumbled into foods like sauces or tacos.
Nutritionally, tempeh and seitan are both high in protein, offering 20 and 25 grams per 100-gram serving, respectively. They’re both low in carbs, containing only 6–7 grams per serving. Compared to seitan, tempeh is slightly higher in calories and contains more fat (
As for preparation, seitan is made by combining wheat gluten with liquid, whereas tempeh is made from whole soybeans that have been fermented. Tempeh is then blanched and packaged to optimize its shelf life.
Seitan has a smooth, slightly rubbery, dense texture and a savory flavor. Being a cake of whole soybeans, tempeh has a bumpy texture and is also dense.
Tempeh has a bitter flavor that some people don’t like, but you can reduce this by steaming the tempeh for a few minutes before using it in a recipe.
Compared to tempeh, a plant-based meat alternative made from fermented whole soybeans, seitan is slightly higher in protein but lower in fat, calories, and carbs. They can be used in similar dishes, though tempeh is easier to crumble.
Seitan is a popular plant-based meat alternative made from wheat gluten, water, and sometimes other flavoring ingredients.
It’s high in protein and low in fat and carbs, and it’s a good source of minerals such as selenium and iron.
Seitan is a great option for people who cannot eat soy, as many other popular vegan foods, such as tofu and tempeh, are soy-based.
However, anyone who cannot tolerate wheat or gluten, including those with sensitivities, allergies, or celiac disease, shouldn’t eat seitan, because doing so could cause serious side effects.
Some theorize that eating gluten may affect gut health, but more research is needed on this topic.
Overall, seitan can be a good food choice if you’re looking for a high protein plant-based meal alternative, as long as you don’t need to avoid wheat or gluten.
Just one thing
Try this today: Next time you’re at the store, pick up a bag of vital wheat gluten to make your own seitan. Give the basic recipe above a try!
This seitan works great in place of beef or chicken. Once it’s prepared, either cut it into strips and add it to a creamy pasta dish or slice it thinly and layer it onto a sandwich.