Seitan: The Other White-Meat Substitute

If you want to add a lot of protein, and variety, to your vegetarian diet, try seitan. Its meat–like texture earned it the name "wheat-meat" and makes it the best plant protein to replace chicken, beef, and pork in non-vegetarian and vegan recipes.

Seitan is seasoned wheat gluten, a substance that makes dough elastic, helps it to rise, and to keep its shape. To make it, flour and water are kneaded together, then rinsed several times to remove the starch. The dough gets formed into balls, and simmered for several hours, usually in a broth of shoyu sauce (a Japanese version of soy sauce).

While wheat-meat may be new to vegetarians in the U.S., it's been a staple in the Middle and Far East for hundreds of years.

It's All About The Protein

Wheat-meat is an excellent meat substitute for many reasons. Just three and one-half ounces has 16 grams of protein and only 120 calories. That's twice as much protein as tofu and 40% more protein than two medium eggs. Plus, it's also a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids. Why is this important? Your body can not make essential amino acids, so you must get them from food.

Note: Seitan is Not for Everyone

If you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, don't consume it and be vigilant in vegetarian restaurants where it's popular.

Although wheat-meat is a complete protein, it's low in the amino acid lysine. This is fixed during the cooking processed because it's usually seasoned with shoyu, which is high in lysine. If you make it at home or purchase it without shoyu sauce, just stir fry it with soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Another option is to serve it with a vegetarian food source of lysine.

The quality of the seitan available in stores can vary quite a bit and depends on the type of wheat and seasonings that are used. The best quality is made from hard winter wheat, which has the highest protein content. It's also simmered in kombu (seaweed) and naturally aged shoyu, which adds valuable minerals and lysine.

You also get vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron when whole-wheat flour is used to make it.

Seitan is Easy to Cook With

As I mentioned above, wheat-meat is super easy to use in place of meat, which is why it's so popular in vegetarian restaurants. You can fry, stir-fry, bake, use a pressure cooker, sauté, and marinate it. The possiblilies are endless.

You can find it in any health food store in the refrigerator section.


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