Seitan, that’s “SAY-tan,” is a vegan meat substitute packed full of protein. It’s often called wheat meat or wheat gluten.
To make seitan, you take wheat flour dough and wash it in water until the starch has dissolved—or you can rehydrate powdered wheat gluten.
The sticky dough that’s left behind can be sliced and used in all kinds of tasty dishes instead of meat. Although seitan doesn’t taste like much on its own, it takes on the flavor of sauces well.
Seitan is soy-free and very popular in Asian vegetarian dishes. It’s thought seitan was first discovered in China during the 6th century, where it was used to make Chinese noodles.
Moving into more modern times, seitan was first mass produced for the commercial market in 1962 by the founder of the macrobiotic diet, George Ohsawa.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Eating Seitan?
Seitan is popular in vegetarian and vegan diets because it’s versatile and has a firm texture as well as being packed with protein. Seitan contains selenium, iron, phosphorus, calcium, and copper; however, experts say it doesn’t provide all your nutritional needs.
Here are the pros of seitan:
1. It’s high in protein.
Protein is essential for good health because it repairs muscles and regulates hormones.
Seitan is a wheat protein that can help vegetarians and vegans get the nutrients they need for good health.
You need roughly 0.2g of protein each day for every kilo you weigh, more if you exercise frequently. A chicken breast has roughly 24g of protein per 100g, whereas seitan has 75g.
2. Seitan can help you lose weight.
Seitan has practically no calories at all and keeps you feeling full due to its high protein content. Research shows that the hunger hormone ghrelin is decreased by seitan.
If you’re looking to lose some pounds, including seitan in your diet could be a good move.
3. Seitan is soy-free.
Many meat substitutes are made from soy, which is one of the top allergens in the US.
Soy products such as tofu and tempeh are popular among vegetarians, but if you’re allergic, they’re clearly not suitable. Seitan, on the other hand, is totally meat- and soy-free.
4. It’s so versatile.
Seitan is a basic ingredient that can be used in many different dishes. It takes on the flavor of many sauces and works particularly well in an overnight marinade.
Seitan can take the place of chicken in most family favorite dishes and makes cooking for vegan friends simple.
5. Seitan can replace meat.
Eating a lot of meat is linked with poor health and life-limiting diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Seitan can help you cut out daily meat dishes without compromising on the flavors you’re used to. It’s also cheaper than meat and kinder to animals—and the environment, too.
The cons of seitan:
Seitan is an incomplete protein.
Although seitan contains lots of protein, it’s known as an incomplete protein because it’s missing one amino acid. The missing amino acid is lysine.
Lysine can be found in meat, beans, and legumes.
RELATED: Protein Sources for All Lifestyles
It’s not gluten-free.
Seitan is made from wheat gluten, so it’s not suitable for wheat allergy sufferers, those with celiac disease, or those who experience gluten intolerance.
If you eat seitan and experience abdominal pain, an upset stomach, or bloating, you could be sensitive to its gluten load.
Store-bought versions often contain additives.
If you make seitan at home, it could be healthier than store-bought versions. This is because stores add salt, fillers, and additives to the mix, which turns seitan into a “processed food.”
Are There Healthier Alternatives to Seitan?
If you’re looking for a meat substitute, seitan is a popular choice because it’s tasty, full of protein, and low in fat—but as it’s an incomplete protein and potentially processed, there are alternatives that may be a healthier choice.
Here are some other options:
If you’re looking for protein, don’t overlook the humble pea. A serving of 100g of peas contains 25g of protein; plus, they’re full of fiber and vitamins for great health.
Tempeh is a type of fermented food from Indonesia and is one of the healthiest meat substitutes available.
It’s made from soybeans that are partially cooked and fermented before they are formed into a “cake” of tempeh.
Fermented foods such as soybeans have a higher concentration of protein and nutrients than other meat substitutes like seitan. Tempeh has more magnesium and manganese than seitan, and there’s no sodium in its pure form. It is, however, higher in calories than seitan.
Another meat-free fermented food that’s high in protein but also contains vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 is natto.
Natto is a soybean creation made from cooked soybeans and Bacillus subtilis, which is a probiotic bacteria.
It smells like cheese and is certainly an acquired taste, but for some, its runny texture and strong flavor added to rice or noodle dishes is a welcome change.
Fermented foods like tempeh and natto contain gut-healthy probiotics that support your gut biome, your immune system, and may even help prevent cancer.
Tofu has been on the market for decades and is often the butt of jokes; however, it’s a highly versatile meat substitute that contains all the amino acids our bodies need, unlike seitan.
Tofu is made from soy and it’s a high-protein food at 11.5g of protein per 100g. Tofu also contains selenium, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, and iron.
On the flip side, some studies indicate that men who regularly eat soy may be prone to a lower sperm count due to its phytoestrogens.
Quorn is the brand name for a form of mycoprotein made from the Fusarium venenatum fungus.
It’s rapidly gaining popularity in stores due to celebrity endorsements and its easy ready-meal replacement capacity. Quorn is produced as sausages, mince, meatballs, nuggets, bacon, ham, and sausage rolls as well as meals like shepherd’s pie.
Quorn is a good source of protein at 14g per 100g and it contains plenty of fiber, but some people have experienced allergic reactions to Quorn. if you’re new to it—keep your eyes peeled for adverse reactions.
Healthy eating social media images are full of jackfruit.
Jackfruit is hailed as a great vegan food because it looks and tastes like pulled pork, but it’s not unhealthy because it contains plenty of fiber and potassium.
It doesn’t have a lot of protein at 1.7g per 100g, but it makes a tasty addition to other protein-rich foods such as beans.
Should You Try Seitan?
Many of us want to make a positive change to our diet, and cutting out excess meat is a step forward.
Seitan is full of protein; it can help you lose weight; and it’s so versatile, you won’t get bored. However, seitan lacks a certain amino acid to be considered a complete protein, and it can be full of additives when it’s store-bought.
There are probably healthier meat-free alternatives to try, but when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, seitan is a low-fat and enjoyable vegan-friendly dish.