Seitan…Say what?

This post goes under the heading” You learn something new everyday“. A few weeks ago I was at a pop up market featuring all the yummy local items available from Kate&Kimi. There were waffles and baked goods, nut butters, eco-cleaning supplies and a table with samples of what looked like sausage.

I had heard of seitan before but I was under the mistaken impression that it was a type of marinated tofu. Oops , silly nutritionist.  As I was chatting with the vendors while enjoying the Italian style “meat” I learned that seitan is a high protein wheat gluten substance , often substituted for “fake meat”. The texture is chewier than the texture of tofu and does a better job of mimicking meat. Chances are you too have unknowingly eaten seitan at one of the local vegetarian restaurants.
Culinary lore tells us the seitan, or miàn jīn in Chinese was developed by Chinese chefs for the Chinese emperors who would practice vegetarianism one week a year in a of show respect to the Buddhist religion. Seitan then spread through out east Asia, FINALLY arriving in the United States in the late 1960’s.

So what is seitan really? Seitan is gluten, most often wheat gluten but gluten is also found in rye, barley and other grains. Gluten is the protein found in these flours and yes it is also the substance that people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must avoid, so seitan is not on their plate.

You can make your own seitan or you can buy one of the many ready to eat products. There are easy recipes to make your own seitan but you must start with wheat gluten otherwise you are in for hours of kneading and rinsing to separate out the gluten from wheat flour. The Vegetarian Resource Group website has easy recipes for making seitan as well as recipes for what to do with your finished product.     See www.vrg.org/recipes/vjseitan.htm for more information.

Seitan is a large part of the macrobiotic system of health and cooking and it is easy to understand why. Seitan has almost as much protein per ounce as meat, 90 gm. of seitan will have 18 gm. of protein vs. 21 gm. in 90 gm. of any meat. This “wheat meat”is also a decent source of iron and is low in carbohydrates, high in fiber and does not have any saturated fats. Sounds perfect for good health.  Seitan could be high in sodium because soy sauce and tamari are often used a seasoning for the basic product but for those concerned about their sodium intake the seasonings are easily adjusted to reduce the sodium levels.

Besides finding out that seitan is not a relative of tofu I also discovered that seitan is considered a “low energy dense food”. This is a relatively new phrase in the nutrition lingo. A low energy dense food is one that is low in calories and fills you up, remember I said that it was a great source of fiber.

There is no doubt that we should all include more plant based meals in our daily diet, for our own health and the health of the planet, but I will be honest I am probably not going to make my own seitan, at least not this week. Fortunately for us less ambitious cooks there is a source for seitan in Shanghai. Serenity Seitan (www.serenityseitan.com) comes in three flavors and  is available from Kate&Kimi (www.kateandkimi.com). Seitan should also be available in the local Chinese and Japanese markets.

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!