What Is Seitan and Is It Really Just Like Chicken?
In the world of plant-based protein, seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is a name you need to know. It's as high in protein as steak, plus it's readily available at grocery mainstays like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Target.
But the real game changer comes from its ability to mimic that specific, satisfying texture of proteins like chicken and chorizo.
Don't think it's possible? Take a look for yourself in this viral TikTok that shows seitan turning almost miraculously into a food that shreds just like chicken:
Convinced? Let's get into seitan and learn how you can start cooking with it.
What is seitan?
Though it may be a new ingredient on your radar, seitan originated all the way back in Medieval Asia; vegetarian Buddhist monks first used it as a meat substitute.
The process of making "wheat meat" is quite simple: After kneading together flour and water, the dough is then rinsed until most of the starch is gone — leaving behind high-protein gluten.
For those less science-inclined (raises hand), think of it this way: Gluten is typically what you don't want to develop when making doughs and batters. That's why recipes often advise against overmixing; too much gluten development will lead to overly chewy (instead of fluffy) cakes, pancakes, and breads. But in this case, the gluten strands are key to recreating the protein structure of actual meat—and will give you that nice, chewy texture.
So, at the end of all this kneading and rinsing is a protein- and iron-rich ingredient you can shape and cook in an astonishing variety of ways.
How to buy (or make) seitan
As it's gaining popularity alongside other vegan meats, seitan should be stocked at traditional grocery stores (though it's worth checking online beforehand). Or shop for it your local Asian, international, or health food store.
At the store, you can find seitan in the refrigerated section near other meat substitutes. You may find it in stir fry-ready strips, or made into chorizo-like crumbles. When possible, opt for the least processed version (look for a shorter ingredient list).
The base recipe for seitan requires only wheat flour and water, though you can opt to start with higher protein vital wheat gluten so you can skip the rinsing stage of the recipe. Get more tips on making your own seitan from this TikToker, or start with this step-by-step walk through of the plant-based protein.
Homemade seitan will keep in the fridge for a few days; for store-bought, follow the expiration date. Prepared seitan will also keep in the freezer for up to three months.
How to cook with seitan
Seitan is similar to tofu in that it takes on the flavor of whatever it's cooked in, and you can form it into practically any shape.
Talk about versatile! But where to begin?
First, let's talk cooking method. If your first foray into seitan is with a store-bought option, most of the prep work is done for you and you'll simply need to warm it up to add to your dish. When preparing your own, cook the seitan until it reaches 160° F (this is important because it's not advisable to eat raw flour) and feels firm to the touch.
A simple starting place is with a seitan stir fry; thinly slice it up and toss it with a yummy black bean garlic sauce in this recipe. Seitan is also a star in hearty soups (as it soaks up all the flavors). We recommend this smoky pinto bean and hominy stew or a "can't-believe-it's-vegan" chili that's sure to please even the most stubborn meat eaters.
Or, when in doubt, simply pan fry it, simmer it in broth, and shred it like chicken. From there, your meat-free meal options are both delicious and endless.