Seitan is a vegan and vegetarian-friendly protein. It's made from gluten, unlike most other plant-based protein products, which are made from soy. Seitan has a very high protein content and low carbohydrate content, like most animal-based proteins.
What Is Seitan?
Seitan is a type of vegan protein. It originated in China and is particularly popular throughout Asia. It's low in carbohydrates and fat, making this a popular alternative to soy-based products like tofu and tempeh. Vegans and vegetarians who are intolerant to soy often use seitan as their choice of meat substitute.
Unlike tofu, tempeh or vegetable-based proteins, seitan is made of gluten. Gluten is the protein in flour that gives it structure; this protein makes your dough elastic and gives your bread its wonderfully fluffy texture. Gluten is also a part of a variety of other foods, including noodles, pastries, cakes, pies and other products.
Seitan isn't bread, though. This product is made from the gluten that has been separated from starch and the other components in flour. This type of gluten is called vital wheat gluten. When you make seitan, you're essentially dissolving vital wheat gluten in water, making it into the form you want and cooking it. Premade seitan just has to be cut up and cooked into whatever dish you want to make.
Seitan Nutrition Facts
Seitan's nutrition varies, based on whether or not you've made it at home using vital wheat gluten or have purchased a commercial variety. The nutrition facts listed are based on vital wheat gluten that would need to be rehydrated before consuming. One ounce (28 grams) of seitan has:
- 8 percent of the daily value (DV) for iron
- 7 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 16 percent of the DV for selenium
- 42 percent of the DV for protein
Seitan's calories per ounce total 104, just 5 percent of the daily value. This food also has small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent) of other nutrients, like fiber, calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Obviously, seitan's protein content is its richest nutrient; it contains more protein and less carbohydrate than most other vegan protein sources. However, it lacks two essential amino acids, lysine and threonine, compared to protein from animal sources. However, most other vegan-friendly proteins, like nuts, seeds, legumes and soy, are rich in these essential amino acids.
Ways to Use Seitan
Seitan is well known for its texture, which is more similar to meat than tofu, tempeh and other meat substitutes. In fact, when you see mock meat on a menu (like mock duck), this often refers to seitan. Seitan is probably most comparable to chicken or mushrooms in both flavor and texture. On its own, it can be a bit bland and dry, but it's very tasty once seasoned, especially with a sauce.
Once you have purchased seitan or created it from vital wheat gluten, all you need to do is cook it into your food. Seitan can easily be cooked in a variety of ways — you can slice it thinly and brown it on a pan before using it in salads or breakfast sandwiches. It can also be fried, boiled or grilled. Just be careful not to overcook your seitan; it cooks faster than you'd think.
Seitan can be easily integrated into virtually any dish. It absorbs flavor well and is often used in stews or stir-fries. You can make anything, from seitan bourguignon to seitan burgers — essentially you can use this protein in dishes the same way you'd use any other meat or meat substitute.
Seitan Versus Soy-Based Products
Soy proteins made from tofu are popular vegan- and vegetarian-friendly proteins. However, seitan is a much better source of protein compared to soy products. An equivalent amount (1 ounce) of tofu has only a fraction of the protein that seitan has. Soft tofu has only 3 percent of the daily value for protein, while firm tofu has only 4 percent. Even fermented tofu (bean curd) has just 5 percent of the daily value for this nutrient.
There's a catch here, though: While a serving of seitan is made from an ounce-sized (28-gram) serving of vital wheat gluten, the average serving of tofu is around 100 grams. This means that the average 100 gram serving of soft tofu has:
- 10 percent of the daily value (DV) for protein
- 7 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 7 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 6 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 5 percent of the DV for potassium
- 10 percent of the DV for copper
- 5 percent of the DV for iron
A 100-gram serving of soft tofu would have just 55 calories, about half of seitan's calories. It also has other vitamins and minerals in small amounts, including B-complex vitamins, calcium and zinc. Firm tofu has even more nutrients; it's richer in most of these minerals and has 14 percent of the daily value for protein. Similarly, fermented tofu is even richer in nutrients. In 100 grams of fermented tofu, you'll find:
- 16 percent of the DV for protein
- 10 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 6 percent of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 7 percent of the DV for folate (vitamin B9)
- 5 percent of the DV for calcium
- 11 percent of the DV for iron
- 13 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 7 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 10 percent of the DV for zinc
- 19 percent of the DV for copper
- 59 percent of the DV for manganese
- 25 percent of the DV for selenium
Essentially, while soy-based alternatives have more vitamins and minerals, none have similar amounts of protein — even taking the larger portion size per serving into account.
The only soy product that is comparable to seitan in terms of protein content is tempeh. Unlike tofu, which is made from soy milk, tempeh is made from cooked, fermented soybeans. This results in a product that is nutritionally most similar to fermented tofu, but even richer in minerals and protein content (30 percent of the DV per 3-ounce serving).
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