What Is Seitan? The Health Food That Sounds Straight From Hell

But it can actually be quite delicious. We swear.
A close-up of a bowl of seitan.
zkruger via Getty Images
A close-up of a bowl of seitan.

You may have noticed seitan ―pronounced “say-tann,” not “Satan” ― as a meat-substitute on menus, and you may have even ordered it from time to time. Or most recently, you’ve likely seen a viral TikTok recipe for “fake chicken” that’s made from seitan. But do you have any idea what it actually is?

Seitan is unlike tofu and tempeh, because it isn’t made from soy. It’s sometimes called “wheat meat,” because seitan is made from wheat. (Surprise! It’s not gluten-free.) It’s mixed and kneaded much like bread dough, so you can probably make it with the ingredients in your pantry right now.

It differs from actual bread dough because the starch is removed from the dough, leaving behind just the protein. This can be done either by kneading the dough under water to release and wash away the starch, or it can be done by using a special flour known as vital gluten wheat.

Here’s why it’s so popular: seitan is a meat-free option that mimics the texture of meat impressively well. It takes on flavors easily, and has a good chew to it. It’s also high in protein ― higher than tofu and even tempeh. A 3-ounce serving boasts 18 grams. (For the same serving size, tofu contains 8 grams and tempeh 16.6 grams.)

Seitan can easily be added to stir fries, turned into kabobs and made it into sandwiches ― it can take the place of chicken in almost all recipes. You can find it at the store, or make your own if you have the time ― it takes at least a couple of hours from start to finish. This is how it’s done:

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