THE WORD, THE PLANT, THE PRODUCT
Seitan originates from Japan and has been eaten for nearly 1,500 years. The word, which likely comes from the Japanese terms for vegetable and protein is pronounced “say-tan,” or sometimes as “see-tan.” Often people say “satan” by accident. That’s okay, because we love devils (have you seen our mascot?) and technically you don’t need to say seitan in order to eat and enjoy it.
Seitan is made from wheat, a plant which might first conjure up images of bread or wheatgrass shots. Seitan is special because it’s made from the natural protein found in wheat (giving it the nickname “wheat meat” or "grain meat"). This protein is known as vital wheat gluten, or just gluten for short. People who are diagnosed with Celiac disease have an autoimmune disorder that prevents them from ingesting gluten without sustaining damage to the digestive system (and this means they are unable to eat seitan). For everyone else, seitan is a good source of protein, iron, calcium, potassium, and several B vitamins, while also being low in fats and low in carbohydrates.
The process of getting the natural protein from wheat is straightforward, if a bit tedious. It’s simple enough that you can extract the pure gluten from standard all-purpose flour at home with no special equipment. Here’s a ten-minute video of a guy washing away the starch granules from regular flour to yield just the protein using just a bowl, a colander, water, and his kitchen sink.
If you’re pressed for time, don’t worry. You can just buy vital wheat gluten to make your own seitan. Bob’s Red Mill makes a wonderful Vital Wheat Gluten and your local grocery might stock it. I’ve seen the Bob’s products at most health food stores, and at the major chain groceries like Whole Foods, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Star Market, etc.
You also have the option to buy pre-made seitan at the grocery store. It’s found in many faux meat products and is often the primary ingredient (e.g. Impossible Foods, Upton Naturals, and Field Roast use seitan as the base for many of their products). Sometimes the packaging on commercially available meat-alternatives is confusing because the product is labeled with a traditional meat name, like “sausage.” You know it’s not a sausage, but you don’t know what it is exactly, and that confusion can distract you from enjoying the food.
But now you know: seitan is the hero! Bartleby’s favorite source of natural protein, made from the friendly wheat plant, can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways with different textures and flavors. We’re keen on a savory, southern-fried version that our devils enjoy in our signature sandwiches and nuggets, but seitan works with so many dishes and cuisines. Yum!
Keep following our series and learn how to prepare seitan and make it a part of your favorite meals.