How to Use Seitan in Cooking

Seitan, a versatile plant-based protein, has gained popularity as a vegan and vegetarian meat substitute due to its impressively meaty texture and ability to absorb flavors.

Originating from wheat, seitan is primarily made from vital wheat gluten, the protein component of the grain. This makes it a high-protein option suitable for those on meatless diets looking to maintain their protein intake.

Unlike tofu or tempeh, seitan’s chewy texture is remarkably similar to that of meat, which makes it an excellent choice for a wide range of dishes that traditionally contain meat.

A chef pours seitan into a hot skillet, sizzling as it cooks. On a cutting board, they slice seitan into thin strips for a stir-fry

As you explore the culinary possibilities with seitan, you’ll find it incredibly easy to work with.

You can slice it into chunks for stir-fries, stews, and casseroles or cut it into strips to mimic meats like chicken or beef in your favorite recipes.

When seasoned well and added to a marinade, seitan can be grilled, roasted, or pan-fried, achieving a browned and crispy exterior that adds a delightful texture to your meals.

Thanks to its neutral flavor, it pairs well with a variety of sauces and seasonings, making it a highly adaptable ingredient that can take on savory, sweet, or spicy profiles to fit any dish.

Cooking seitan is straightforward: it requires simmering in a flavorful broth to expand and develop its texture before being further cooked according to your recipe requirements.

Because seitan doubles or even triples in size when cooked, ensure you use a sufficiently large pot.

The prepared seitan can then be incorporated into your meal, where it will contribute satisfying protein content without the use of animal products.

Understanding Seitan

When exploring plant-based proteins, seitan stands out for its versatility in cooking and meat-like texture. This section dives into what seitan is and traces its history.

What Is Seitan

Seitan is made from wheat gluten, the protein that gives wheat its elasticity. When you mix vital wheat gluten with water and seasonings, it forms a dough that can be shaped and cooked in various ways.

The process removes most of the starch found in wheat flour, leaving behind the gluten, which is the main component of seitan. Known for its chewy and dense texture, seitan is appreciated for its ability to absorb flavors and is often used as a meat substitute in various dishes.

Key Attributes of Seitan:

  • Main Ingredient: Vital wheat gluten
  • Texture: Chewy and dense
  • Flavor: Neutral, absorbs marinades and spices well

The History of Seitan

Seitan has been a staple in Asian cuisines for centuries, particularly among vegetarian Buddhist monks. It is also known as “wheat meat” or fu when referred to in Japanese culinary practices.

This meat alternative was traditionally made by washing wheat flour dough with water to remove the starch, leaving behind the gluten. In the West, seitan was popularized as a protein-rich, plant-based food especially within vegetarian and vegan communities searching for meat-like textures in their diets.

Nutritional Profile

A table with various ingredients and a cookbook open to a seitan recipe. Cutting board, knife, and stovetop in the background

When considering incorporating seitan into your diet, understanding its nutritional profile is crucial. This will help you assess how it complements your dietary needs, especially in terms of protein, vitamins, and its comparison to other protein sources.

Protein Content

Seitan is an exceptional source of protein, making it a staple in many vegetarian and vegan diets.

The primary ingredient in seitan is vital wheat gluten, which is the protein found in wheat. Unlike some plant-based proteins, seitan is low in lysine, so it’s beneficial to combine it with lysine-rich foods like legumes to attain a complete amino acid profile.

Typically, you can find about 15 to 21 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving of seitan.

Vitamins and Minerals

While seitan is a significant source of protein, it naturally contains little to no essential vitamins and minerals.

It is, however, often fortified with nutrients, including iron and B vitamins, to enhance its nutritional value.

For example, a serving could provide around 1.2 to 2 milligrams of iron. Since seitan is made from wheat, it’s not suitable for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

Comparing Seitan to Other Proteins

Seitan stands out for being a low-fat and low-carb protein option when compared to animal proteins.

A 3-ounce serving of seitan contains only 2 grams of carbs, which is considerably less than tofu or tempeh.

Despite being plant-based, its texture resembles that of meat, making it a satisfying alternative for those looking to reduce meat consumption.

However, in terms of nutrients, animal proteins typically offer a broader nutrient profile, including a complete set of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, without the need for fortification.

Preparing Seitan

Seitan is a versatile meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten, offering a meaty texture that can be adapted for various recipes. Whether you’re making it from scratch or using pre-made, understanding how to prepare seitan is crucial for a successful dish.

Making Seitan from Scratch

To create homemade seitan, start by sourcing vital wheat gluten, which is essential for achieving the right texture.

  1. In a mixing bowl combine:
    • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
    • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
    • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
    • Spices to taste (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika)
  2. Gradually add 1 cup of water or vegetable broth and stir, forming a lumpy mixture.
  3. Once combined, knead the mixture by hand or with a food processor for 5-10 minutes to develop the gluten. This will result in your seitan dough.
  4. Shape the dough into a loaf or cut into pieces depending on your recipe needs.

Tip: A well-kneaded seitan dough should be elastic and slightly firm to the touch.

Using Pre-Made Seitan

When working with pre-made seitan, you’ll want to customize the flavor and texture to match your dish.

  • Remove seitan from packaging and assess the texture. If it’s in a broth, pat dry before proceeding.
  • Cut or tear the seitan into desired sizes—they can range from chunks for stews to strips for stir-frying.
  • To enhance flavor, marinate or season the seitan before cooking; use sauces or spices that complement your recipe.
  • For cooking, seitan can be:
    • Sautéed: until browned for a crisp exterior
    • Grilled: on skewers after marinating
    • Roasted: in an oven for a chewy, dense texture

Cooking Techniques

Seitan being marinated in soy sauce and spices, then grilled to perfection on a hot grill

Seitan’s versatility allows it to adapt to various cooking methods, each enhancing its texture and flavor in unique ways. Optimal results come from understanding how to apply these techniques.


When simmering seitan, you should submerge the pieces in a flavorful liquid such as a broth or stock.

Maintain a gentle simmer to avoid toughness and to allow the seitan to absorb the flavors.

Typically, a few minutes are sufficient for the seitan to heat thoroughly and take on the desired taste profile.


Steaming is an ideal method if you aim for a moist, tender texture.

To do this, place the seitan in a steamer basket over boiling water, making sure the water does not touch the seitan.

Within about 30 minutes, it becomes fully cooked, with a succulent consistency.


For a crispy exterior, frying is your go-to.

In a frying pan with a bit of oil, cook the seitan over medium-high heat until it’s golden brown and crispy.

This method quickly delivers a satisfying texture and rich flavor, perfect for adding a crunch to your meals.


When baking seitan, preheat your oven to achieve a chewier, denser texture.

You can marinate seitan pieces before baking to impart more flavor.

Place them in the oven at a high temperature until the edges are crisped to your liking, which usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for evenly baked results.

Flavoring and Seasoning

Seitan being marinated in a flavorful sauce, surrounded by various herbs and spices, ready to be used in cooking

Crafting a delicious seitan dish hinges on the appropriate use of flavoring and seasoning techniques. Here are specific ways to enhance your seitan meals.

Marinades and Sauces

Marinating seitan allows flavors to deeply saturate its hearty texture.

Prepare your marinade by combining ingredients like soy sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke to infuse umami and smoky notes.

A simple marinade recipe might include:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

Ensure the seitan is fully submerged for at least 30 minutes, or for more robust flavor, leave it refrigerated overnight.

Additionally, brushing seitan with sauce prior to baking or grilling can create a flavorful crust.

Herbs and Spices

When seasoning seitan, integrate a combination of dried or fresh herbs and spices to suit the desired profile of your dish. Start with basics like salt and pepper, then build complexity:

  • 1 tsp chili powder for heat
  • 1 tsp garlic powder for depth
  • 1 tsp onion powder for sweetness
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast for a cheesy, nutty flavor

Sprinkle these evenly over the seitan or knead them directly into the dough before cooking to ensure a consistent taste throughout.

Herbs and spices not only enhance flavor but also contribute to the overall aroma and visual appeal of your meal.

Texture and Form

A bowl of seitan being marinated in spices, with a chef's knife and cutting board nearby

When preparing seitan, both the texture you achieve and the form you shape it into can greatly impact the final dish.

Creating Different Textures

The texture of seitan varies depending on how you handle the gluten and the cooking method you choose.

For a meatier texture, kneading the dough for a longer period creates a chewier consistency. Conversely, shorter kneading times result in a softer, more tender bite.

Additionally, simmering seitan in broth rather than in plain water infuses it with flavor and often yields a denser texture.

Baking at a low temperature, such as 325°F, will help set the texture without drying it out.

It’s crucial to allow the seitan to cool gradually after cooking to maintain evenness in texture.

Shaping Seitan into Various Forms

Seitan’s versatile nature lends itself to shaping into numerous forms to mimic different meat textures:

  • Seitan Steak: Flatten the dough into steak-like slabs before cooking.
  • Strips: Cut the dough into thin strips for use in dishes like stir-fries or fajitas.
  • Crumbled or Shredded: For a ground meat texture, crumble or shred the seitan post-cooking. It’s perfect for tacos or spaghetti bolognese.
  • Patties: Form the dough into rounds for burgers or sliders, ensuring they are compact for better structure.
  • Seitan Roast: Shape the dough into a loaf and bake or steam for a centrepiece reminiscent of a traditional roast.
  • Burgers and Sausages: Form and case the seitan to imitate these familiar forms, steam or bake them, then finish with grilling or frying for a crispy exterior.

Serving Suggestions

Seitan is a versatile meat alternative that can be seamlessly incorporated into various dishes ranging from hearty main dishes to light salads and soups. Its ability to absorb flavors makes it an excellent canvas for your culinary creativity.

Main Dishes

Seitan stands out in main dishes, where it can mimic the texture and role of meat. For a satisfying meal, consider these options:

  • Stir-Fries: Cut seitan into strips and toss with your favorite vegetables and sauce.
  • Curries: Incorporate chunks of seitan to soak up rich, spicy curry flavors.
  • Mongolian Beef: Use thinly sliced seitan to replace beef, pairing it with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and green onions.
  • Vegan Burgers: Mix ground seitan with beans and spices to form patties that grill well for a robust burger.
  • Stews: Add cubes of seitan to stews to thicken and enrich them.
  • Casseroles: Layer chopped seitan into casseroles for added protein and chewiness.

Sandwiches and Wraps

The texture of seitan lends itself beautifully to sandwiches and wraps, giving these lunchtime staples a nutritious and filling boost:

  • Tacos: Season seitan ground-style and fill tacos with it, adding your favorite toppings like salsa and guacamole.
  • Sandwiches: Layer slices of seitan with vegan cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments between bread slices.
  • Wraps: Roll up seitan with fresh veggies and a tangy sauce in a tortilla for a quick and portable meal.

Salads and Soups

In salads and soups, seitan can offer a meaty chew without overwhelming the lighter flavors:

  • Salads: Toss grilled or roasted seitan with mixed greens and a zesty dressing for a balanced dish.
  • Soups: Add seitan to soups such as vegan pho, where it absorbs the aromatic broth and complements the noodles and herbs.

Storing Seitan

Seitan stored in a glass container with a label. Ingredients and cooking utensils nearby

Proper storage of seitan extends its shelf life and preserves its quality as a good source of protein. Whether you purchase seitan from a grocery store or make it at home, understanding refrigeration, freezing, and food safety practices ensures that your seitan remains fresh and safe to consume.

Refrigeration and Freezing

Refrigeration: Always store seitan in your refrigerator at a temperature range of 35°F to 40°F. Use the following guidelines:

  • Airtight Containers: Place seitan in an airtight container to protect it from contaminants and to prevent moisture loss.
  • In Broth: For a more supple texture, submerge your seitan in a broth within the container.

Freezing: When freezing seitan, follow these steps to prevent freezer burn:

  • With Broth: Seitan can be frozen in a small, airtight container with enough liquid broth to cover it.
  • Without Broth: Wrap seitan tightly in an airtight wrapping, removing as much air as possible.

Shelf Life and Best Practices

Refrigerated Seitan:

  • You can expect refrigerated seitan to stay fresh for up to a week. When stored submerged in broth, it may last up to 10 days.

Frozen Seitan:

  • Seitan can be stored in the freezer for longer periods. Ensure it is properly wrapped or kept in a broth-filled container to maintain quality.

Best Practices:

  • Check Packaging: Always check the packaging for specific storage instructions when you find seitan at grocery stores.
  • Food Safety: Observe food safety by promptly storing seitan, whether you’re coming home from the store or have just cooked it.

Health Considerations

Seitan being added to a sizzling pan with colorful vegetables, a chef's hand sprinkling seasoning

When using seitan in your cooking, it’s crucial to be mindful of dietary restrictions and allergens. Pay particular attention to gluten content and possible soy allergies, especially when serving guests with sensitivities.

Gluten Content and Sensitivities

Seitan is made primarily from vital wheat gluten, making it a high-gluten product. If you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, consuming seitan can trigger significant health issues. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can include, but are not limited to, gastrointestinal distress, headaches, and fatigue.

Affected Conditions:

  • Celiac disease
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Signs of Reaction:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Alternatives: If you need a gluten-free option, consider substituting with:

Soy Allergies and Alternatives

Although seitan itself does not contain soy, it’s frequently used in tandem with soy products like tofu and tempeh or may sometimes be combined with soy flour to enhance flavor and texture. If you have a soy allergy, read ingredient labels meticulously.

Signs of Soy Allergy:

  • Hives or itching
  • Trouble breathing
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

For a soy-free and gluten-containing alternative, pure wheat gluten seitan without added soy flour is suitable. If both gluten and soy are off-limits, chickpea flour offers a versatile and nutritious substitute, as do products made from other legumes or grains.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find succinct answers to common questions about cooking with seitan, ranging from preparation methods to incorporating it into various recipes.

What are the best methods for cooking seitan in a pan?

For pan cooking, seitan can be sautéed or pan-fried. To achieve a savory crust, cook it in oil over medium-high heat until it’s browned. This method works well for seitan slices or cubes, adding texture and flavor.

Can you share some recipes that include seitan strips?

Yes, you can utilize seitan strips in a variety of recipes such as fajitas, stir-fries, or sandwiches. They absorb flavors from sauces and marinades well, making them versatile for different cuisines.

How can I prepare a basic seitan recipe at home?

To prepare a basic seitan recipe at home, mix vital wheat gluten with spices and add water to form a dough. Knead the mixture and simmer it in a flavorful broth until it becomes firm and chewy.

What is the proper way to cook store-bought seitan?

Store-bought seitan is often pre-cooked, so you’ll primarily be warming it up and adding seasoning.

You can grill, bake, or sauté it with your choice of spices and sauces for a quick and tasty protein addition to meals.

In what dishes can seitan serve as a meat substitute?

Seitan can replace meat in nearly any dish, including curries, tacos, stews, salads, and burgers.

Its meaty texture makes it particularly effective in recipes that traditionally rely on beef, pork, or chicken.

Are there any dietary restrictions that would require someone to avoid seitan?

Yes, individuals with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance should avoid seitan since it’s made from wheat gluten.

Additionally, those with wheat allergies or following a gluten-free diet for other health reasons should steer clear of seitan.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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