We’ve all been there: stomach growling as you climb the stairs to the dining hall after hours of class longingly awaiting dinner. You walk in, straight for the main entree, and you see it, the vegetarian option, BBQ seitan. But what is seitan? If you are anything like me, this ill-defined meat substitute has long intimidated you away from trying it, often instead opting for an unremarkable piece of pizza. No more! Together we can tackle the mystery of this so-called “wheat meat substitute” to gain the knowledge and confidence to try it the next time it’s offered at the dining hall.  

The real question

First on the investigatory agenda: how the heck do you pronounce seitan? I have heard many deviations but the most important thing to know is that it is absolutely not pronounced like the name of the demon of hell. Most commonly and correctly, seitan is pronounced SAY-tan. There is nothing devilish about it. 

So... What is it?

Seitan was born in China and Japan centuries ago by Buddhist monks. Unlike other vegan, soy-based, protein-filled substitutes like tofu and tempeh, seitan is made from the development of gluten in the wheat dough. The most common form of seitan is ready-made cubes with a chewy texture available at supermarkets, although it can also be found in powder form which can be used to make your own creations.

vegetable, meat, pork, beef
Delissa Handoko

How it's made

The washing and kneading process of wheat dough removes starch and develops the gluten. Seitan’s unique texture comes from this kneading process; the more the dough is kneaded, the more gluten is developed, the more elastic and chewy the final product becomes. After the dough is kneaded it can be cooked in a few different ways that all contribute uniquely to the texture of the final product: simmered, baked, or steamed. Though the basic seitan only includes two main ingredients, gluten and water, homemade varieties sometimes include vegetable broth, natural yeast, olive oil, soy sauce and more. Because seitan itself is not very flavorful, seasonings really make the difference. Its individual blandness allows for versatile flavorings, which can be made to resemble meat with traditional meat sauces or to create whole new vegan/vegetarian dishes!


tofu, meat, sweet, chicken, bread, pastry
Anna Hirschorn

Known for its high protein density, seitan contains 75g of protein per the 100g serving size. Fun fact: that's 150% of your daily protein serving. Tell that to your concerned family members who struggle to understand that meat isn't the only source of protein. It is also a relatively low calorie meal with only 370 calories (20% of your suggested daily caloric intake) and low sodium. This can, of course, fluctuate based on seasonings and toppings.

Try it Yourself!

Many vegetarian and vegan restaurants use seitan in dishes like this twist on Philly Cheese Steaks, so you should go check some out

Equipt with confidence and your understanding of the most enigmatic of meat supplements, go forth and order that BBQ seitan. Maybe even spread the awareness when someone asks the question: What is seitan?