When vegetarians and vegans desire something meaty that doesn’t come from an animal, one of the options is seitan. Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is a meat substitute made from the extracted gluten of wheat, and it's gaining popularity as more people choose meatless meals. It has many other names including wheat gluten, wheat meat, gluten meat and gluten. 

Yes, this is the same gluten that those who suffer from Celiac disease must avoid. Gluten is the part of wheat that has a glue-like substance and a chewy structure. Those characteristics are what give gluten a similar look and texture to meat when it's turned into seitan.

Gluten is extracted from whole wheat flour by rinsing it away. Traditionally it’s simmered in a broth of soy sauce or tamari, ginger, garlic and kombu (seaweed), according to The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Seitan can be made at home by creating a dough made from whole wheat flour and water, and then repeatedly rinsing that dough under running water to remove the wheat starch until there is nothing left but the gluten. It can be flavored traditionally, or it can be flavored with other spices like poultry seasonings to create a chicken-like meat substitute.

There’s a shortcut to making seitan at home: just start with vital wheat gluten instead of whole wheat flour. This video from Vegetarian Times demonstrates this shortcut:

Once the seitan is cooked, it can be ground and made into a ground meat-like substance, or turned into nuggets, sliced into cutlets or cut to resemble pulled meat. 

Seitan’s nutritional value is impressive. It’s high in protein, containing about 21 grams per 3-ounce serving. It’s low in carbohydrates and fat, and it’s also low in calories, containing 100-120 calories per serving. Store-bought seitan may be high in sodium, so check the nutrition label before purchasing.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.