TikTok has made more than just teenage dancers go viral—food has had a chance to shine, too! Following a shortage of feta in stores thanks to a one-pan pasta recipe, a two-ingredient meat alternative is now experiencing a moment in the spotlight.
“Wheat meat” has been documented in China for centuries, but it didn’t go by the name “seitan” until somewhat recently. George Ohsawa, the founder of the macrobiotic diet, coined the term in 1961, referring to a product made by his student Kiyoshi Mokutani before it hit the Japanese market in 1962.
Though it only started trending online in 2021, seitan has been praised by the vegan and vegetarian community for decades, mainly thanks to its versatility.
Here’s what you need to know about this viral chicken replacement. And for more healthy eating tips, don’t miss The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
What is seitan?
Made with just flour and water, only sticky strands of protein-packed gluten are left behind after the starch has been washed away through a soaking and mixing process. This neutral-flavored source of protein has the ability to absorb nearly any flavor, making it a star at vegan barbecues. But it’s the true meaty texture that makes it stand out.
What’s the nutrition breakdown of seitan?
With just two main ingredients, it might be confusing to hear that seitan is actually very nutritionally dense and boasts plenty of protein to boot.
Per a 100-gram serving size, seitan packs about 75 grams of protein. In comparison to some of the alternatives you might be more familiar with, lentils have 9 grams of protein for the same amount, while tofu contains only 10 grams of protein per 124-gram serving.
Kylie Sakaida, MS, RD, LDN of Nutrition By Kylie, whose TikTok video on seitan has garnered nearly five million views, offered further insight into what makes up this meat alternative. “Seitan is low in calories, low in carbohydrates, low in fat, and high in protein,” she says.
So, what’s the catch? “Though seitan is a great source of protein, it is not a complete protein, which means it doesn’t contain all essential amino acids,” Sakaida says. “Since it’s low in lysine, vegetarians and vegans should include other sources of lysine-rich foods (e.g. soy-based products, beans, chickpeas, and lentils) to meet their needs.”
Celiacs should also beware. Whether you are gluten-intolerant or just choose to avoid it in your diet, seitan is a no-go. On the flip side, if you have a soy allergy and can’t do tofu or tempeh, this is definitely something you’ll want to give a try!
What are some creative ways to use seitan?
Because it has a relatively bland base flavor, it easily absorbs whichever seasonings you’d like to use. “Since seitan absorbs flavor well, it can be used in a variety of dishes,” Sakaida says.
Not only can you season it to your liking, but the texture also makes it extremely versatile in the kitchen, Sakaida shares. “You can marinate and bake it; simmer it in a flavorful broth; grind in a food processor to mimic ground beef; bread and fry it; or brush with BBQ sauce and grill it to make ribs,” she says. Try grilling it up at your next cookout or throwing it in the pan until golden brown; the possibilities are endless.
Where can you find seitan?
Seitan can be found at many major grocers nationwide, and we anticipate it will continue to grow in popularity—especially thanks to TikTok! But as always, be diligent about checking your nutrition labels. “Commercial brands of seitan may be high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure if consumed in excessive amounts. Always check the label,” says Sakaida.
Can’t find any package seitan near you? Head to TikTok for plenty of easy recipes that require just two main ingredients and some seasoning. And for more on the latest food news, sign up for our newsletter.