What The Hell Is Seitan!?

That is a question you may not hear as much as you used to. I have a feeling that once the truck is doing business it’s a question I will hear quite a bit though. This one is definitely not for you gluten free folks. Sorry.

Sometimes called wheat meat, seitan is high in protein, low in cholesterol and fat. Really high in protein. A 3 oz serving contains 20 grams. It is made from vital wheat gluten. This comes from washing the starch away from wheat dough until all you are left with is the insoluble protein gluten. Legend has it that it was discovered centuries ago by Buddhist Monks. If you’ve ever eaten mock chicken, duck or beef at a Chinese restuarant it was most likely seitan. Some vegetarians will even avoid it because the texture is too meaty. The name was coined by macrobiotic pioneer George Ohsawa in the 60’s. It has been a staple in many religious diets that advocate vegetarianism such as 7th Day Adventists and Mormons. I have a friend who was raised 7th Day Adventist and he kept telling me about this canned mock meat he was brought up with. He finally secured one of these cans for me from his still practicing mother and what do you think it was? ┬áThat’s right. Your old pal seitan.

The wheat gluten on it’s own is devoid of much flavor. The method I use to make it relates most closely to the Japanese method I guess. A mixture of soy sauce, vegetable broth and garlic is added to the vital wheat gluten powder and then kneaded. Once it has rested I simmer it in a broth comprised of certain delightful things for about an hour. After it has cooled I then thinly slice it into strips that get marinated over night. Here is where the flavors mingle. The marinade, which I confess is still a work in progress, is loosely based on a cochinita pibil recipe. This is a Yucatan recipe for slow roasted pork traditionally wrapped and cooked over hot stones in an underground fire pit. This is all done for tenderness sake. Since seitan’s texture is determined by how much you knead and how long you simmer this part of the recipe would be pointless. Instead I’m taking inspiration from the marinade ingredients. Good luck finding even two pibil recipes that are the same. As with most recipes that have been around for years and passed down from one generation to the next there are many variations. I basically took the elements that turn up most consistently across the many recipes I read and adapted them for the seitan. Key ingredients such as achiote paste (good luck finding that anywhere around here), orange juice, garlic, vinegar, cinnamon and cumin. It’s a fiery orange/red mixture but is not meant to be hot. In the test runs it has come out quite well. It still needs some tweaks here and there but the seitan will most likely appear on the menu in this form or close to it.

Since it’s not really cochinita pibil because it isn’t pork nor is it buried I can’t relate that name to it in any form. I’m having a hard time coming up with something as witty or punny as T Party Taco or Tempeh Tantrum. If anyone has any brilliant ideas as to what to call this other than “Seitan Taco” please let me know. It will earn you a free meal from the truck. And please, no “Hail Seitan”. Yes, it’s hilarious but has been done to death. Lets get creative people!

If you want to dive deeper into the history of seitan I found this blog during my research for this post. This person is apparently from Boston and knows a shit ton about seitan’s history. Enjoy.


Hopefully I’ve pulled back the curtain a little bit on this wonderful plant based protein and made you excited to try the tacos. Til next time…Hail Seitan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *