Jan. 31, 2012
What is Vital Wheat Gluten?
There seems to be some confusion about vital wheat gluten. Both my Dad and my sister Courtney were confused about it this week.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat. Its what gives bread its shape and pizza dough its elasticity.
Vital wheat gluten is just the protein in a powdered form. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starches dissolve, leaving just the gluten behind.
Although vital wheat gluten looks like a flour, it's not a "flour" like whole-wheat is a flour, rather it's powdered gluten.
Vital wheat gluten is the main ingredient in seitan (SAY-tan). To make seitan, you generally mix the powdered gluten (vital wheat gluten) with spices and then add water to make a dough.
When the gluten dough is steamed, baked, boiled, or otherwise cooked, it becomes chewy with a very meat-like texture, and is referred to as seitan.
Although seitan is made from vital wheat gluten, they are not one and the same. For example, if a recipe calls for vital wheat gluten, you cannot use seitan. Similarly, if a recipe calls for seitan, you cannot use vital wheat gluten in its place, but you can use the flour to make seitan for the recipe.
The best analogy I have is vital wheat gluten and seitan are like cornmeal and corn. You can't use cornmeal instead of corn in a recipe, and you can't use corn instead of cornmeal in a recipe, but you could mill the corn to make cornmeal to use in the recipe. Get it?
Vital wheat gluten also works as a binding agent, such as helping hold things like mushroom burgers together.
If you are celiac, or have a wheat or gluten sensitivity/allergy, you cannot use vital wheat gluten. However, there is a GF substitute for vital wheat gluten and it can also make GF seitan.
You can find OrgraN gluten substitute on Amazon or at health food stores with a generous GF section.
One last note: vital wheat gluten is not the same as "gluten flour." Gluten flour has more gluten in comparison to regular whole-wheat flour, but it does not contain enough gluten to make seitan. If you try to make seitan using gluten flour, you'll get a mushy dumpling, not chewy, meaty seitan.