Let’s talk vital wheat gluten. Say what? Close. Sei-tan, actually – that’s the most commonly known use of vital wheat gluten, and it may ring a bell from your last night’s Chinese takeaway.
Also known as “wheat protein” and “wheat gluten”, vital wheat gluten is like your normal wheat flour… on steroids. It is made by hydrating the wheat flour to activate the gluten (the main protein in wheat), and then processing it to remove everything but the gluten.
So while the plain flour you use to bake cakes and cookies contains both gluten and starch, the latter has been completely washed away in vital wheat gluten. After the processing, the gluten is dried and ground back into a powder.
What is vital wheat gluten used for?
Vital wheat gluten is the main ingredient in seitan (SAY-tan, also known as “wheat meat”), which is a much loved meat substitute and has first appeared during the 6th century as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. To prepare seitan at home, you generally mix the vital wheat gluten in its powdered form with spices and water to form a dough.
When the gluten dough is steamed, baked, boiled or otherwise cooked, it becomes chewy with a very meat-like texture – which is what makes seitan (and vital wheat gluten) such a popular food choice in the vegan community.
Although seitan is made from vital wheat gluten, they are not one and the same. (Yes, I know that Wikipedia says they’re one and the same. They’re still two separate things.) For example, if a recipe calls for vital wheat gluten, you cannot use seitan. Similarly, if a recipe requires seitan, you can’t use vital wheat gluten in its place (but you can first make seitan from vital wheat gluten).
Vital wheat gluten can also be used as a binding agent, for instance in helping things like mushroom or chickpea burgers hold their shape (and not crumble all over the place).
Another popular use is in improving the crumb and the chewiness of a variety of breads, especially when using low-protein flours such as whole wheat or rye. Just a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten can go a long way, and the result is a perfect loaf of bread!
Where can you buy vital wheat gluten?
How long does vital wheat gluten last?
Most vital wheat gluten has a long shelf life of 7 - 10 years if unopened and stored in a cool dry place. Once opened, you should use it up within 6 months or store it in the freezer if you want to extend its shelf life.
Can you eat vital wheat gluten and seitan if you’re gluten intolerant?
If you are celiac or have a gluten sensitivity/allergy, you cannot eat vital wheat gluten. As its name suggests, it’s 100% gluten, which should ring some warning bells. To put it plainly: if you’re intolerant to gluten, vital wheat gluten is just about the single worst thing you could consume. And the same goes for seitan.
However, there are gluten-free substitutes for vital wheat gluten and you can use those to make gluten-free seitan. You can find OrgraN gluten substitute on Amazon or at most health food stores with a gluten-free section.
Is vital wheat gluten the same as gluten flour?
No. Vital wheat gluten is NOT the same as gluten flour. Compared to regular wheat flour, gluten flour contains more gluten, but doesn’t contain enough gluten to make seitan. If you try to make seitan using gluten flour, you’ll end up getting a rather disappointing mushy dumpling, rather than delicious chewy, meaty seitan.
Is wheat gluten bad for you?
First of all, if you are celiac or have a gluten sensitivity/allergy: yes, vital wheat gluten is bad for you and please don’t use it.
If you don’t have a gluten intolerance… then, the opinions are mixed – as with most things nowadays. Because I want you to be able to form an educated decision when it comes to your health and food choices, here is a summary of the benefits and downsides of vital wheat gluten:
Is it healthy? It's a highly processed food so while we believe it's safe to eat. We don't recommend eating a lot of processed foods.
- High in protein (a large YAY for anyone on a vegetarian or vegan diet).
- Excellent source of minerals (especially selenium and iron).
- Low in carbs.
- Low in fat.
- Soy-free (as opposed to tofu and tempeh).
- Easy to cook with.
- Versatile, especially in the form of seitan.
- It’s a highly processed food.
- May be bad for your gut.
- Unsuitable if you have a gluten sensitivity.
The bottom line is that, unless you are gluten intolerant, and if you pair it with a balanced diet of whole plant-based foods, vital wheat gluten can be a versatile protein-rich addition to your diet.
What’s the difference between seitan, tofu and tempeh?
Seitan, tofu and tempeh are all highly popular (and delicious) meat alternatives. While tofu and tempeh are soy-based, seitan is made from vital wheat gluten and is therefore soy-free.
Tofu has a soft, cheese-like texture, and while it is rather bland on its own, it is excellent at absorbing flavours from marinades and spices. Tempeh, while also soy-based, has a much firmer texture and a mild nutty flavour. Both tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of plant-based protein.
Compared to tofu and tempeh, seitan boasts a much chewier meat-like texture that makes it a favourite in many recipes. Because it is made predominantly out of pure gluten and water, it has a much milder taste and can take on flavours from sauces and seasonings very well.
What’s the best seitan recipe?
If you want to try a delicious seitan recipe, I can’t recommend my Vegan Spicy Sausages enough! Both my dad and my husband can’t get enough of them – they are absolutely to die for!