It’s not easy finding off-the-shelf seitan in the UK, but fortunately it is pretty easy to make at home. I’m going to do that here, then we’ll compare it with two brands I managed to get my hands on by doing one of my favourite things: eating.
Will it be tastier? Cheaper? Deadlier? Let’s find out…
Summoning Seitan in the comfort of your own home
Today our kitchen is going become Hell’s Kitchen, as we unleash the ancient culinary powers of:
- Wheat gluten (225g)
- Nutritional yeast (30g)
- Gram flour (chickpea flour) (30g)
- Ground ginger (5g)
- Tomato purée (1 tbsp)
- Soy sauce (yes, I am)
- A mixing bowl (look I can’t be expected to weigh everything okay?)
The gluten is the main protein here. It’s also possible to get wheat gluten by kneading strong flour under running water for an ungodly amount of time, but my hands get super cold that way. So I got my gluten from the Internet.
The nutritional yeast is there for the important fish food aesthetic:
It also contains some protein and has flavour! I got this online from Ethical Superstore; I think Holland & Barrett also sell it. #notsponsored
Give the dry ingredients a bit of a mix using the nearest available hand.
Now for the liquid ingredients. We’ll assume 1 tbsp tomato purée is a liquid for now but I’m keeping my eye on it for any foul play. There’s also 1 tbsp of soy sauce lurking in there, plus 225 ml of a water of your choice(best avoid holy water though).
Now to turn that into MEAT using MAGIC.
It’s admittedly quite sciency magic. The constituent parts of gluten, gliadin and glutenin, turn into nice stretchy gluten when you pummel them in the presence of water.
This is described really well in this video, which you should watch if you want to see a chef inflating a gluten dough ball with a balloon pump. And who wouldn’t want to see that?
Meanwhile oh no, my hands have become scaly and reptilian and help I never liked getting glue on my hands as a child and now I have gluten aaaaaaaaaaaa
Leave the seitan to rest for a quarter of an hour while you scrub your hands clean, then have another good knead, this time trying to stretch out and fold the seitan into layers, which improves the texture. It shouldn’t be too sticky, but instead somewhat rubbery.
Get out that sacrificial knife and
It’s time for STOCK
I used to like Vecon a lot more before someone pointed out it smells like howler monkeys. If you like the smell (and taste?) of howler monkeys, or possibly even if you don’t, stick three teaspoons of the veg stock paste into a large saucepan with a hundred-odd moles of water (enough to cover the seitan chunks) and boil, covered, for at least 45 minutes. Watch them grow!
If you’re planning to eat nearly a kilo of seitan right now then great, but for the rest of us that prefer their hell frozen over, use the stock to cover everything up, which stops it getting freezer burn. (Proof that, if anything, you can still burn in hell even once hell has frozen over.)
The Great British Seit-Off
I got hold of two other brands of seitan: Veg In and Yakso.
The difference in cost was quite large, but the devil’s in the details, so let’s scale up to 1kg:
- Veg In: £1.89 for a 250g pack: £7.56/kg
- Yakso: £3.59 for a 330g jar which contains 200g of seiten once drained: £17.95/kg
- Homemade: 900g drained weight is made from: £1.59 (gluten) + £0.04 (gram flour) + £0.72 (nutritional yeast) + £0.13 (ginger) + £0.12 (tomato purée) + £0.13 (soy sauce) + £0.35 (veg stock) = £3.08, or £3.42/kg; plus fuel costs for cooking makes £3.73/kg
For the cooking, I used an induction hob for about an hour, and I’ll assume it was using the whole 1.8 kW written on the back, since I don’t trust myself not to blow up the house trying to hook a multimeter up to the hob. My electricity supply costs £0.1742 per kWh, gave me an additional cost of £0.31 for the homemade seitan.
For comparison, chicken breasts are £5.67/kg, diced beef is £6.50/kg, and wagyu beef is, like, £50/kg. WHY WOULD Y
We’re done with the numbers. Come back! We’ll make stir-fry now! I promise!
Three seitans; 110-odd grams per stir-fry: ding ding ding!
In the red corner: Homemade Seitan
It has a slightly spongy texture, smells of monkey, and sometimes spits salty stock at you when you slice it, but how does it fry?
After being in the pan for a good amount of time, there’s a nice textured surface on the seitan, which has firmed up. And it tastes pretty good! The predominant flavour is the vegetable stock, so do make sure you get a brand you like the taste of. 7/10.
In the blue corner: Veg In
Despite being more expensive than my homemade stuff, Veg In seemed to be the cheapest brand of seitan money could buy. It’s reassuringly labelled as both “vegan” and “food”, which is good because my diet is largely food-based.
It’s actually just as well they did give that reassurance, because I’m not sure I could have said for sure otherwise. On the outside of this amorphous blob there seems to be some kind of greasy residue that none of the ingredients listed on the back seem to be able to account for, and despite looking like anaemic pâté, it cuts more like the rubber sole of my slippers.
It almost entirely refused to brown, and cooking it didn’t improve the texture; while I never thought to gnaw at my plimsolls during PE at school, I can now say with confidence that it’s not an experience I missed out on. Flavourwise, there is none; just a hint of wheat (a new fragrance from Chanel). 0/10.
In an unknowable colour of 4th dimension: Yakso
Yaks? O. Hopefully better than monkeys? It is! Upon opening the jar, a pleasant aroma meets the nose. Inside the jar, there’s several individual bits of seitan of various sizes with an gnarled exterior texture. It tastes like what someone who hasn’t eaten beef for the best part of a decade might remember beef to taste like. Is that the tamari? The kombu? Or merely the taste of not having to spend two hours in the kitchen making meat popsicles?
Cooking with it is pleasant too; the flat edges where I sliced it have browned off similarly to the homemade stuff, though this is slightly denser. The sides of the chunks brown unevenly, as you would expect, which looks pleasing.
I picked stir-fry for the test recipe as a chance for seitan’s own taste to come through, which isn’t necessary for a lot of dishes, such as curry, where it’s going to be overpowered by a strong sauce anyway. But for this brand, it’s worth being able to taste it. Easily the tastiest of the three stir-fries; it’s still slightly rubbery compared to the homemade, but has more of a bite as a result. 9/10.
If it wasn’t nearly five times the price of my homemade, I’d be using this a lot more; however for most of my recipes, the homemade stuff is perfectly fine and absorbs a lot of flavour from the sauce.