Seitan is a vegan meat alternative made from wheat gluten, spices, salt, and water. Chinese Buddhist monks of the Seventh Century were the first to discover how to separate the gluten from wheat. They discovered that seitan makes an excellent meat replacement—it’s chewy, satisfying, and flavorful.

During the 1970s, America’s counterculture experimented with vegetarianism, and seitan became a staple at communes. Seitan’s popularity within the counterculture no doubt arose from the fact that it was one of the cheapest sources of protein imaginable, and that a seitan-based meal can provide hours of satiety.

Today, many of the most popular brands of vegan meat are based on seitan. One of the reasons for seitan’s popularity is that it’s so versatile—it can be spiced in a variety of ways, and then sliced thinly (perfect for vegan cheesesteak sandwiches!), cut into chunks, or crumbled and fried like ground meat.

Many of the vegan meats made by Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and Upton’s Naturals consist mostly of seitan (which can appear on the ingredients list as either seitan or as wheat gluten). You can find these as well as several other seitan-based products in the refrigerated section of most natural food stores.

Countless vegan cookbooks feature at least a few seitan recipes, and there’s even an all-vegan cookbook devoted entirely to seitan: Seitan and Beyond, by Skye Michael Conroy.

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