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Wheat gluten (food)

A piece of seitan.
Commercially packaged seitan.

Wheat gluten, also called seitan (Japanese: セイタン), wheat meat, gluten meat, or simply gluten, is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten.[1]

Wheat gluten is an alternative to soybean-based foods such as tofu, which are sometimes used as meat substitutes. Some types of wheat gluten have a chewy or stringy texture that resembles meat more than other substitutes. Wheat gluten is often used instead of meat in Asian, vegetarian, Buddhist, and macrobiotic cuisines. Mock duck is a common use for wheat gluten.

Wheat gluten first appeared during the 6th century as an ingredient for Chinese noodles.[2] It has historically been popular in the cuisines of China, Japan and other East and Southeast Asian nations. In Asia, it is commonly found on the menus of restaurants catering primarily to Buddhist customers who do not eat meat.


  • History 1
    • Etymology of seitan 1.1
  • Forms 2
    • Chinese 2.1
    • Japanese 2.2
    • Vietnamese 2.3
    • Macrobiotic 2.4
    • Western 2.5
  • Animal feed 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Wheat gluten has been documented in China since the 6th century.[2] It was widely consumed by the Chinese as a substitute for meat, especially among adherents of Buddhism.[3] The oldest reference to wheat gluten appears in the Qimin Yaoshu, a Chinese agricultural encyclopedia written by Jia Sixie in 535. The encyclopedia mentions noodles prepared from wheat gluten called bo duo.[2] Wheat gluten was known as mian jin by the Song dynasty (960–1279). Wheat gluten arrived in the West by the 18th century. De Frumento, an Italian treatise on wheat from 1745, describes the process of washing wheat flour dough in order to extract the gluten. John Imison wrote an English-language definition of wheat gluten in his Elements of Science and Art published in 1803. By the 1830s, Western doctors were recommending wheat gluten in diets for diabetics. In the United States, the Seventh-day Adventists promoted the consumption of wheat gluten beginning in the late 19th century. Sanitarium Foods, a company affiliated with John Harvey Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium, advertised wheat gluten in 1882.[2]

Etymology of seitan

The word seitan is of Japanese origin and was coined in 1961 by macrobiotic diet, to refer to a wheat gluten product created by Ohsawa's student Kiyoshi Mokutani. In 1962, wheat gluten was sold as seitan in Japan by Marushima Shoyu K.K. It was imported to the West in 1969 by the American company Erewhon.[2]


Canned fried wheat gluten ("vegetarian mock duck"), product of Taiwan.
Fried wheat gluten ("vegetarian mock duck"), product of Taiwan. Contents of the can above.


Wheat gluten, called miàn jīn in Chinese (traditional: 麵筋, simplified: 面筋, literally "dough tendon"; also spelled mien chin or mien ching) is believed to have originated in ancient China, as a meat substitute for adherents of Buddhism, particularly some Mahayana Buddhist monks, who are strict vegetarians (see Buddhist cuisine). One story attributes the invention of imitation meat to chefs who made it for Chinese emperors who, traditionally, observed a week of vegetarianism each year (cf., Vegetarian Paradise 2 Menu, New York City[4] and Harmony Restaurant Menu, Philadelphia).[5] Miàn jīn is often deep fried before being cooked in Chinese cuisine, which confers a crispy rind that enhances the texture of the gluten.

There are three primary Chinese forms of wheat gluten:

  1. Oily/oil-fried gluten (油麵筋, yóu miàn jīn): Raw gluten that has been torn into small bits, then deep-fried into small puffy balls of around 3–5 cm in diameter and sold as "imitation abalone". They are golden brown in color, and braised or boiled in a savory soup or stew before eating. They are frequently paired with xiang gu (black mushrooms).
    • Larger fried balls of gluten, called miàn jīn qiú (面筋球) or miàn jīn pao (面筋泡), which may be up to 5 inches in diameter, are sometimes seen in Asian supermarkets. These are often stuffed with meat or tofu mixtures and served as a dish called "gluten meatballs" (面筋肉丸, Miàn jīn roù wán) or "gluten stuffed with meat" (面筋塞肉, miàn jīn saī roù).
  2. Steamed gluten (蒸麵筋, zhēng miàn jīn): Raw gluten that has been wrapped around itself to form a long sausage shape which is then steamed. This type of gluten has a dense texture and ranges from off-white to light greenish grey in color. It is torn open into strips before being used as an ingredient in recipes. When this sausage-shaped gluten is thickly sliced into medallions, the resulting form is called miàn lún (麵輪, literally "gluten wheels"). Larger blocks of steamed gluten are sometimes colored pink and sold as vegetarian "mock ham."
  3. Baked spongy gluten (traditional: 烤麩; simplified: 烤麸; pinyin: kǎo fū): Similar in texture to a sponge, kao fu (sometimes labeled in English as "bran puff") is made by leavening raw gluten, then baking or steaming it. These are sold as small blocks in Chinese markets and are then diced up and cooked. This type of gluten absorbs its cooking liquid like a sponge and is enjoyed for its "juicy" character. Chinese kao fu has a different texture than its Japanese counterpart, yaki-fu, due to the relatively larger air bubbles it contains. Kao fu is available in fresh, frozen, dehydrated, and canned forms.

Miàn jīn is also available in Asian grocery stores in canned and jarred forms, often marinated in combination with peanuts or mushrooms. Such canned and jarred gluten is commonly eaten as an accompaniment to congee (boiled rice porridge) as part of a traditional Chinese breakfast.

Freshly prepared miàn jīn can be difficult to find in Chinese restaurants other than those specializing in Buddhist or vegetarian cuisine. Depending on its method of preparation and ingredients used, both fresh and preserved miàn jīn can be used to simulate pork, poultry, beef, or even seafood.


Japanese dry baked wheat gluten "Fu" (Yaki-Fu, 焼き麩) looks like bread.

In Japanese cuisine, the traditional type of wheat gluten is called fu ((ja), lit. "gluten"), originated from Jiangnan dialect for ed khaw-fu. In Japan, the two main types of fu are most widely used in Buddhist vegetarian cooking (Shojin ryori) and tea ceremony cuisine (cha-kaiseki 茶懐石)(ja).

There are two main forms of fu, the raw nama-fu, and the dry yaki-fu:

  1. Raw (nama-fu 生麩): Solid gluten is mixed with glutinous rice flour and millet and steamed in large blocks. It may be shaped and colored in a variety of ways, using ingredients such as mugwort. Popular shapes include autumn-colored maple leaves, bunnies, and other generally "various" forms. Such shapes and colors enhance the attractiveness of the cooked product since steamed gluten has an unappealing grey tone. Nama-fu is an important ingredient in Shōjin-ryōri, the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine of Japan. It may also be used as an ingredient in wagashi, Japanese confectionery.
    • Fu-manjū (麩まんじゅう) is a type of manju made from nama-fu. Solid gluten is sweetened and filled with various sweet fillings such as red bean paste. They are then wrapped in leaves and steamed in a manner similar to that used to prepare Chinese zongzi.
  2. Dry baked (yaki-fu 焼き麩 or sukiyaki-fu すき焼き麩): The gluten is leavened with baking powder and baked into long bread-like sticks. It is often sold in cut form, as hard dry discs resembling croutons or bread rusk. Yaki-fu is typically added to miso soup and sukiyaki, where it absorbs some of the broth and acquires a fine texture that is lighter and fluffier than its Chinese equivalent. It is the most commonly available type of fu in Japanese supermarkets.

In Japan, seitan, initially a rather salty macrobiotic seasoning that gradually evolved into a food, is not well known or widely available, despite the macrobiotic diet's Japanese origins. When used, the terms for this food are rendered in katakana as グルテンミート (Romanized "gurutenmīto," from the English "gluten meat"), or, rarely, セイタン ("seitan"). Outside macrobiotic circles, these terms are virtually unknown in Japan, and they do not typically appear in Japanese dictionaries.


In Vietnam, wheat gluten is called mì căng or mì căn, and is prepared in a similar fashion to Chinese miàn jīn. Along with tofu, it is a part of the Buddhist cuisine of Vietnam.


Seitan, a Oxford English Dictionary, it is said to have been coined by Ohsawa in the early 1960s, but its etymology is uncertain.[6] The first syllable may be from 生 (sei, "be, become"), 正 (sei, "proper, correct"), or 製 (sei, "made of"), while the second syllable is from 蛋 (tan, from 蛋白 (tanpaku, "protein")).

The meaning of the word "seitan" has undergone a gradual evolution. The initial product, imported from Japan in 1969 was a very salty seasoning, the color of soy sauce, sold in a small glass jar or plastic pouch, to be used as a seasoning for brown rice. The name gradually came to refer to any wheat gluten seasoned with soy sauce. The people most responsible for this change are Nik and Joanne Amartseff, who invented Tan Pups in 1972 and John Weissman, who in 1974 invented Wheatmeat (first meatballs then cutlets made of seitan) in Boston. All worked for years to popularize these pioneering products at the Erewhon retail store, and developed a trademark on the Wheatmeat name.[7]:191-194

As prepared in macrobiotic practice, seitan consists of powdered wheat gluten, which is extracted from whole wheat flour by washing the flour and rinsing away the starch. (A lower quality product can be made from vital wheat gluten, also called powdered gluten or gluten flour). The wheat protein is then mixed with just enough water to form a stiff paste, which is then kneaded in order to produce a firm, stringy texture. The dough is then cut into pieces and cooked via steaming, boiling, frying, or other methods. While wheat gluten is itself rather flavorless, it holds a marinade very well and is usually simmered in a dashi (broth) made from soy sauce, kombu, ginger, and sometimes also sesame oil.[8][9]


Since the mid-20th century, wheat gluten (usually called seitan) has been increasingly adopted by vegetarians in Western nations as a meat alternative.

It is sold in block, strip and shaped forms in North America, where it can be found in some supermarkets, Asian food markets, health food stores and cooperatives. Some companies also sell powdered gluten (marketed under the names "vital wheat gluten" or "gluten flour"), for those who wish to make their own gluten from scratch. It is important to distinguish the two; vital wheat gluten is the product used for making seitan, but it can be mislabeled as gluten flour. Properly-labeled gluten flour has more gluten than normal flour, but not enough for seitan. Properly-labeled vital wheat gluten typically contains 75% or more protein. The distinction is important, as gluten flour will produce a consistency more similar to dumplings than to seitan. Wheat gluten is also used by bakers to increase the chewiness of breads.

The block form of seitan is often flavored with shiitake or portobello mushrooms, fresh coriander or onion, or barbecue sauce, or packed in a vegetable-based broth. In strip form, it can be packed to be eaten right out of the package as a high-protein snack. Shaped seitan products, in the form of "ribs" and patties, are frequently flavored with barbecue, teriyaki, or other savory sauces.

Additional uses of wheat gluten include the partial use in products such as Morningstar Farms, LightLife, Gardein, and, most famously, Tofurkey, which is known for its mock-turkey Thanksgiving meal. Wheat gluten is also used by The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a vegan African American religious sect that operates a chain of restaurants called Soul Vegetarian, to produce a vegetarian sandwich called the Garvey Burger. In North America, there are also several brand-name meat alternatives, such as Protein Chef, which are used in the restaurant and food service markets.

Animal feed

Wheat gluten is also used both as a protein source and binding ingredient in pet foods. Wheat gluten from China adulterated by melamine was blamed as the cause of the 2007 pet food recalls.[10]

See also


  1. ^ How to made your GLUTEN at home. YouTube. 2 January 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko; Huang, H.T. (2014). History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in China and Taiwan, and in Chinese Cookbooks, Restaurants, and Chinese Work with Soyfoods Outside China (1024 BCE to 2014). Soyinfo Center. pp. 2478–2479.  
  3. ^ Anderson, E.N. (2014). "China". Food in Time and Place. University of California Press. p. 44.  
  4. ^ "Vegetarian's Paradise 2 , 144 W 4th St., New York, NY 10014". Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  5. ^ "Harmony Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant, 135 N. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107". Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  6. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. seitan, n. DRAFT ENTRY Dec. 2004. Online edition. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  7. ^ Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (2011). History of Erewhon -Natural Foods Pioneer In The United States (1966-2011): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook (PDF). Soyinfo Center. 
  8. ^ Jacobs, Barbara; Jacobs, Leonard (1987). Cooking with Seitan: Delicious Natural Foods from Whole Grains. New York, NY: Japan Publications.  
  9. ^ Bates, Dorothy; Wingate, Colby (1993). Cooking with Gluten and Seitan. Summertown, Tennessee: The Book Publishing Company.  
  10. ^ : Detention without physical examination of wheat gluten due to the presence of melamine"Import Alert IA9926". US Food and Drug Administration. 

External links

  • (Japanese wheat gluten)fuExplanation of
  • More about Seitan and Seitan Recipes
  • , April 2,"Un-American Pet Food: Why do we put Chinese wheat gluten in Fido's kibble?", Michelle Tsai,

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