Wheat gluten, although not as well known, is an alternative to soybean-based such as tofu. Some types of wheat gluten have a texture more like that of meat than most other substitutes, because of their chewy and/or stringy texture. Wheat gluten often is used instead of meat in , , , and s. is a common use for wheat gluten.
Wheat gluten is most popular in China, where it was first developed, as well as in the cuisines of other and Southeast Asian nations. In Asia, it is commonly found on the menus of restaurants catering primarily to customers who do not eat meat.
Because it was first popularized in western nations during the second half of the 20th century through its promotion by proponents of the macrobiotic diet, ''seitan'' is also the name by which wheat gluten is best known in most English-speaking nations. In the West, prepared wheat gluten is generally available only in and health food stores .
Wheat gluten, called ''miàn jīn'' in is believed to have originated in ancient China, as a for adherents of Buddhism, particularly some Mahayana Buddhist monks, who are strict vegetarians . 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 . ''Miàn jīn'' is often 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:
#Oily/oil fried gluten : 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 or boiled in a savory soup or stew before eating. They are frequently paired with '''' .
#*Larger fried balls of gluten, called ''miàn jīn qiú'' or ''miàn jīn pao'' , 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" or "gluten stuffed with meat" .
#Steamed gluten : 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'' . Larger blocks of steamed gluten are sometimes colored pink and sold as vegetarian "mock ham."
#Baked spongy gluten : Similar in texture to a sponge, ''kao fu'' is made by 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'' is coarser in texture than its Japanese counterpart, ''yaki-fu'', due to the relatively larger air bubbles it contains. ''Kao fu'' is available in fresh, frozen, and canned forms.
''Miàn jīn'' is also available in Asian grocery stores in canned and jarred forms, often in combination with peanuts or mushrooms. Such canned and jarred gluten is commonly eaten as an accompaniment to 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.
In Japanese cuisine, the traditional type of wheat gluten is called ''fu'' .
There are two main forms of ''fu'', the raw ''nama-fu'', and the dry ''yaki-fu'':
#Raw : 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, , and other generally "cute" 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 , the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine of Japan. It may also be used as an ingredient in wagashi, Japanese confectionery.
#*Fu-manjū is a type of 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.
#Dry baked : 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, seasoned "gluten meat" 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 , or, rarely, . Outside macrobiotic circles, these terms are virtually unknown in Japan, and they do not typically appear in Japanese dictionaries.
In , wheat gluten is called ''mì c?ng'' or ''mì c?n'', and is prepared in a similar fashion to Chinese ''miàn jīn''. Along with tofu, it is a part of the Buddhist cuisine of Vietnam, which is strongly influenced by that of China.
''Seitan'', a neologism of origin, is the name used to refer to wheat gluten in the system of cooking and health, as formulated by the Japanese-born philosopher George Ohsawa . According to the ''Oxford English Dictionary'', it is said to have been coined by Ohsawa in the early 1960s, but its etymology is uncertain, with the most likely explanation being that it is derived from the Japanese ''sei-'' , or ''-sei'' + ''tan-'', as in ''tanpaku'' .
As prepared in macrobiotic practice, seitan consists of powdered wheat gluten, which is extracted from flour by washing the flour and rinsing away the starch. The gluten powder 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 seitan is itself rather flavorless, it holds a marinade very well and is usually simmered in a ''dashi'' made from soy sauce, kombu, ginger, and sometimes also sesame oil.
Since the mid-20th century, wheat gluten has been increasingly adopted by vegetarians in western nations as a realistic meat substitute, particularly by vegetarians who previously ate meat and miss its taste and/or texture.
It is sold in block, strip and shaped forms in North America, where it is very difficult to find outside of Asian food markets, health food stores and cooperatives. Some companies also sell powdered gluten , for those who wish to make their own gluten from scratch. Wheat gluten is also used by bakers to increase the chewyness of breads. The block form is most prevalent and is often flavored with or portabello mushrooms, fresh cilantro or onion, or barbecue sauce, or packed in a vegetable-based broth. In strip form, it is usually 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 usually flavored with barbecue, teriyaki or other savory sauces.
Additionally,there is an imitation turkey made in part of seitan which is marketed around the Thanksgiving holiday, providing an alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey centerpiece. Wheat gluten is also used by The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a vegan African American religious sect which 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 substitutes, such as Protein Chef, which are used in the restaurant and food service markets.
In Chinese cuisine, most forms of wheat gluten are typically or braised, such that it can absorb the flavours of the braising liquid. Fried wheat gluten balls that are large and puffed-up, such as ''da mianjin qiu'' can be stuffed with fillings. It is not common in Chinese cuisine for wheat gluten to be consumed "plain."
In Japanese cuisine, gluten is cooked and simmered in soup such that it gains flavour from the broth. In addition, baked wheat gluten with its spongy texture is added directly to soup as it is served for use as a decorative condiment. In Japan, wheat gluten is also directly consumed in the form of dumplings after they have been steamed.
Wheat gluten is also sometimes used in pet foods. Wheat gluten from China adulterated by melamine has been blamed as the cause of a widespread in March 2007.
Gluten is used as a or thickener in products such as ice-cream and ketchup, where it may be unexpected. Foods of this kind present a problem because the hidden gluten constitutes a hazard for people with celiac disease.
The "Codex Alimentarius" set of international standards for food labelling has a standard relating to the labelling of products as "gluten free", however this standard does not apply to "foods which in their normal form do not contain gluten".