What exactly is gluten? Gluten is the protein part of the wheat kernel. It can be separated from the starchy part of the grain and used in many ways to replace meat. For vegetarians and those wanting to lower cholesterol, this is good news! It can be used as a meat extender which is a way to cut down on fat in the diet as well as the expense of serving meat at every meal (gluten is about ¼ the cost of meat). By using gluten, often called "Wheat Meat", or "Seitan", you also avoid undesirable additives such as antibiotics, steroids, hormones, dyes, etc. This healthful and useful substance can be made at home. Because gluten has little or no flavor of its own, it will take on the flavors of the seasonings used with it. This allows you to create substitutes for beef, pork, ham, chicken, and even fish and shellfish! One caution: if you’re cooking for people you don’t know well, be sure to inquire if anyone has Celiac disease, the condition of being allergic to gluten.
Is gluten nutritious? Gluten is almost a complete protein, but it is missing the amino acid Lysine. Therefore, to be sure you have complete protein in any given meal include vegetables, soybeans, peanuts, eggs, milk, cheese, lean meat or fish. Gluten contains only 1/5 of the fat found in beef, and is much more easily digested than meat.
The best type of gluten is commercially-produced gluten flour which can be purchased in most grocery and health food stores. It is high in protein, produces the most meat-like texture, and will keep up to one year in a cool place (longer if frozen). Note: This type of flour cannot be produced by grinding wheat at home.
How does a homemaker produce gluten, whether on a regular basis or for an emergency? Below is some basic information on how to make gluten. For more detailed information see The Amazing Wheat Book by LeArta Moulton.
Gluten is made by rinsing the starch out of wheat flour. To begin with, any wheat flour can be used but results will vary by type. Regular whole-wheat flour can be used, either store-bought or home-ground. White flour may also be used but will produce a stringier product that doesn’t bind well together.
What tools or utensils do I need to produce gluten? You will need a large bowl and spoon, a plastic or metal colander (but not a wire strainer), a food grinder, blender, or food processor for grinding the gluten, a heavy baking sheet and non-stick spray, and either sauce pans, double-boiler, vegetable steamer, rice cooker or pressure cooker.
When do I add the flavoring? Powdered flavorings can be added to gluten flour before the gluten is produced. Liquid or paste flavorings are added to the water that you mix with the flour. For gluten made from regular wheat flour the flavor will be added when you cook the raw gluten. The seasonings that you choose will depend upon whether you want to remain totally vegetarian or are willing to use meat-based flavors. You might consider products such as Provident Pantry Vegetarian Chicken Broth or Beef Broth, consommé, paste flavorings, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, clam juice, shrimp paste, and any combination of seasonings and herbs that you enjoy.
Commercially Produced Flour:
If you’re using commercially-produced gluten flour you can make almost instant gluten. In a large mixing bowl stir together 2 cups gluten flour, 1/3 cup another kind of flour (soy, whole wheat, rice, etc.), 3 to 4 Tablespoons of any desired dry seasoning, and 1 T. carob powder to give a "red meat" color, if desired. At this point, the mix can be stored in a cool place to use later. Add 2 ¼ cups warm water (with liquid or paste seasonings stirred in, if desired) and give about 10 stirs with a big spoon. Work and squeeze resulting dough into four tight balls. There are then three methods for cooking the gluten.
Steaming the gluten is the preferred method of preparation. Spray your steaming tray, which holds the gluten, with a non-stick spray and place the gluten balls in it. Or, for a tighter texture such as for "chicken" pieces or "pepperoni" slices, form the gluten into a roll, wrap it in cheese cloth, tie at both ends and middle. Finally, steam them for about 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through.
The simmering method is used when making thin strips for stir-fry dishes, stroganoff, jerky, etc. First roll out gluten on a damp surface to about ¼ inch thick and cut into strips or shapes with a knife or pizza cutter. Then drop strips of raw gluten into a flavored boiling broth (use equal amounts of broth and raw gluten). Simmer until liquid is gone, or about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Another option is to place gluten on a sprayed baking sheet and pat out. Place in a 350-degree oven with door slightly ajar until pieces appear dry on top. Turn pieces over and continue to bake/dry until texture is chewy, about 30 to 60 minutes.
Home Ground or Store Flour
If you’re using whole-wheat flour (either from the store or home-ground), there are two basic techniques: stirring or kneading. Use the stirring method if you’re making gluten by hand: Use 12 cups of flour and mix in a large bowl with about 7 cups of water. Make sure that all flour particles are moistened. For gluten made from home ground flour or store purchased flour, the seasonings will be added later as it’s cooked. Give it about 20 stirs. The dough should resemble bread dough before kneading. Set the mixture aside for about 20 minutes.
If you’re using an electric bread mixer use the kneading technique: Add 6 cups of cool water to 12 cups of flour and, using the bread paddle, mix for five to ten minutes until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. If it doesn’t pull away, add small amounts of flour until it does. For gluten made from regular flour the seasonings are added when it’s cooked. Now with either method your dough is ready to rinse.
Rinsing and Cooking
Rinsing separates the gluten from the other parts of the wheat flour. Add water to the bowl of dough—enough to cover the dough. Work and squeeze with your hands to loosen the dough (about ten seconds). When the water turns milky and you see specks of bran, pour this water off and discard. If you’d like to use the bran and starch later, pour water into a separate container and set aside. Place dough into a colander over a sink and let lukewarm water slowly run over the dough as you work and squeeze it with your hands until the gluten starts to hold together and the water runs clear. As quickly as possible try to get a small ball of gluten started for the rest of the gluten to cling to as it’s rinsed. In about three to seven minutes, you should have a ball of elastic dough; this is the raw gluten. Form into balls and as mentioned above, steam, simmer or bake.
Using Cooked Gluten
Ground gluten: Grind the steamed or baked gluten in a food processor or hand food grinder on medium to large setting. This is great for making meatballs, patties, veggie burgers, sausage and meatloaf. Ground and mixed with other vegetables and flavorings it can become a delicious "grilled hamburger" patty. It may also be used as a meat extender in any recipe calling for ground beef. Add seasonings after gluten is ground.
Sliced gluten: Thickly-sliced, flavored and breaded gluten makes cutlet-type steaks. Thinly sliced gluten can be used in recipes and sandwiches calling for chipped beef, stir-fry strips, jerky, pepperoni, etc.
Cubed gluten: Cut into cubes of desired sizes and flavor as desired for use in soups, stews, shish-kabobs, sandwich fillings or chicken nuggets.
Torn pieces: Using a fork or hands break away steamed gluten pieces into desired size that resemble fish or chicken.
To flavor sliced, cubed, or torn gluten, simmer in the flavored broth of your choice for about five minutes. To use ground gluten as a meat-extender it is not necessary to add beef flavoring. Use three parts gluten to one part ground beef, season as usual and mix well.
For more specific recipes and ways to use gluten we recommend The Amazing Wheat Book by LeArta Moulton. Experiment and enjoy!