Meat-like seitan could be a game-changer for wannabe vegans

Chef and health-guru Matthew Ballenden tells us more about seitan, a wheat-based meat substitute that's gaining popularity, plus shares ideas of what to serve at a vegan braai

23 September 2018 - 00:00 By Hilary Biller
Seitan ribs and steaks pictured with an assortment of braaied veggie sides.
Seitan ribs and steaks pictured with an assortment of braaied veggie sides.
Image: Christoph Hoffman

Are meat substitutes popular with vegans and vegetarians?

I've been cooking for vegans and vegetarians for nearly 20 years and I'm always surprised at how quickly the 'meat' substitutes are devoured first. Perhaps there's still a desire to eat meat but it conflicts with a belief system, so when the chance to eat 'meat' that is not 'meat' arises, it satisfies that desire.

What is seitan?

Seitan (pronounced say-tahn) is wheat gluten (protein from wheat) which has a meat-like texture. It offers a similar eating experience for those who have chosen to cut animal protein out of their diet. 

It's said to have originated in China in the 6th century and was used as an ingredient in the making of noodles. Its been used in the East for many years as an alternative to tofu and soybean protein. Recently the West has started consuming more and more of it. 

In fact, vegetarianism, veganism and flexitarianism have risen almost 200% in the past few years. This has created an opportunity for manufacturers to start commercialising seitan. In SA a few small manufacturers like Herbi-Vohr Artisan Seitan have popped up.

What types of seitan products are available? 

There are a number of different seitan products including ribs, steak, 'biltong',
stir-fry strips, bacon and meat loaf.

 I like the stir-fry strips which I use to make a classic Thai stir-fry with satay sauce.

What does seitan taste like?

The ribs have a classic BBQ flavour with a meat-like texture and the burgers/braai steaks could easily pass as a meat burger, especially once dressed up with all the garnishes. I believe it tastes a lot better than some of the commercial meat beef patties that taste highly processed.

Is seitan a healthy option? 

Whether Seitan is nutritious or not is another discussion. In my experience, the large consumption of gluten can irritate the lining of the gut. Balance and moderation are important. My nutritional philosophy is to make 80% of your diet plant-based.

Celiacs and gluten-intolerant people should stay away from seitan. If you are prone to IBS or any digestive issues, moderate your intake.

• Herbi Vohr Seitan ribs sell for about R230/kg and braai steaks/burgers for R120/kg.

Matthew Ballenden.
Matthew Ballenden.
Image: Christoph Hoffman


"A braai for me is less about the meat and more about the flavours. One can achieve a similar eating experience using plant-based ingredients, recipes and cooking methods," says Ballenden.

Try his easy recipes:


Place over the coals and braai for a couple of minutes on each side. Towards the end of cooking, baste generously with the basting sauce that comes with the ribs. Serve with extra sauce.


Place over the coals and if desired brush with olive oil, and cook on both sides for 3 minutes. Serve as is or delicious with a pesto or chilli dipping sauce.


Cut 3cm-thick slices from the trunk of the butternut and brush with olive oil and season generously. Place over the coals and braai till tender and slightly charred on both sides.


Cut sweetcorn into 3 or 4 pieces, place in a bowl and pour over a little seasoned olive oil and mix. Place over the coals and turn frequently till lightly charred and tender.


Place wooden kebab sticks in water for 30 minutes as this prevents them from burning. Then thread on vegetables of choice, like button mushrooms, pieces of red pepper, chunks of onion, cocktail tomatoes, and baby marrow chunks. Brush generously with olive oil mixed with chopped fresh herbs and seasoning of choice. Place over the coals and turn, basting frequently. Serve immediately with a herb butter if desired.


Soak wooden kebab sticks in water for 30 minutes. Peel and slice a pineapple into 2cm-thick pieces. Sprinkle with a mixture of paprika and cayenne pepper then thread onto sticks through the centre of each slice. Cook over the coals, taking care as they burn easily.