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Wheat meat is a food product made from the wheat derivative gluten, and, like soy-based tofu, it is used in vegan cuisine as an alternative to meat. First developed in China to cater to either the requirements of vegetarian Buddhist monks or the royalty during their meatless fasts, wheat meat is very popular in Asia. Since its introduction in the West during the late twentieth century, it has acquired a following there as well for its many health benefits. It is rich in important vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, and, unlike real meat, does not contain any cholesterol.
To make wheat meat, wheat flour is mixed with water to form a dough. This dough is then kneaded under running water until the starch dissolves and is washed away. It is a good idea to save the dissolved starch water, as this can come in useful in making bread, crackers and ice cream. The stretchy and insoluble mass that is left behind is known as gluten. This raw gluten is then cooked to form wheat meat.
There are different ways of cooking gluten to obtain wheat meat. In the traditional method, the wheat gluten is simmered in water seasoned with soy sauce, a seaweed called kombu and ginger. It is possible, however, to use many different types of seasonings. Gluten does not have any flavor and so adding a flavor to the broth gives the gluten that particular flavor. Different types of gluten meat can be obtained by adding a variety of flavors like chicken, beef, ham, mock duck, steak and vegetable.
It is important not to let the broth boil, as this will make the wheat meat spongy and bread-like. Simmering or slow cooking in a pressure cooker is preferable. After simmering for a few hours, the resulting wheat gluten meat takes on a chewy texture that is similar to that of real meat.
Making gluten meat from wheat flour in the traditional way can be a long and, for beginners, a hit and miss process. It may be less time-consuming to buy ready-made gluten meat or gluten flour; the gluten flour only has to be mixed with water to get the gluten. The ready-made wheat meat may be marketed under different monikers like gluten meat, mock duck meat, seitan or mian jin. These are usually available in supermarkets, health food stores and Asian food shops.