If you are a baker or an avid home cook you will have noticed a few recipes requesting a small amount of vital wheat gluten, but what exactly is vital wheat gluten and what is its purpose? Well we take a look as its something that is often asked and I’m sure many of you are unaware of its uses and how many people use it as a staple food.

Vital wheat gluten is the natural protein found in wheat and a small amount is added to yeast bread recipes. Vital wheat gluten is made by extracting all of  the gluten in wheat and leaving behind the starch. It is sold as a powder and is available in many health food stores.

The gluten is made into a protein substitute that is a favourite with vegans and used in many asian dishes.

Vital wheat gluten is the main ingredient in seitan. To make seitan you mix the powdered gluten with spices and then add water to make dough. When seitan is steamed, baked, boiled or otherwise cooked, it becomes chewy with a texture similar to meat.

Vital wheat gluten was documented in China as far back as the 6th century and is consumed by the Chinese as a substitute for meat. Wheat gluten arrived in the west roughly by the 18th century or so.

Vital wheat gluten made into seitan has been adopted by vegetarians as a meat alternative. Vital wheat gluten in South Africa is available through special health stores and high end supermarkets. Seitan is often flavoured with fresh coriander, onion or with several savoury sauces.

The powdered form of vital wheat gluten is used in baking and adds elasticity to flours such as wheat flour and rye.