A little bit about wheat
Before we reveal what this centuries-old tradition is, let us give you a little background. What makes our product so unique is that we are able to achieve a very precise “meaty” texture — one that mimics chicken very closely — without using any additives, gums, stabilizers, or soy. In addition, we are able to maintain a rather neutral flavor. This is thanks to the power of wheat, a cereal grain that provides numerous benefits both nutritionally and creatively as a foundational ingredient for cooking. Check out our article here which explains the different qualities of wheat.
Some may squeal at the mention of wheat — as it is known to be an allergen — but if you do not have a gluten intolerance, it is a beautiful ingredient. The main appeal of wheat in our case is its characteristic gluten makeup. Indeed, wheat is made up of gluten: the protein that gives doughs their elastic texture. It is the foundation that gives structure to any baked good. Without it, we would only be eating mushy foods.
Gluten and starch are what make up most carbs. Their varying proportions in each form of carb are what make them different. When gluten is separated from starch, it becomes a powerhouse of protein, because it is essentially a concentrated form of the latter. Hence why we, at Ensemble Foods, are very invested in this ingredient.
However, we aren’t the only ones who have been fascinated by it. Indeed, wheat gluten has a very rich and fascinating history.
Origins of wheat gluten
In some East Asian countries, wheat gluten is known as seitan. While this specific term was introduced rather recently, wheat gluten has been around since at least the 6th century in China. It was developed as an alternative to meat, particularly for people practicing Buddhism, a majority of whom are vegetarians. This form of “meat” made its way to the West during the 18th century through the publication of a treatise on wheat in Italy by Bartolomeo Beccari. It soon became popular as a healthy product because of its high-protein, low-carb profile.
The word seitan — how we refer to protein products made from wheat gluten today — was introduced by George Ohsawa in 1961. The origins of this word are unclear but it is said to be derived from two Japanese characters meaning “fresh” or “raw” and “protein”. Seitan may also be referred to as miànjīn, fu, milgogi, wheat meat, gluten meat, vital wheat gluten or just gluten.
Seitan is made using a process called washing. Essentially, flour and water are mixed together, kneaded, and then “washed” (literally run under water) repeatedly until the gluten and starch are separated. It is a lengthy process, but worth it if you want to extract all the protein goodness wheat has to offer. Seitan is also often flavored with spices, stock, or soy sauce to enhance the meat alternative aspect and make it even more delicious.
And there you go! We hope you learned a little about what makes Ensemble products so special and delicious.