A brief history of seitan—vegan grain “meat”—and how Seattle-based Field Roast, one of the top producers, arrived in local kitchens and restaurants
If you think meat substitutes were invented simply to please the vegans and vegetarians at the family barbecue, think again. Vegan and vegetarian “meat” products have a long and interesting history, beginning with Chinese Buddhist monks in the seventh century. Because meat was often unaffordable and because Buddhism promotes a vegetarian diet, meat alternatives became a necessity. After soaking and kneading wheat flour dough in a tub of cold water, the monks discovered they could make a chewy, hearty, protein-rich substance. They named it mein ching, or “Buddha’s food.” Mein ching eventually made its way to Japan, where it was often simmered in soy sauce and ginger, to create seitan (pronounced SAY-tan).
During the natural foods movement of the 1970s, grain meat products like seitan began to emerge in Western culture as vegetarian, macrobiotic and vegan diets became more popular. In the 1990s, Seattle chef David Lee, a Buddhist and meat-alternative advocate, decided to incorporate sage, garlic, mushrooms, red wine and tomatoes into seitan, thus creating a product that could be used in Asian and Western recipes. In 1997, the Field Roast Grain Meat Co., headed by Lee (who previously had worked at Farestart and Chandler’s Crabhouse), was established in Seattle just off Rainier Avenue and it remains one of the few producers of grain meat in the country.
While the more silken, soy-based tofu remains popular in vegetarian dishes, Field Roast’s grain meat is an ideal substitute for those who do not eat meat but who are looking for a product that still has a meaty texture and flavor. The company has a popular line of sausages with kicky flavors such as Mexican chipotle and smoked apple; a Field Roast loaf in various flavors; a classic meatloaf; deli sandwich slices; and even a truffle-oil pâté. Many local restaurants and bars feature Field Roast grain meat on their menus, including The Noble Fir, Smarty Pants and the Elysian Brewing Company. It is available online (fieldroast.com), at the company’s store in SoDo (1440 S Jackson St.; 800.311.9497) and at local grocery stores, including Metropolitan Markets and PCC Natural Markets.
Published November 2010
More articles from our Meat issue
Carnivore's Guide: Bacon!
Carnivore's Guide: A Burger for every budget
Carnivore's Guide: Charcuterie
Carnivore's Guide: Chicken
Carnivore's Guide: Duck, Turkey, and Goose
Carnivore's Guide: Game: Venison, Elk, Wild Boar
Carnivore's Guide: Lamb
Carnivore's Guide: The Meatless Meats
Carnivore's Guide: Offal
Carnivore's Guide: Pork
Carnivore's Guide: Sausages
Carnivore's Guide: The Steakhouses
Carnivore's Guide: The Art of Butchering
Carnivore's Guide: Butcher Shops and Meat Markets
Carnivore's Guide: The Seattle Meat Directory