Vital wheat gluten is a type of flour made of gluten and contains hardly any starches. Commonly used in baking to help bread rise and hold its structure, just a little bit of this special flour goes a long way.
Wheat gluten is high in protein and low in calories, making it a preferred meat alternative for many vegans and vegetarians.
It contains minerals and fewer carbohydrates than regular flour. Given its high protein content, wheat gluten is commonly used by vegans and vegetarians in place of meat.
It can be prepared in similar ways, and when cooked, it can even have a meaty texture.
Although the nutritional value can vary between brands and homemade versions, it generally maintains its reputation as a healthy option for baking and substituting traditional flours.
It contains vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, making it an all-around healthy alternative for any baker or diner.
Also known as seitan, the product vital wheat gluten is used to make a meat substitute. It has a very plain, neutral flavor resembling chicken.
Plain doesn’t mean bad- when spices, flavors, or sauces are added, the gluten absorbs these flavors well. This makes vital wheat gluten a versatile product that can be used in a variety of ways!
Since wheat gluten is so elastic, the final product has a thick, chewy texture once cooked, which makes it comparable to the feeling of eating a meat product.
5 Recommended Vital Wheat Gluten Substitute
1. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a gluten-free alternative that can be used to substitute vital wheat gluten for those seeking a gluten-free option. It can be used alone or in combination with whey protein.
It’s frequently used to thicken doughs and pastes and to add the elasticity that wheat gluten offers while remaining gluten-free.
Some people choose to use less xanthan gum in their recipes, but as a general reference, between ¼ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum for every cup of flour should be used.
This ratio will help the dough retain its elasticity and allow it to thicken. If you are seeking to make a product that will be chewier, you will need to increase the amount of xanthan gum you use.
It’s important to note that Xanthan gum is toxic to animals. If you have pets, and especially if you are making treats for your pets, it’s best to choose another substitute for vital wheat gluten.
2. Bread Flour
Bread flour is the classic alternative to vital wheat gluten, being that it’s used most commonly and traditionally to bake bread and many other products.
As the most readily available substitute on this list, bread flour makes a great alternative to wheat gluten as it maintains the gluten found in wheat gluten.
Bread flour works great in baking, bread-making recipes, making doughs such as sweet yeast doughs, and even flakey croissants.
Bread flour contains higher amounts of protein and fiber and is available bleached or unbleached. When using bread flour to substitute vital wheat gluten, substitute the amounts of the flour and wheat gluten for the bread flour.
Eggs are a surprising yet effective substitute for vital wheat gluten when you’re using wheat gluten for protein.
Eggs can help maintain the structure of baked items, but will not help with elasticity. As such, eggs shouldn’t be used for bread or chewy products such as cinnamon rolls.
Eggs add extra moisture to your recipe and are a nutritious and protein-packed alternative. One egg should be enough for your recipe, however, that is dependent on how large of a recipe you will be making.
4. Whey Protein
Whey protein is similar to eggs as a substitute in that it provides structure to your recipe but will not add elasticity or chewiness.
Whey protein’s advantages are all in the name, as it provides a great source of protein while also essential amino acids. It also contains a small amount of calcium and is low in lactose.
You can use the same amount of whey protein in recipes as you would vital wheat gluten, but make sure you add xanthan gum to recipes calling for a thickening agent to improve elasticity.
5. Protein Powder
Basic protein powder can be used instead of vital wheat gluten to add more flavor to your recipes. It is also a good option if you want to add more protein to your products, similar to the whey protein mentioned above.
You should use the unflavored version of protein powder to maintain as much of a neutral flavor as possible unless you are seeking added flavors- in which case you could use vanilla-flavored powder.
You will need to use a smaller amount of protein powder in your flour to get the same results you would get when using vital wheat gluten.
6. Guar Gum
Guar gum is a similar alternative to xanthan gum, which helps your product maintain its shape. Guar gum is a thickening agent, commonly used to thicken sauces, reported to be eight times as thickening as regular cornstarch.
This thickening quality makes guar gum a great alternative to use if you are making doughs with a lesser amount of flour and will help maintain the structure of the finished product.
You will need to use water to activate the guar gum and should use one teaspoon of guar gum per one cup of flour.
7. High Gluten Flour
As the most glutinous alternative for vital wheat gluten, high gluten flour is considered one of the best substitutes for vital wheat gluten.
It contains equal parts gluten and flour and is a great option to use when preparing vegan meat alternatives.
When baking with a high gluten flour, you should double the amount you would use for vital wheat gluten.
Can I Omit Vital Wheat Gluten From a Recipe?
Adding vital wheat gluten to your recipes is helpful, as it adds to the elasticity of your products. It is an optional ingredient, and you can certainly omit it from your recipes if desired.
You will need to ensure you find a replacement, such as a xanthan gum, bread flour, or whey protein to substitute for your wheat gluten.
There are also many nutritional benefits to adding wheat gluten to your recipes, as explained above.
How Do You Make Vital Wheat Gluten At Home?
Since vital wheat gluten is considered a specialty product, it can be tricky to find in regular grocery stores.
Wheat gluten can be found in specialty health food stores, but sometimes you may not have access to one. If you can’t find wheat gluten in stores and you don’t want to wait to order it online, you can take matters into your own hands and make some!
Below are some steps to follow if you want to make your very own vital wheat gluten.
1. Create your dough
You will need to begin by combining flour and water by hand or with a mixer until it is a thick, buff dough.
Then allow your dough to rest for 30-60 minutes for the gluten to develop. Once you have a sticky, gummy consistency, you know you are ready to continue to the next step.
2. Wash your dough
Now you will need to make sure to wash your dough, preparing it for the dehydrating process.
You can fill an empty container with cold water just high enough to encapsulate your dough, then add your dough to the water.
3. Work your dough
Now, you will need to begin stretching, folding, kneading, and squeezing your dough to release as much starch as possible.
The water in your container will start to stain white as the starch gets removed from your dough. Some recipes call for you to allow your dough to stand for a few hours before kneading to allow the gluten to develop more, but this isn’t necessary.
As you continue to release more starch from your dough, the amount of dough will lessen and become spongy and stringy, falling apart in your hands.
After this stage, it should come back together into one clump, and your water will look very murky as you finish releasing starch into the water.
4. Dehydrate your dough
Once you remove your dough from the water, you will need to cut the dough into small slices and lay them across your dehydrating tray.
You will need to dehydrate your dough at 125 degrees Fahrenheit until it is completely dry. The product will begin to darken and shrivel, so don’t be alarmed when you see this- it’s the result you are looking for!
5. Grind your dough
Now you will need to grind your dough into a powder to be used. You can add the pieces of your dehydrated wheat gluten to a high-powered blender, food processor, coffee, or even a spice grinder.
Grinding your dough is the final step, and after this point, your vital wheat gluten is ready to be used however you wish!