Ditch Tofu Because You Might Knead Gluten

I have never been much of a fan of tofu. This is not because I am an unflinching carnivore/omnivore, who believes every meal should center on a protein that once had a face. On the contrary, I could go days if not weeks without eating animal protein. The fact is, the vast majority of tofu available is horrendously bland, insubstantial, and lacking qualities or characteristics that lend itself to an enjoyable culinary experience. Sure, there is amazing tofu out there (most of which is being produced and consumed in Japan and east Asia) but Americans rarely see it or taste it, and therefore our expectations, when it comes to tofu, are pathetically low.

But I was recently reminded of an alternative to the ubiquitous meat alternative that is tofu – and that would be gluten. I am sure the word sends shivers down your GF spine, as a good portion of marketing in the last 5 years has been dedicated to promoting a gluten-free lifestyle and an overstated fear of gluten intolerance and celiac disease (Only between 0.5 and 1.0 percent of people in the United States are sensitive to gluten due to celiac disease). Entire sections of supermarkets are devoted to gluten-free breads, chips, cereals and alternatives, which that certain 1 percent understandably needs. But for the other 99 percent, those that could easily tolerate gluten-rich items, there is the humble and nutritious gluten.

The first problem, however, with gluten is likely the name: the word gluten most obviously comes from the word “glue” and sometimes can seem, texture speaking, a lot like its root word. In actuality gluten is a protein composite found in foods like rye, wheat and barley. Most notably, gluten is what gives bread structure and makes it elastic, providing it with that chewy texture it has when eaten. Without gluten, bread is often flat and unpleasantly dense. Writer Brian Palmer recently posted a love letter of sorts to gluten on Salon.com, stating that besides gluten being inherently delicious and able to more effectively take on the flavors of marinades than its more popular and beloved cousin tofu, gluten is more substantial, chewy, and pleasurable than nearly anything that passes as tofu these days.

The other problem with gluten is that it lacks that easy availability that tofu has, and most commercially produced gluten is largely disappointing. But rather than committing yourself to being gluten free, you could (not quite easily, but somewhat simply) make your own gluten. According to Palmer, “The good news it that there are only three ingredients: whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and vegetable stock. Combine equal amounts of the two flours in a bowl. (I usually use four cups of each flour, which feeds about eight people.) Add enough water to make a dough, then turn it onto the counter and get ready to knead. After this point is when the difficult part comes – the kneading. About 20 minutes of hand kneading is required, which is a guaranteed work out for your arms and upper body, providing you put some elbow into it. You then have to cover your dough in water and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, it’s back to work. Cut the dough into softball-sized pieces, fill up your sink, and knead each one underwater. A few more water changes, and some more kneading, and a final 2 hours of boiling, and you have gluten ready to go. Easy? No, not really, but positively worth it for some of us that count ourselves as more intrepid and resourceful. The final result is something that holds up well to marinades and even on the grill.

While the majority of us will likely stick with our $3 tubs of tofu, gluten is worth some time and experimentation despite its bad name.


Carla Maclean
Carla Phillips6 years ago

Gluten is a delicious alternative to tofu and I have it regularly. You don't need to make such a palaver out of preparing it though, just mix it with veggie stock, bit of soy and use it with any meal you'd make with tofu. Yum!

Anne Mueller
Anne M6 years ago

Oh well... "the word gluten most obviously comes from the word “glue”" - actually, the word glue, if anything, comes FROM the word "gluten", not the other way round. Either way, gluten has to be the most delicious plant-based protein source EVER! I've yet to find anything better. It's really inexpensive if selfmade, has a great texture and just tastes great if you marinate it with soy sauce, for example.

And @Rae S.: I use the kneading and rinsing method because VWG is way too expensive, at least here in Germany. Plus I like working with my hands and seeing the results of my own work afterwards. :)

Anna S.
Past Member 6 years ago

I've had tofu that was terrible (prepared by me), but my favorite dish is a tofu dish: Vegan (no eggs or fish sauce) Pad See Ew with tofu and broccoli (prepared by a very nice Thai family).

Dominique G.
Dominique G.6 years ago

I also have to say I prefer tofu, I use different recipes to prepare it and I digest it better than gluten, which is not as available. Obviously, I do think either option is healthier than meat. I also want to add that the name "gluten" comes from "glutenin" which is the chemical name of the protein found in wheat.
Thanks for the informative article!!

Lauren B.
Lauren B6 years ago

Tofu is delicious is SO many ways if you know how to cook and do a little experimentation. I hate that it gets such a bad rap because I guess a lot of people are only exposed to tofu in its bland unseasoned form (which is NEVER how you should eat it). I have hundreds of great tofu recipes. It can be marinated in infinite ways as well as used to make other items like quiche and lasagna, among so many other things. I get extremely aggravated when I see articles like this dissing tofu because while maybe the author experimented with wheat gluten, he clearly hasn't given tofu a proper chance.

That said, I'm also a fan of using wheat gluten (yes, using vital wheat gluten makes it a cinch!) to make seitan. Seitan can also be made many different ways and can take on many different flavors and textures. So yes, wheat gluten is great! But so is tofu!

Luarah Vining
luarah gossley6 years ago

wow i didn't know that

Rae S.
Rachel S6 years ago

This is a very time-consuming process. It's so much easier to buy vital wheat gluten (VWG) flour and mix it with cool water and flavorings! There are many recipes out there on the web for making seitan from VWG. I don't know of anyone who uses the kneading and rinsing method any more.

Kiana Siino
Kiana S6 years ago

I have to say I'm pretty fond of tofu. I guess raw tofu is an acquired taste, but there are all kinds of tasty marinades that you can soak tofu in to give it more flavor. I'm also pretty fond of seitan though (the end product of this gluten recipe). I've never made it myself, but I used to get it from the store when I lived in the US (I think it was Trader Joe's, but this was 10 years ago, so who knows if they still carry it). My cousin actually made some the other day and although it was time consuming she said it was pretty easy and will happily do it again (outside next time so she can water the plants with all the gluten washing water).

Janice McClellan
Janice McClellan6 years ago

I love a tofu "sundae": slab of [non-gmo] cold firm tofu, topped with salsa, then Vegannaise, then nutritional yeast flakes!

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

I agree: a lot of tofu products sorely lack flavor. The producers of these products would win so many more people to their products if they incorporated more seasoning.