TikTok’s vegans may not be able to enjoy some of the app’s most viral recipes, but one new, meatless ingredient is having a moment. That ingredient is gluten. As in, the protein found in wheat and other grains. As in, the thing that so many brands have tried to eliminate for the past decade.
The bizarre trend seemed to begin in February when @futurelettuce shared his recipe for “two-ingredient vegan chicken.” In the video, which has amassed nearly 10 million views, the TikToker mixes flour and water, kneads the result, and then submerges it under water and kneads it again. Then, he drains the water and adds seasoning before kneading it again. The makeshift meat is then fried with vegetable stock for 45 minutes. To @futurelettuce’s credit, the end result looks eerily like real chicken. The video took off, and the rest is meatless history.
If you’re confused, you aren’t the only one. Comments include, “Did you just turn flour into shredded chicken?” and “I have no words for what this person just did.” What he did was create seitan, also known as vital wheat gluten. Basically, when the flour is kneaded underwater, the starch is washed out, leaving pure gluten that creates a meat-like texture instead of something resembling bread.
Seitan is nothing new: Its origins actually date back centuries, when Buddhist monks in China and Japan first tried to create a meat substitute. “People often think this fake meat is a contemporary, Western thing, but actually it's not. It's Chinese,” Fuchsia Dunlop, the author of Sichuan Cookery and Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China, told VICE. “There are records from the Tang dynasty, which is 618 to 907, of an official hosting a banquet serving imitation pork and mutton dishes made from vegetables.”
Today, it remains a staple in Chinese cuisine, and you can also purchase it pre-packaged. Many vegans and vegetarians with soy allergies or sensitivities have opted to buy or make their own seitan, since other meat substitutes like tofu are soy-based. In summation: This chicken is gluten.
Lest we forget, not too long ago, many people were going gluten-free, but the many combinations of flour and water are evidently having a resurgence in popularity. Early on in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt like everyone decided to learn how to make sourdough bread; some bakeries even started selling their own starter kits. Once people got the hang of the bread-making basics, the trend made way for more creative homemade recipes, including pastries and banana bread.
Although TikTok users first just followed @futurelettuce’s instructions, other vegan chefs soon started developing their own variations. One user shared a vegan take on Kentucky Fried Chicken’s recipe; others have used seitan to make other kinds of meat, like bacon. The #washedflour tag has over 50 million views and counting, proving that as soon as a recipe gains traction on TikTok — even if it produces nothing but a ubiquitous protein like gluten — it takes on a life of its own.