Why flour and water make faux meat

It’s another TikTok food trend viral, and this time it’s coming for your chicken. The vegan “chicken” made from two ingredients follows a path that is followed by Dalgona coffee, cloud bread, hot cocoa bombs and baked feta noodles. It combines a relatively simple process with familiar ingredients to create something – supposedly – better than the sum of its parts.

The TikTok user @ futurelettuce video has been viewed more than 10 million times. Here’s his nine-step recipe for making a “shredded” chicken-like dish that, despite its visual resemblance to meat, is completely vegan:

  1. Take a 1: 2 ratio of water and flour and put them together in a metal bowl.
  2. Knead the mixture until it is stretchy or forgotten, whichever is faster.
  3. Let the dough, covered with aluminum foil, rest for at least an hour.
  4. “Wash” the dough – essentially knead again in a bowl of water – until the water is almost free of starchy flour.
  5. Let the dough rest for another hour.
  6. Pull the dough and twist it into thick strands.
  7. Knot them together and braid them into a knotted ball.
  8. Brown in a pan with vegetable oil on both sides.
  9. Pour in the vegetable stock and cook for 45 minutes on a lower heat with a pan lid.

The result is an eerie meaty look. @futurelettuce digs in a fork and pulls pieces apart to reveal strands of wheat gluten that look just like shredded chicken.

The thing is, this food hack – a three hour process really – has been around for centuries. What @futurelettuce did is a version of a popular meat alternative called seitan, a story he confirms in a later video. History aside, modern food science and basic chemistry explain why this technique works so well for making vegan meat at home.

Watch the full video here:

TikTok Vegan Chicken: texture

Texture is perhaps the most nuanced – and often overlooked – element of what makes a particular food appealing or disgusting, no matter how much hot sauce you throw on it. And the fibrous, chewy texture of meat isn’t easy to recreate with items in your pantry.

Raffael Osen, who worked at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany, explained that the mouthfeel of ACS Central Science is the most difficult to reproduce for any manufacturer of artificial meat.

“Taste can be achieved, but texture, juiciness, and bite – that’s difficult,” he said. Osen declined to comment on the story.

Shred.Screengrab via TikTok

As the video shows, by kneading flour and water together, you can form long, thread-like protein strands called gliadin and glutenin, which together form what we call gluten.

The more you knead, the more the threads develop and stretch. If you take an extra step to “wash” the flour of all of its excess starch, as you can see the TikTokkers at their sinks, all that is left is those strands of gluten. This is essentially what sets the vegan chicken apart from bread, which holds back the starch. Rather, the TiKTokkers are essentially a homemade version of seitan, or what is known in the world of food chemistry as “textured wheat gluten”. Delicious.

The word seitan comes from Japanese, but according to some sources, the meat substitute was already present in Chinese cuisine in 1301. It is possible that ancient foodies created a meat-like meal with flour and water in the same way as in the modern TikTok trend – by washing the dough its starch to leave a thread-like texture. In the industrial method of making the wheat-based meat substitutes you could buy at the grocery store today, manufacturers create a fibrous texture from wheat protein using a process called “extrusion,” which involves a dough-like mixture called “lava” (yes ) is pushed through a mold.

A 1999 issue of a trade magazine called “Cereal Foods World” describes the process:

“The lava is discharged … without excessive blowing off of water to avoid cell destruction. The result is a product with a visible, oriented pattern of fiber arrangement that resembles meat fibers. The hydration of the fiber strands creates the laminated, fleshy appearance of textured wheat gluten. “

Like the two-ingredient TikTok chicken in all its glory, textured wheat gluten looks and feels chewy, and it’s shredded like real meat. It’s also very high in protein and surprisingly low in carbohydrates, making it a candidate for meat replacement.

Alissa Nolden, sensory scientist and assistant professor of food science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, tells Inverse that getting the texture of imitation meat products right can be difficult – ground beef, for example, is very different in texture from chicken thighs.

“They have to have a texture, and you’ll likely cut it first … does it have the same cutting skills?” She says.

“Chicken is very different. It has all the fibers that are different from a burger where it is ground. “

Whether it’s seitan, structured wheat gluten, two-ingredient chicken, or any other variation on the theme – these thread-like strands are key – but they also take a lot of effort to develop. In your home kitchen, this means a lot of washing, kneading and turning. So roll up your sleeves.

TikTok Vegan Chicken: Color and Appearance

In addition to the texture, the color of the food also has a major impact on its palatability. In an anecdote told in a recent review in Frontiers of Psychology magazine, a group of guests were asked to have a meal in very dim light. Everyone snuck in happily until the lights came on to show they had eaten blue-colored steak, green fries, and red peas. Some of the disgusted guests suddenly fell ill.

So it’s no wonder that the color of imitation meat can be a top priority for food scientists. According to a 2015 article on the psychology of food taste published in Flavor magazine, people may have “strong avoidance responses” to foods that are the wrong color.

“Especially with meat and fish that don’t look good,” write the newspaper’s authors.

That makes sense. Color is often the first thing we notice about food and can determine whether we actually take a bite or not. Then texture and taste come into play, says Nolden.

Two-ingredient golden fried vegan chicken. Screengrab via TikTok

This works both ways. In some experiments, people perceive foods as tastier because of the intensity of their color. The color changes our expectations of the food and then the experience of eating the food ourselves. It’s no accident that the two-ingredient chicken – loaded with spices, seared golden brown, fried extra crispy, and then simmered in broth – almost looks like it’s really a chicken covered in crispy brown skin.

How does the vegan TikTok chicken taste?

Once you get past the appearance of a food, taste ultimately decides whether or not you will ever eat it again. According to a survey by the International Food Information Council, when buying food in a store, taste and price are the most important factors influencing a purchase decision.

According to Nolden, taste can be more about whether we don’t like a meal or not than about enjoying it.

“What leads to rejection after consumption? [That’s] Another way to think about it … so if a product had all of the taste and aroma but not the texture, would that still be acceptable? “Says Nolden.

Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on a company to correctly guess what your fake chicken should taste like when making your own seitan-like batter to replace meat. You can taste it as you like (within limits, of course). The vegan chicken from TikTok is infinitely adjustable. However, a quick look at some of these videos reveals that the general consensus is that the dough itself is bland. However, if you add spices or other flavors, these will be carried over. That way, the intrepid TikTokkers have plenty of advice when it comes to flavors.

The user who started it all – @futurelettuce – adds sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Another TikTok user who uses the @rawmanda handle opts for the Chicken Seasoning, the all-in-one flavor enhancer.

And you can go further. User @futurelettuce has a video that shows how to make buffalo wings with “bones” out of pasta. That’s a real commitment to the vegan Chicken TikTok game.

When all else fails, there is always hot sauce.

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