History Dish Mondays: Protose

So the big week is finally here: I’ve decided to spend the next five days immersing myself in the diet of the Battle Creek Sanitarium and John Harvey Kellogg. I’m not sure what to tell you to expect–either the delightful world of vegetarian cuisine, or another week of torture comparable to the Tenement Diet.

Protose is one of J. H. Kellog’s invented meat substitutes. I currently have it on my menu for the Dinner on the Road to Wellville party in March. I’m skeptical that it’s not horrible, so I want to give it a try in advance, so that i have time to come up with a suitable replacement, if necessary.

Protose was manufactured by the Kellogg/Worthington company until about 2000; since it was discontinued, there seems to be an online group of hard-core vegans trying to recreated it’s special taste and texture. While searching for a suitable recipe, I came across this fascinating recollection of one man’s experience with the cuisine of J.H, Kellogg:
“Protose. What does that conjure up for me?
You’d never guess.
The three most trusted people that Dr. J.H. Kellogg had working for him were three unmarried sisters: Gertrude, his chief administrator and executor of his will; Angie his chief dietitians; and Mable his chief nurse and the one person who accompanied Kellogg to Ontario to attend the Dion quintuplets.
By the mid-1950’s, the doctor long dead, the three unmarried sisters now running the Sanitarium in Miami Springs would spend the summers back up in Battle Creek at their farm in the country.
My grandfather was the brother to these three sisters and, dying young, my own father was raised by the sisters and Dr. Kellogg.
During the summers we would visit them three or four times for a weekend and invariably one of the meals was the most delicious “roast” made out of Protose. Once you’ve had it, especially the way they prepared it, you were hooked.”
I can’t confirm whether the story is true, but fascinating none the less.
After further research, I came up with this recipe:
Original Recipe from a post on Vegan Food
With variations suggested by Chowhound.com and Ellen’s Kitchen
1/2 cup creamy, natural peanut butter
1 cup wheat gluten (seitan)
1 c vegetable stock
2 T cornstarch
1/2 a medium onion, chopped
1 tsp Italian herb blend
Pinch of salt
Steam in top of a double boiler for three hours, stirring occasionally. Let cool in the pan, turn out on platter and slice.
Seitan, if you were wondering, is a vegan food product invented by Buddhist monks in China. You take wheat dough and wash it under water until nothing remains but the gluten. It’s very high in protein, but it also looks like this:

I tasted a tiny bit of it out of the bag. It had a bizarre taste I wasn’t expecting: like burnt maple syrup. Very unappealing.
I buzzed the seitan in a food processor and mixed it up with all the other ingredients. I found out I didn’t have corn starch, so I ended using flour instead. I used McCormick’s Italian Herb Grinder for the seasoning. I took a tiny taste of the mixed ingredients and it tasted like…peanut butter with Italian seasoning.

I set it on a double boiler, and it looked done after about two hours. I flipped it out of the mold and it looked pretty unappealing. I’m preparing it in a dish for dinner today, so we’ll see how that goes. But I have a feeling I’m going to end up taking this one off the menu.

26 thoughts on “History Dish Mondays: Protose

  1. I arrived here curious about protose, having seen it on this old vegetarian restaurant menu. Glad to hear you eventually got a good result! I think I’ll put this on my list to try. Just wanted to note that when you make seitan, what you are doing is washing out the starch and leaving the gluten, not leaving only the starch. The long strands of gluten are what give seitan its texture.

    • You are absolutely correct! I’m going to change that in the post. I think I didn’t type what I meant to type–and no one has pointed it out before.

  2. I’m so glad you put this on the net to see. I recently acquired a cookbook from 1914 “The New Cookery” which states “a book of recipes – most of which are in use at the Battle Creek Sanitarium.” There are many things in the book that I am having to look up such as “minim”, “hydrocloric acid”, “vegetable oysters”, “dasheen”. I don’t know much about the sanitarium yet. Thanks for the education.

    • I’ve had vegetable oysters! You can still find them–search online for the product website, and then there is a search that lets you know if they are for sale online. They’re canned vegetable protein–one of the earliest marketed meat substitutes. They are also gross.

    • Vegetable Oysters are Salsify roots which are supposed to taste like oysters. They are not an artificial meat product.

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  4. Seitan is also called gluten in the US. After washing it is usually dropped into a boiling broth for an hour. The broth is made from a variety of things but I have found that 1 to 1 1/2 cups soy sauce and a large onion or two per gallon of water makes a good broth.

    Once the gluten is made cut into pieces and drop into rapidly boiling broth. They will sink and rise later about double in size. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes and turn down and continue cooking for about 1 hour total.

    I flatten out before boiling and then bread and fry them after they are finished boiling. It can also be used many other ways.

    It can be made without the washing by using Vital Gluten. Take equal parts of vital gluten and water. Add Vital Gluten to water a little at a time stirring as you do. (you may have a rubber like substance if you are careless) Let set and cut into steaks and drop into broth as above. If you want a firmer steak add more vital gluten. Less vital gluten will give you a softer steak. (You can add up to 50% other ingredients into the gluten before boiling. It will also puff if put in the oven before boiing.)

    I have a copy of the book “Science in the Kitchen” by E. E. Kellogg copyright 1892 fourth edition published in 1904 published in Battle Creek.


    I have been looking for an early recipe on protose. Thanks.

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  7. My Grandmother was given a Protos recipe in 1917 by a vegetarian friend in southern Virginia. It was one cups each of cooked rice, cooked navy beans, minced onion, peanut butter, cold water and 2 t. poultry seasoning, and five heaping T. of corn starch. It was put in uncovered cans (inch space left in cans) in a covered kettle of boiling water halfway up the cans. It was to be steamed for 5 hours!

  8. Its a great day! A few months ago I was searching the web for my wife’s favorite meal. Its called “Grand Pa’s Steak”. Her great grand fathers name was William Oliver Snyder, and I happened upon this site

    William was the head chef at the sanitarium for 37 years and obviously used to cook some incredible meals for the family. Everyone thought the recipes were lost forever with his passing.

    Today, My wife and I were helping clean her grandmothers house (Williams daughter) and found a tin box full of recipes. The Sanitariums recipes. We aren’t sure what we will be doing with them, other than cooking for now. Just smile knowing they are still around. :)

    • Jeff. I would love to know if you have found the recipe for propose. I periodically search on line for it. I too have very fond memories of protose. My mother was a vegetarian and so our family ate at the New York Dairy restaurants – Ratners, Farmfood etc. We also protose it at home. My mother would serve it with a mushroom gravy. A favorite meal. My boys are 3rd generation vegetarians and they loved it growing up when I prepared it for them. Back in those days it was one of very few options of vegetarians in search of prepared, protein-rich foods. It was a fabulous combination of flavors. Please let me know if you have found the recipe. That would be such a treat. Thanks. Adina

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  11. I remember fondly the protose steak at the late and lamented Farmfood Restaurant in mid-town Manhattan near Times Square. I used to go there with my parents on special occasions, e.g. seeing the movie Exodus first run from where we lived in Jersey City. I last time I dined in Farmfood was in 1983 when I took my nephew to New York City for a week following his Bar Mitzvah. I wanted to take Uri to a restaurant that his grandparents went to. I had protose steak, still delicious and onion-y, my nephew had despite
    my suggestions and urgings spaghetti. Farmfood closed its doors a few weeks later. No more Ratner’s, no more Famous, no more protose steak. I miss them all.

    • As a second-generation vegetarian, I grew up eating Protose both at home and at Farmfood and Ratner’s. For the home version, my dad would stir-fry onions, garlic, Protose, ketchup, cheese, and whatever leftovers were in the fridge. We called them “specials” and while the recipe changed every time, it was consistently excellent.

      Dad used to brag that “nobody in America is eating what we’re eating tonight” and that made me feel pretty special.

  12. A few people mentioned old recipes of protose that they had found, but only one person offered to share it. Won’t somebody else who has access to the original recipes share them? Please?

  13. I too remember fondly the Dairy restaurants in Manhattan from the 1950s through the 1980s. Ratners (lower east side), Farm Foods (midtown), Grand Street, Famous (upper west side, W 72nd street), and all the others. Protose Steak was my all time favorite. They served it with mushrooms. I substituted my favorite, carmelized onion. I also substituted “kashe varnishkes” a bow tie and buckwheat, onion, side dish. If I remember correctly, it came out of a can, and was sliced into burger shapes and then deep fried. My nostalgia for Protose steak has never since been requited. It should experience a revival.

  14. That leaves out those of us with celiac disease and allergy to onions and garlic. My bowels are immaculate enough without the craziness of Dr. Kellogg’s sanatorium and how he would interfere with my amateur bodybuilding lifestyle.

  15. So sorry I came late to your protose party. Working on a guidebook to lost Yiddish New York and tracking down “protose” have powerful memories of the popularity of protose steak in kosher dairy resturants like Ratner’s, Hammer’s, Schildkraut’s and a lot of the tiny lefty eateries. Dr. Kellogg would have been MORTIFIED what those people were doing to his Seventh Day Adventist invention! Thanks for your passion!

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