What Is Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)?

Updated on December 29, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Textured vegetable protein
Textured vegetable protein | Source

A Concentrated and Versatile Source of Protein

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is a concentrated protein product that is generally made from soybeans. It's a versatile substance that can be used as a meat substitute when seasoning, spices, or herbs are added. It's especially valuable for people who don't eat meat, since plant-based foods generally contain less protein than foods from animals. The product can also be used as a meat extender for people who do eat meat.

TVP is sometimes known as textured soy protein or TSP. It's high in protein and fiber and very low in fat. It's sold as dried chunks, slices, flakes, granules, or powder and needs to be hydrated before being used. The product has a very mild taste on its own but readily absorbs flavor from the liquid in which it's soaked or cooked. It works well in many foods that traditionally contain ground beef or meat chunks, such as lasagna, chili, veggie burgers, tacos, and meat pies.

Textured vegetable protein is usually made from soybeans.
Textured vegetable protein is usually made from soybeans. | Source

TVP can be very useful for vegans and vegetarians. Vegans eat no food that comes from animals. Vegetarians eat dairy foods and eggs but no meat or fish.

How Is TVP Made?

TVP is generally made from soy flour. This is produced from soybeans that have been dehulled, ground into a meal, and had their oil extracted. The steps vary slightly based on the manufacturer, but in general the process is as follows. The final product often has a porous or fibrous texture that is somewhat similar to the texture of meat.

  • Soy flour is prepared and then mixed with water.
  • The mixture is heated at high temperature and pressure inside a machine called an extruder.
  • The opening of the extruder is a plate with holes, which come in various shapes and sizes. The heated soy mixture is pushed through the holes and cut into small pieces by blades.
  • The pieces puff up as they leave the extruder and enter an environment that has a lower pressure than the pressure inside the extruder.
  • The TVP pieces are then dried or baked.

Using TVP

Buying and Rehydrating TVP

TVP is sold in natural food markets or health food stores, where it's readily available in packaged or bulk form. It's sometimes produced from wheat instead of soy, but the soy form is more common. The product ranges from beige to golden brown in color.

It's easy to rehydrate textured vegetable protein. One cup of hot liquid is added to one cup of TVP granules or chunks. The solid pieces need about ten minutes to absorb the liquid. The mixture of granules and water can also be microwaved for about five minutes to rehydrate the protein.

Large pieces of TVP may require two cups of hot liquid per cup of TVP and may need to be simmered for twenty to thirty minutes in order to rehydrate. More TVP or water can be added to get the right consistency during hydration. Excess water should be drained before the product is used.

According to the package label, 1/4 cup of the TVP shown at the start of this article contains 12 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugars and 0 grams of fat. It also contains 8% of our daily calcium requirement and 15% of our iron requirement.

Vegetarian Taco Filling Recipe

Uses of Textured Vegetable Protein

Since unflavored soy protein absorbs flavors from the soaking or cooking water, a broth, stock, or soup makes a good hydrating liquid. Water containing seasonings, spices, or a sauce also works well.

The hydrated soy product can be used instead of meat in foods such as tacos, chili, stew, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, pizza toppings, and vegetarian burgers, "meat" balls, pies, and loaves. It can also be added to scrambled tofu, which some vegans use as a substitute for scrambled eggs.

Prepared meat analogues made from soy and/or wheat proteins are sold in grocery stores. For example, I can buy vegan bacon, ham, bologna, meat balls, burgers, sausages, ground beef, and chicken strips in my local supermarket. They're made from a combination of soy and wheat protein and are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Prepared products may contain more salt than needed, however, as well as added colors and flavors.

Products that contain wheat as well as soy aren't suitable for people with celiac disease because wheat protein contains gluten. In celiac disease, ingestion of gluten leads to the destruction of the villi on the lining of the small intestine. The function of the villi is to absorb the products of food digestion. Soybeans contain no gluten.

A Soy Protein Burger Recipe

Soy Protein Benefits

Textured vegetable protein is easy and convenient to use. With the right flavorings, it's tasty and enjoyable to eat. It also provides the bulk and texture to foods that ground meat often provides. Vegans and vegetarians can eat meat-like products while knowing that no animals suffered to provide their meal.

Protein made from soy is much cheaper than meat. The dried product will stay fresh for a long time and is easier to transport if a person goes on a trip. Soy contains no cholesterol, is low in sodium, and is a good source of calcium and iron.

Like protein from animals, soy protein contains all the "essential" amino acids—that is, the ones that our bodies can't make. (It's comparatively low in methionine, however.) This complete protein is useful but not essential, since all the essential amino acids can be obtained by eating a combination of different plants foods that contain different amino acids.

Vegetarian Tostada Recipe

Controversies

Some people argue that although textured vegetable protein is made from soybeans, it's not a natural product. A number of chemicals may be involved in creating the protein-rich soy flour. In addition, the high pressure and heat inside the extruder changes the soy flour and water mixture into a thermoplastic substance (one which is moldable at a high temperature and returns to a fixed form at a lower temperature), which is a highly unnatural form for a food.

An additional problem is that nutritionists repeatedly tell us to emphasize whole, unprocessed foods in our diet for the best health benefits. Textured vegetable protein is not a whole food and is highly processed.

Food regulation agencies say that textured soy protein is safe, however, unless a person has a soy allergy (or a gluten intolerance if the textured protein is made from wheat). It's certainly a very useful food for vegans and vegetarians who want to use a meat substitute in their diet.

Textured vegetable protein sausage with egg, French fries and marmite
Textured vegetable protein sausage with egg, French fries and marmite | Source

Excessive Soy Intake

There is another potential problem with adding TVP to the diet. The versatility of the product may cause vegans to become too reliant on soy, especially if they are already eating soy in other forms. Soy is present in textured vegetable protein, meat analogues, tofu, tempeh, spreads for bread and crackers, and dairy replacements such as soy milk, creamer, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

Soy may become a vegan's meat, dairy, and egg substitute. They may include it in every meal and may even ingest it in multiple items during a single meal. It's not good to overload on any food, since it may contain potentially harmful substances as well as helpful nutrients. In addition, the food may crowd out a wider variety of beneficial foods in the diet.

Soybeans removed from their pods
Soybeans removed from their pods | Source

Isoflavones and Phytoestrogens

Soybeans and soy products are known for their isoflavone content. The isoflavones act as phytoestrogens inside our body. A phytoestrogen is a plant chemical that acts as a weak form of estrogen (a human hormone) in our body. Soy isoflavones may have a number of health benefits. Because they act as a hormone, however, there is some concern that they may have harmful effects in certain people, such as women who have recovered from some types of breast cancer.

Health experts seem to agree that eating soy products in moderation is fine for most people. It's probably not a good idea to overdo soy intake, however. People who have or had cancer or who have a high risk of developing the disease should check with their doctor before they eat soybeans or soy products.

The level of isoflavones in textured vegetable protein varies based on the steps used in its production. Although the isoflavone content of a purchased product may not be known, it's best to count the product as part of the daily soy intake.

Vegan Ground Sausage Recipe

How to Reduce Soy Intake

There are several ways for vegans and vegetarians to reduce their soy intake if they choose to do this. There are other types of non-dairy milks beside soy milk, for example. These milks are usually fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and Vitamin D, just like soy milk. These are three very important nutrients for vegans. Some non-dairy milks are rice, almond, hemp, oat, and coconut milk.

Nutritional yeast can provide a cheesy taste to replace soy cheese. Rice-based ice cream is available. Some vegan burgers sold in stores are made of oats instead of soy. Portobello mushrooms can be substituted for steak.

Soy protein can be used to make very useful dairy and meat substitutes in a vegan or vegetarian's diet. There are so many tasty vegan foods available today, however, that it's not necessary to over-emphasize one type of food in the diet.

References

Textured soy protein fact sheet from USAID (United States Agency for International Development)

Nutrients in soy protein isolate from SELFNutritionData (The nutrient level in a particular brand of TVP may not be identical due to the way in which it's prepared.)

Soy Uses and Side Effects from WebMD

Patisaul HB, Jefferson W. The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology. 2010;31(4):400-419. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.03.003.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, DredCuan. Thanks for commenting. TVP can certainly be a useful substance. I hope the restaurants that use TVP as a meat extender let their customers know about it, though.

      • dredcuan profile image

        Dred Cuan 

        5 weeks ago from California

        In Food industry, some restaurants have been using TVP as their meat extender as it totally blends with any kind of meat. TVP also comes in blocks so some vegetarian restaurants offer variety of meal choices.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Mary. TVP is a processed food, but it's very useful. It's a good source of protein, as its name suggests.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        I have not heard of this before but now because of health issues in the family, I need to explore some of the clean food alternatives.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Bethany. Thanks for the comment. Soy can be very useful, but it can sometimes be a problem instead.

      • BethanyHalbert profile image

        Bethany Halbert 

        3 months ago from West Virginia, USA

        This is a great hub to use as a resource! I've been trying to find meat-alternatives recently but so many of them are soy-based, and like you mentioned too much soy can also be a problem. It also does seem very processed... but now if I see this product in something I'm eating I'll actually understand what it is!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, Linda. The product that you describe sounds interesting. I wish I had tried it.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        4 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Linda, in the 1970's the Lipton soup company sold a product called "Make a Better Burger". It was TVP and seasonings to be used to extend ground beef for hamburgers or meatloaf. (Meat prices were very high.) It came in various flavor profiles such as teriyaki, chili, Italian, etc. I've often wished that it was still available.

        Both of my daughters are now vegetarian, and I've been mildly curious about using TVP but was reluctant because I didn't really know how to use it alone. Thanks to this article I think I now have the confidence to give it a try. Thanks so much for such an informative, well-written hub.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        You're welcome Alicia. Thanks! I'm still getting used to it, once I can hydrate them well. I need the right TVP for that, I think.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks, Kristen. TVP can certainly be useful. Good luck with the meatballs!

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Great hub, Linda. I've recently tried TVP last month and added to my pasta. I haven't mastered on how to make meatballs lately.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Thundermama. It's easy to eat too much of a food when we like it, or when it's useful! I have to be careful about this myself. Thank you for the comment.

      • Thundermama profile image

        Catherine Taylor 

        5 years ago from Canada

        Hmmm...I had never considered the processed issue of TVP or consuming too much soy. Obviously i need to rethink some elements of my diet. Great hub!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, unknown spy! I appreciate your visit and comment.

      • unknown spy profile image

        IAmForbidden 

        5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

        such a great article and very interesting info that i do not know about! Wow, amazing.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        That's a great idea, drbj.

        Natural's best, as I always say.

        (Thanks for the comment!)

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 

        5 years ago from south Florida

        Thanks for the interesting TVP info, Alicia, but I won't be coy,

        If I want to add it to my diet, I will eat the natural soy. Just sayin'.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit and the comment, Sunnie Day. I try to follow a natural diet, too, but there are exceptions! I do eat not-so-natural things as well, but I try to limit them.

      • profile image

        Sunnie Day 

        5 years ago

        This is a great article. I do lean more towards a plant based diet to obtain protein and it does bother me how it is made..not so natural. I know many things are made in unnatural conditions and probably very hard to stay away from..I really try to adhere to a natural diet. Thank you for sharing this information..Always nice to learn more.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the kind comment, teaches. I appreciate your visit!

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        5 years ago

        Love the hemp and soy protein suggestions. Your hubs are always such a good read and full of healthy news. Thanks for sharing!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the comment and the votes, DzyMsLizzy. I eat some processed soy occasionally, but not often. It can be very tasty, but I don't like the fact that it's made under such unnatural conditions. I like rice dream, though - especially the chocolate version!

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        5 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Very interesting. I'm bookmarking this to come back and watch the videos when my eyes are not half shut.

        I use the pre-made things, such as the Boca Crumbles, or Boca patties..sometimes the "sausage," but I don't O.D. on soy. For a pseudo milk, I prefer Rice Dream on my cereal...unless I'm having the childhood comfort food of graham crackers in milk..then I use the real deal.... (I'm not a vegan).

        Voted up, interesting and useful. I did not know how they made that stuff before.. ;-)

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