Meat-Free Fridays: What in the World is TVP?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

It looks a bit like cereal, but it smells saltier and tastes more savory than sweet. It's a cheap, versatile and incredibly easy to use protein source that is sometimes hard to distinguish from ground meat. It's TVP. Textured Vegetable Protein. (TVP is in the front of the photo of soy products accompanying this article.)

Let's demystify this vegetarian protein, which can be used in everything from chili and meatballs to tacos and shepherd's pie.

What is TVP?
TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is a byproduct of soybean oil production. After the oil is extracted from soybeans, soy flour remains. All the fat from the soybean remains in the oil, so only the defatted flour remains.

The soy flour is then heated under pressure and then pressed through a revolving knife, which cuts the TVP. Most of the water evaporates because of the heat and pressure, leaving behind dehydrated flakes, granules and other bits, depending on the production process. TVP is mostly commonly seen in flake or granule form, but it can also be made into cutlets or other, larger shapes.

Once rehydrated, the TVP has a spongy and fibrous texture.

TVP is considered by many to be quite "processed," compared with other vegetarian protein that comes from "whole food" sources like beans or lentils. TVP is convenient when you want to make a vegetarian version of a dish but keep that "meat" texture.

TVP is useful for people who are new to vegetarian cooking and want to adapt favorite recipes or for people who want to lighten up favorite meat recipes. It also can be used with ground beef, turkey, or lamb to stretch a dish. TVP is often used in prisons, schools, and other institutions in place of or alongside meat because of its affordability.

A 10-ounce bag of TVP costs less than $3 and yields double that amount. In bulk bins, it goes for $2 or so a pound, which is much cheaper than an equal amount of ground beef.

1/4 cup flakes (dry, yields 1/2 c cooked)
80 calories
0 g fat
7 g carbs
4 g fiber
12 g protein
2 mg sodium

How Do You Use It?
TVP is often a "transition" food for vegetarians because it looks and feels so much like mince/ground meat. Swap it for meat in tacos, chili, soups, stews, meatloaf, meatballs, sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, lasagna--pretty much any of your favorites. Season it as you would your meat, and you're good to go!
TVP can either be rehydrated before or during cooking. For tacos, for example, add twice as much water as TVP, add some seasonings and let it simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

When making soup or chili, add the TVP straight to the pot and let it rehydrate while the rest of the ingredients cook.

Find TVP recipes here.

Have you ever eaten TVP? Would you? How do you cook it?

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I used TVP for everything until I developed a GI issue with soy. Now soy in any form hurts my GI track when I eat it. Nothing else bothers me this way but soy causes a lot of pain. No thanks!

For folks just starting out--try mixing it with ground beef or chicken. Sure this takes a bit more time to prepare but it will mingle the flavors and get your taste buds used to the TVP--then you can go meatless. It is less expensive. TVP takes the flavor of anything you put with it. It is especially good in soup (try chili) or tacos. Report
I have never heard of this, let alone tried it. However, it sounds like it is well worth trying. Report
Since the product discussed is soy based I feel it is fair to warn any woman that is having trouble with her hormones think before adding so much soy at one time. From personal experience I have found that soy, even 4 ounces of soy yogurt with cause me to have hot flashes. There is another protein substitute that is re-gaining popularity it is what we called "wheat meat" made from the protein in wheat gluten which can be purchased to make your own recipes. I am allergic to gluten and found out the hard way. Just a fair warning. I would suggest that you log your food including any reactions daily before adding a concentrated substance to you diet. Another one is Casein milk protein added to low fat foods to give the mouth feel of fat. And sold to body builders. Just be an informed consumer. Report
The dry TVP you buy in bulk: well, I have tried it. It was passed along to me by a doctor's wife (they are friends of mine and vegan). Her mother bought it while she was spending the winter with them, and left it behind for them to use, but they don't use TVP, so I tried it. I added it to a pot of minestrone I was making. It wasn't bad, but I have yet to go out and buy it for myself. Kind of reminded me of kibble. On the other hand, I use Morningstar Farms, Boca, Quorn, etc., that I find either frozen or in better produce departments. I find they are most like their meat counterpart. I have also bought vegetarian "prawns" that sure look like huge shrimp, but taste sort of "blah." But I do use them in dishes such as jambalaya, more for the illusion than anything else. I also found that if I slice them and mix some vegetarian tuna analog (which does have quite a bit of the "fish" taste) with a little olive oil, garlic, and bread crumbs, place the mixture on the flat sides, and pop under the broiler for a bit, it created a vegetarian shrimp scampi. You can find these in some Asian grocery stores, along with mock duck (canned or frozen; take your pick). TVP has fat--there's no getting around it--but vegetable fat is a lot better for you than animal fat. There's no getting around that, either. Report
I add it to meals all the time. It's great in soups. I just drop it in & it absorbs the veggie broth. Report
I love tvp! I sprinkle some on my yogurt for the crunch and I add it to meatloaf, meatballs and soup because the family never realizes that it's there. It's a good filler in lots of food and a good source of protein. Report
TVP (under the brand name Nutrela) is often used by vegetarians in India - I've eaten it in many sauce-based Indian dishes, and in a variety of biryanis. It takes on the flavours of whatever it's cooked in.

I wouldn't say it tastes anything like meat, though. It may be that the flaked variety bears some resemblance to ground meat, haven't tried that!

It's different. Not necessarily good or bad - you'd have to decide that based on your own flavour preferences, and it definitely would depend on what kind of dish you had it in.

I've never eaten it, and I don't think I want to. Report
I don't think I 've eaten it. I would rather stick to cheese enchiladas for a meatless Friday. Even if they are high in fat!! Report
Yes, I have eaten it. I don't really like it. It has a funny texture that reminds me of some the cafeteria food in my school days.

I prefer beans and tofu for my main protein sources. I do use some prepackaged meat replacement products that include TVP but that's about it. Report
I suppose by eating Morning Star Farms Chic Patties, and such, I've eaten it. I've never seen it offered in exactly that form.
I did buy Morning Star Farms "Crumbles" or something like that - but haven't tried them yet. It's a bit too processed for my current food plan, and the sodium concerns me. I'm trying to eat a bit cleaner, so I'm not sure I can fit this into my plan.
But, thank you for a very informative article!!!
Thanks for the link to the recipes.
I'm a vegetarian (not new to it), I use them (only the unflavored ones) from time to time when I want to boost my protein intake.
Being in Europe, mine are GMO-free. Report
Never heard of this, but now am very curious so ill certainly be trying it if i can find it. Report
Interesting. Report
I learn something new today. Thank you :) I think I will try it Report
sounds interesting !! Report
I have never tried TVP - in fact, never heard of it. Would I try it? Absolutely! I am not a vegetarian, although I do enjoy eating vegetarian meals from time to time. I get tired of meat... I would have no idea where to buy this. I do not remember seeing it in the grocery store, although I will look tomorrow. Report
Thanks for this section Stepfanie:) Wish spark would add nutrition data to the base, on all that you blog about here. Have you tried NY China town's meatless restaurants - such yummy tasting, protein rich foods prepared from wheat, sweet potatoes and some other tubors besides TVP, Soy meats and tempeh!!

I love TVP in all forms - sliced like chicken, chunks like lamb, ground like meat. Yum! Having been a vegetarian all my life until 2004 ( alhthough, did eat non-veg a few years from '75 thru 83), love all kinds of alternate protein rich foods except for the sodium :( Report
I've never heard of this, but I'm going to try it in a chili. Thanks Report
Thanks for the post. I have often wondered what exactly TVP is.

I have used the MorningStar Farm Crumbles to substitute ground beef in some of our family recipes. It was an good ground meat replacement in all the boxed convenience foods and things like chili, spaghetti, shepherdís pie, and dirty rice. Our favorite use was probably in tacos, taco salads, burritos and nachos. You just sautť it with the seasonings for a bit and itís much quicker than having to cook ground meat. It doesnít have much flavor of itís own but takes on the attributes of the spices and sauces itís cooked with. It can cut down on cooking time quite a bit. We always liked it. Iíve never tried using the dried TVP, though I see it has way less salt. Ofc as far as the convenience foods again, thereís far less salt in the crumbles than there is in most of the veggie patties and so forth when you get down to it.

I canít use most convenience vegetarian products anymore for family cooking because Iím cooking for my Grandmother who canít have the salt or phosphorous. Even if she would tolerate a more vegetarian diet at her stage of life sheís on phosphorous restriction now so sheís heavily restricted on soy products, or beans, nuts, dairy, and whole grains among other things. So weíre pretty much locked into reliance on meat for much of her protein.

However, I may try to use some of the dry product for myself some time. I donít often cook dishes for myself alone because I donít want the extra bother or risk of waist, or over-eating to avoid waist.

Again Iím glad of the article though, it got me thinking about this again and I may be able to figure out how to fit it in somewhere. Report
I add some to my oatmeal in the morning to help boost my morning protein intake. I use 1/3 c oatmeal and 2 tbsp of TVP - cook w/ the amount of water needed for the oatmeal. I hardly notice a difference. Report
I wonder can you make this TVP on you own? If so how? Is it just better to go ahead and buy it? Report
I love TVP! I buy it in bulk at the health food store and use it mostly in tacos. Report
Thank you for pointing out the over-processed part of this. I am trying to eliminate as much processed food from my diet as possible. I am also concerned about the carbon-footprint of my food. I did however use TVP when I first went vegetarian, it made all the balancing the diet that much easier for me. Report
Where would you find this item? Health food store? Report
I've tried TVP, but most varieties are too highly processed and too high in sodium for me -- and the ones that aren't tend to taste like styrofoam. I prefer tempeh for a meat substitute. In cubes or chunks, it's very much like pork loin, and when it's crumbled, it makes a very hearty burger or chili.

I have but much perfer such foods as eggplant, mushrooms and the like to act a meat substitute. Report
I love TVP in my chili, but then again, I've been a vegetarian for a while now. It took me a while to really appreciate it for the inherent protein value, but now I'm frustrated when I want to make chili and I've forgotten to replenish my supply. Report
I don't think I'll be trying this. I gave tofu a try and wish I hadn't. I'm definitely a meat girl! Report
Sounds gross! Report
I am warry of using TVP as an alternative to meat....but it may be helpful as to 'Stretch' out a recipe adding both protein and fiber while only adding 3g of net carbs. The fact its CHEAP is the real leading thing its got going as a positive towards my priorities concerning the above nutritional value. The negative is that Soy (and Canola) are huge agricultural businesses yeilding big payoffs in genetic manipulated /manufactured organisms. TVP is a recycling of WASTE by-product from other processes of soy production and just about as "processed" as one can get...even if it is reclycling. I cant help but wonder on the little known, yet undiscovered, or ill conceived (short or long term) side effects. The fact it still has fiber and protein (as well as other nutrients) is a testement to SOY in general.
I am willing to try it as a protein booster in at least spaghettie sauce. Report
When I first became a vegetarian WAY BACK WHEN (1973) I tried TVP. I never cared for it because it tasted like meat and that was not appealing to me. If you are contemplating becoming a vegetarian and you think you just cannot live without the taste of meat it may be an option for you. Report
TVP doesn't taste like meat to me, more like bread, but it does have a chewy texture. I have used it in chili and soups. With a strongly flavored sauce, like bbq, it's ok. I think the best feature of TVP is that it is an inexpensive no-fat source of protein. Report
Sounds like Soilent Green but I'd like to try it after reading the E2 diet book. Maybe Real Men eat TVP? Report
Thanks for the info, I had never heard of it , but want to try it soon. Report
I have tried TVP and tofu and will never ever purchase them again. I couldn't stand the taste of either. Both of them made me feel like I was eating rotten meat. It was so disgusting. I went into being positive but I only took a couple bites then put the rest in the trash. Report
I first used it about 15 years ago. It is hard to find at most grocery stores. I've heard that this is also a meat extender that McDonald's uses in their patties. Report
you can ask your local grocery store to carry it, I've done that before with tofu and they got it in for me. I've actually seen TVP in Giant Eagle (I think they are getting better at offering meat free products) but I don't use it much anymore, it is really processed and I found that only tomato products would mask the "cereal" type flavor. Report
TVP is indeed a great transition food or food for those who are trying to be vegetarians but still crave meat or need to bump up their protein. I personally try to cook and eat whole, close to the source foods and I firmly believe that if you're craving "the real thing" it's better to eat the whole version (meat) than highly processed one (TVP).

I was delighted to see you add the line about how TVP is considered to be extremely processed, not whole and close to the source. And I would go one step further and say that unless you're buying organic, you're probably eating a GMO, as soy is one of the huge commodity crops that the agribusiness giants are tinkering with in their labs. And as it's a byproduct - well, you're basically paying them for their waste.... Vote with your fork! Report
I have seen it but wasn't sure what it was. Thanks for spotlighting it, I will have to give it a try. Report
Yep, it works well in chili. I usually get in a health food store sold by the pound in the bulk bins. Just a scoop or two and you only need a .25 cup per serving. Report
How timely. I just bought some last night! Report
I've heard of this, in fact seen it in the health food store but just wasn't sure how to use it....I'm going to try is as most of the recipes I use that call for ground beef are very spiced and I'm thinking you wouldn't have a clue what kind of "meat" was in it...can't wait to go get some.
Gosh, I really need to get out more! ...never heard of this before....but may check into it Report
Great stuff. I've made chili with it and no one knew there wasn't meat in it. Report
I've never used it, but I'm sure I've eaten it without being aware of it. I might like it in certain dishes. Maybe I'll give it a try to boost protein. Report
I would try it if I knew where to find it. I would use it in soups, chili and hampburger helper. We really like the boca burgers. Report
I love meat free Fridays and think it should carry on after lent.... but, I'm a biased vegetarian... :-) My mom used to make TVP quite a bit when I first became a vegetarian... I've always wanted to try a dish or two again, but never knew how to make it or what the outcome would be... and I would hate it if my meat-eatting husband didn't enjoy it... he doesn't mind the morningstar/quorn products, but he wasn't a big fan of tempeh, so I'm afraid if I venture too far away from the processed/packaged "meats" I may lose his interest... I may be able to hide it in some chili and he may never know... and, if I can find it in bulk, then I don't have to worry about buying more than we need... even if it's just for one meal... and the price is a big seller for me... right now, any way to cut costs is a good thing in my book. Report
I use tvp frequently in place of bread crumbs for stuffings and filler. But I don't think it looks or tastes anything like meat. In fact it looks and tastes pretty much like bread crumbs. I use it for the same reasons I use any soy products and that is because it is higher in protein and fiber than whatever I am substituting it for. Report
I learned something new today. Report
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