Textured Vegetable Protein: What It Is and How It's Used

different types of textured vegetable protein

 ArtCookStudio / Getty Images

Textured vegetable protein is a meat substitute product that's made from soybeans, although it's also possible to create a similar meat substitute product from other foods. It's a highly processed food product that's manufactured by separating (isolating) the soy protein from other components found in whole soybeans.

If you follow a vegetarian diet or tend to choose meat substitutes instead of meat, you've probably eaten textured vegetable protein, since it's a common ingredient found in veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, and other vegetarian meat substitutes. By itself, textured vegetable protein has a bland flavor, so it's easy to add spices and other flavorings to make it taste like the meat product it's imitating.

It's also not unusual to find textured vegetable protein in foods that also contain meat, such as frozen or canned pasta dishes. That's because its texture is similar to that of meat, so it can serve as a meat extender, making it seem as if the dish contains more expensive meat than it actually does.

Textured vegetable protein also is known by its initials, TVP, or by several other names, including textured soy protein (TSP), soy meat, or soya chunks. You might find it on food labels under any of those names. Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a registered trademark of the Archer Daniels Midland Company, which makes it exclusively from soybeans.

In the U.S., food products that contain soy-based textured vegetable protein must state that they contain soy since soy is one of the eight major allergens.

Manufacturing and Production

Textured vegetable protein first was created as a byproduct of soybean oil, which is commonly used for cooking and in many processed foods. To make soybean oil, manufacturers separate the oil from heated soybeans using a high-pressure press, chemicals such as hexane, or a combination of both. Once all the oil is separated out and diverted, what's left is soy flour or paste that contains a very high percentage of protein.

To make textured vegetable protein, the manufacturer then takes this soy flour or paste and forms it into various shapes—flakes, nuggets, chunks, and strips—by forcing it through a machine nozzle while it's still hot. Once it cools, the textured vegetable protein keeps its shape but becomes extremely tough and fibrous. To use it in foods, manufacturers and home cooks must first add liquid to rehydrate it.

Health Benefits

Most health experts agree that eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods can have a positive effect on your health. Therefore, you'd think that eating textured vegetable protein in place of meat would be a healthy choice. However, there's some controversy over this idea, and the research backing up various viewpoints is mixed.

Soy protein offers all the amino acids humans need. Because it is a complete source of protein, medical experts recommend it as a potentially healthier substitute for meat. In fact, medical evidence shows that consuming soybeans could help to lower cholesterol, improve symptoms of menopause, and improve bone density and lower the risk of fractures in women who are past menopause.

But textured vegetable protein is a very highly processed form of soy protein. Experts warn that textured vegetable protein—like soy protein powder—may not convey the same sorts of health benefits as unprocessed soybeans. For example, soybeans are a great source of healthy omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats, but textured vegetable protein, despite being made from soybeans, contains practically no fat, so you miss out on those benefits. In addition, the extreme processing that goes into textured vegetable protein eliminates the soybeans' natural vitamin C, folate, and some other nutrients.

Possible Side Effects

If you're allergic to soy, you should avoid textured vegetable protein, since it's almost always made from soy. If you eat a veggie burger or another dish containing TVP, you risk a serious allergic reaction.

Eating lots of soy-based foods can mean you consume high levels of isoflavones, which are compounds that mimic the female hormone estrogen in your body. Textured vegetable protein isn't as high in isoflavones as some other soy-based foods, such as soy milk, tofu, and edamame, but it's still pretty high.

There's considerable controversy over whether isoflavones are good or bad for you, but medical experts agree that the amount of soy protein currently consumed by most Americans is safe. If you tend to eat lots of textured vegetable protein and other soy-based products, perhaps as part of a long-term vegetarian or vegan diet, you may want to talk to your doctor about any potential risks.

Cooking and Recipes

You can use textured vegetable protein anywhere you'd use ground beef or turkey in a recipe, but you'll need to rehydrate it first. To do so, combine textured vegetable protein with hot water (1 cup of TVP to around 7/8 cup of hot water) and let it sit until the dry textured vegetable protein has soaked up all the water. Then, you can season and cook your faux "meat."

Textured vegetable protein takes on the taste of whatever you're cooking with it. Therefore, if you want to use it to make burgers, season the TVP mixture with whatever you'd use to season burgers (salt, pepper, and onion is a good, basic combination), form it into patties, and sautee in oil. Once you add ketchup, pickles, and a toasted bun, it will closely resemble a beef hamburger.

Alternatives

Although textured soy protein is fine to eat, not everyone who's following a vegetarian diet (or who just eats lots of vegetables) likes the idea of replacing meat dishes with highly-processed soy protein dishes. Fortunately, you have plenty of alternatives.

There's no reason why your meat substitute dishes need to look and feel like meat. Instead, try these delicious veggie fritters with spicy mayo, made with grated vegetables and rice.

Crispy baked edamame makes a great snack, and lets you eat the whole soybean, not just a soy protein isolate. And for breakfast (or anytime), this tofu scrambler with vegetables is a great vegan recipe.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Katayama M et al. Utilization of soybeans and their components through the development of textured soy proteinfoods. Journal of Food Science. 2008 Apr;73(3):S158-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00663.x..

  • Kumar P et al. Meat analogues: Health promising sustainable meat substitutes. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017 Mar 24;57(5):923-932. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.939739.

  • Thalheimer, Judith. The Top 5 Soy Myths. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 16 No. 4, p. 52.