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

different types of textured vegetable protein

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Textured vegetable protein (or textured soy 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. Defatted soy protein is compressed into granules or chunks, and usually dried and rehydrated before cooking.

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 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 is made from soy flour that has had the fat removed from it. The flour is cooked under pressure and then dried. Technically, the process is called called "extrusion cooking." It is a thermo-mechanical process, which combines high heat, high shear, and high pressure to form a product that can be molded into various forms for different uses. There are different variations to the process (using different temperatures) and this can affect the resulting product's texture, taste, and nutritional make-up.

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, some medical experts recommend it as a potentially healthier substitute for meat. In fact, research shows that consuming soybeans can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, soy consumption can help 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, and most textured vegetable protein is made from genetically modified soybeans. Some research shows 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 different processing methods used to create textured vegetable protein can affect the nutritional content.

Possible Side Effects

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

Eating textured vegetable protein regularly may not be the best choice for everyone as it can be high in sodium. Be sure to include natural sources of protein-rich foods, such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. Discuss your intake with your physician.

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.

For instance, 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. And for breakfast (or anytime), this tofu scrambler with vegetables is a great vegan recipe.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Thalheimer J. The Top 5 Soy Myths. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 16(4):52.