A Guide to Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Textured vegetable or textured soy protein (TVP or TSP) is a defatted soy flour product, a byproduct of extracting soybean oil. Most commonly found as an ingredient in meat analogues, TVP is also sold as a dry crumble that is easily re-hydrated. Because of its low cost/high nutrition, TVP is a favorite of food service, retail and institutional (think school lunch programs and prisons) facilities. It is lightweight and has a long shelf life, making it perfect for backpacking and disaster preparedness. Like tofu, it has tremendous versatility and can be flavored in limitless ways. And with 12 grams of protein per serving, TVP is considered a high-protein food.

TVP can be made from soy flour or concentrate, containing 50% and 70% soy protein, respectively; they have a mild bean-y flavor. Both require rehydration before use, sometimes with flavoring added in the same step. TVP is extruded, causing a change in the structure of the soy protein which results in a fibrous, spongy matrix, similar in texture to animal meat.

Shopping Guide

Finding TVP in stores

TVP can be found in the dry goods section of your local grocer. While sometimes packaged, TVP can also be found in the bulk section. It comes as a dry crumble or as nuggets and is easily re-hydrated to produce a chewy and hearty protein addition to almost any meal. Like tofu, it has a tremendous versatility of flavor. In its dehydrated form, TVP has a shelf life of more than a year, but it will spoil within several days after being hydrated.

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What’s the difference between Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) and Textured Soy Protein (TSP)?

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) and Textured Soy Protein (TSP) are similar products that can be used interchangeably. The difference is that TVP is the registered trademark of Archer Daniels Midland Company.

vegan tvp

Soy & Our Health

I can hear some of you now, “Eating a bunch of processed food isn’t good for you! It’s not natural! Animal meat is healthier than that!” But the thing is, veganism doesn’t promise us good health and it doesn’t have to. Veganism is about the animals, first and always. While it’s true that a well-planned vegan diet can be incredibly healthy, so can a well-planned diet that consists of small amounts of animal products.

Here’s the bottom line: soy, like any other foods, should be consumed in moderation and ideally be as unprocessed as possible. Our goal is to show you how easy it is to replace animal products with their vegan equivalent because every vegan meal saves lives.

Just remember, soy is not the only plant-based protein option. Legumes, seitan, seeds (like hemp), and nuts are excellent protein sources that can be included in any well-balanced diet. A safe recommendation is 2-3 servings of soy per day. A serving counts as 1 cup of soy milk or a 1/2 cup of tofu, tempeh, TVP, or soybeans. Let’s review the most common issues surrounding consuming soy.

Soy Isoflavones

Let’s talk about soy isoflavones. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. There are some who claim that these soy isoflavones act as the female sex hormone, estrogen, and potentially increase the risk of cancer (especially breast cancer), as well as reduce testosterone levels in men. But science, based on well-planned research studies, has yet to uphold any of these claims.

Soy is not only safe to eat, it is beneficial! Soy is one of the most researched foods and the bulk of research shows health benefits of soy consumption when eaten in moderation. There is a large amount of misinformation about the effects soy isoflavones have on health and we recommend the following articles for further details on the health effects consuming soy products:

What’s the deal with soy? Is it safe to eat or not? – Anya Todd, LD RD
Soy: What’s the Harm? – Jack Norris, RD
Soy Isoflavones and Estrogen – Ginny Messina, RD

Hexane

Hexane is a known neurotoxic petrochemical solvent that is purified from crude oil. It is used to extract edible oils from seeds and soy protein isolates or texturized soy protein (TVP) from soybeans. The vast majority of soy protein ingredients in meat analogs have undergone hexane processing. You’ll see them listed on the label as soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or textured vegetable protein. Classified as an air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to high amounts of hexane carries risks:

Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes central nervous system effects such as dizziness, giddiness, slight nausea, and headache. Chronic (long-term) exposure to hexane in air is associated with polyneuropathy- damage or disease affecting peripheral nerves in roughly the same areas on both sides of the body. Symptoms can include numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue. (1)

But how much hexane, if any, remains in the food after processing and are consuming these trace amounts a health hazard? According to the University of California, probably not- but it’s hard to know for sure. Not only does the FDA not monitor hexane in foods, the US has yet to even set limits for allowable hexane residue levels in soy foods. The industry has stated that hexane is only used in the initial steps of soy processing, and virtually all of it is eliminated by the time the soy ingredients are incorporated into other products. Critics point to a study which found trace amounts of hexane in soy oil as evidence to avoid soy products.

This vegan dietitian says the occasional hexane-processed soy food is fine when consumed in moderation.

If you want to avoid hexane-treated soy foods, there are a couple of things you can do. Since hexane has been banned in organic food production, look for “100% organic” products that also contain the USDA seal. Keep in mind that this is different from a label that just says “made with organic” ingredients. You can also look for expeller-pressed or other physical extraction methods for oils that do not involve a solvent. (2) Tempeh is made from whole soybeans and typically does not undergo hexane processing. Check the label to be certain.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering techniques. Scientists alter genes with DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria, or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides and herbicides.

There are criticisms about the practice surrounding the bioengineering and the production of genetically modified organisms. In more than 60 countries around the world, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of genetically modified organisms. Here in the US, the government has approved the use of GMOs based on information contained in studies conducted by the same corporations who created them (and profit from their sale). (3)

Learn more about GMOs at The Non GMO Project.

When looking at soy tempeh, unless the product is specifically labeled as GMO-free, then there’s a good chance the product was made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Look for organic products or products specifically labeled as using non-GMO ingredients.

Medical Disclaimer

The content of the Web Site including without limitation, text, copy, audio, video, photographs, illustrations, graphics and other visuals, is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or recommendations of any kind. Read my full disclaimer here.

Recipes

Vegan TVP Recipes

Do you have a TVP or TSP product or recipe that I should know about? Please contact me.

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Your Daily Vegan is committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented in this article has been meticulously researched, and is based on the information available to me at the time of publication. Each guide is periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. You can find the update date listed at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.

1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Hexane Summary.” Retrieved June 5, 2014

2. Tofurky. “Hexane Extracted Soy Isolates.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

3. Non GMO Project. “Learn About GMOs.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

4. Responsible Technology. “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

5. Wikipedia. “TVP.” Retrieved May 22, 2015

6. Slate. ““Is Your Veggie Burger Killing You? Retrieved May 34, 2015

This guide is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update June 2016