Vegan Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) Guide
By KD Angle-Traegner / Updated November 8, 2018
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), or Textured Soy Protein (TSP), is a product made from soy flour with the soybean oil extracted, then cooked under pressure, extruded, and dehydrated.
Because of its low cost and high nutrition, TVP is a favorite of food service, retail, and institutional — think school lunch and prison meal programs — facilities everywhere. It’s lightweight and has a long shelf life, which makes it perfect for backpacking and disaster preparedness and even rescue-type situations.
Mild in flavor, Textured Vegetable Protein absorbs flavorings extraordinarily well and has a fibrous, spongy texture that is similar to animal meat. This toothy texture makes it an excellent choice for people who are looking for alternatives to the familiar foods of their pre-vegan days.
Here’s everything you need to know about Textured Vegetable Protein.
Is TVP Healthy?
Unlike other whole soy foods like tempeh and minimally processed soy foods like tofu, textured vegetable protein is a processed soy product. You might be thinking, “Eating a bunch of processed soy food doesn’t sound all that healthy to me,” and you’d be right but only because no healthy eating plan should consist of a bunch of processed foods, soy or otherwise.
Don’t listen to me though; I’m not a dietitian. For that, I turned to experts on vegan nutrition. Here’s what they had to say.
Ask a Dietitian: Is Textured Vegetable Protein Healthy?
First, I turned to an expert on vegan nutrition, Anya Todd MS, RD, LD, to get her thoughts on textured vegetable protein.
According to Todd, the nutrients in soy foods can vary among different preparations. She admits that, while the nutrition in textured vegetable protein isn’t as praisable as a whole soy food like tempeh, TVP can still be a part of a healthy vegan diet.
“Bottom line, soy is perfectly fine in moderation. When looking at soy though, ideally we should be eating soy as minimally as possible, but even processed soy can have the occasional place in a vegan diet.” (1) Todd isn’t alone in her thoughts on TVP either.
Author and vegan dietitian Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, agrees. “Healthy vegan diets should be based mostly on whole plant foods. But the all or nothing approach that bans processed foods and added fats isn’t necessary for good health.” Messina believes vegan diets need to be realistic and that means making allowances for foods that help people go and stay vegan, like TVP.
Finally, keep in mind that soy products are not the only plant-based protein options. Legumes, seitan, nuts, and seeds are excellent protein sources as well.
But what about those other scary soy articles about soy isoflavones and genetically modified soy? Glad you asked.
Soybeans contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. Some people claim that these soy isoflavones act like the female sex hormone estrogen in the body and can potentially increase the risk of cancers — especially breast cancer — as well as reduce the testosterone levels in men.
But concerns about adverse effects are not supported by the clinical or epidemiologic literature available at the time of this writing. Soy is one of the most researched foods — nearly 2,000 soy-related papers published annually — and based on the health benefits in these epidemiologic studies along with the benefits noted in clinical trials soy is not only safe to eat, but it’s also beneficial when consumed in moderation. (2, 3)
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Some people will avoid tempeh because they are afraid to consume GMOs. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been manipulated in a lab using genetic engineering techniques. Scientists alter genes using DNA from different species of living organisms like bacteria or viruses to get specific traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of herbicides or pesticides. (4)
Soybeans are the second-largest crop grown in the US after corn, and they’re also one of the top genetically-modified crops. These numbers are significant because even if you’re not eating soy foods directly — if you’re eating animals — you’re most likely still consuming soy. Currently, 85 percent of all GMO soybeans end up in animal feed for farmed animals where it eventually ends up on your plate.
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 manufacture and sale of genetically modified organisms. Here in the US though, the government has approved the use of bioengineered crops. (4)
When looking at soy tempeh, unless the product has a specific GMO-free label, then there’s a good chance the product is genetically modified.
For those who are looking to avoid GMO soy, finding non-GMO textured vegetable protein is simple. Look for organic textured vegetable protein or TVP labeled explicitly as using non-GMO ingredients.
Reading Food Labels:
Is TVP safe to eat?
Absolutely. Textured Vegetable Protein is a processed soy product. Being processed doesn’t automatically eliminate it from a healthy vegan diet, however. Like any other processed food, it’s best to eat it in moderation.
TVP Shopping Guide
If you’ve never heard of textured vegetable protein or TVP before, you might not know where to buy it.
Here’s what you need to know before you head to the store.
Find TVP in Stores
Finding textured vegetable protein in stores is easy, just head to the dried goods section of your favorite grocery store. If you don’t spot it here, check out the bulk aisle.
Look for a pale-colored, dry crumble or nuggets, similar looking to dry cereal or soup mixes. In its dehydrated form, TVP has a shelf life of more than a year, but it will spoil within several days after hydrated.
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.
Reading Food Labels:
Is TVP Vegan?
Yes, it’s completely suitable for vegans. Common names for these products are “TVP,” “textured vegetable protein,” “TSP,” or “textured soy protein.”
Vegan TVP Recipes
Are you ready to get cooking with TVP but not sure where to start? Here is a selection of vegan recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner inspiration.
High-Protein Vegan Burgers / Full of Plants
Recipes to Try
- TVP Sloppy Joes
- TVP Chili with Chipotle
No Meat Athlete
- Spicy Vegan Kheema Mince
Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes
- TVP Tacos
The Snarky Chickpea
- Pinto Beans & TVP Tacos
Fat Free Vegan
- TVP Salad
The Vegan Stoner
- Sweet Potato & TVP Chili
Vegan Runner Eats
- TVP “Meet” Loaf
- Soy Chorizo “Soyrizo”
Yup, it’s Vegan!
- TVP “Tuna” Salad
Hungry Hungry Hippie
- Vegan Sawmill Gravy & Biscuits with TVP-Shiitake Hash
Olives for Dinner
Truth in Advertising
I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. Meticulously researched, the topic explored in this guide contains the knowledge available at the time of publishing. Reviews and updates happen when new material becomes available.
Please contact me if you find incorrect data.
- Todd, A. (2018) Personal Interview. http://www.anyatodd.com/
- Messina, M., & Messina, V. (2010). The Role of Soy in Vegetarian Diets. Nutrients,v2(8), 855–888. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080855
- Norris, J. (2100). Soy: What’s the Harm? VeganHealth.org. Retrieved from http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/soy_wth
- Learn About GMOs. Non GMO Project. Retrieved from https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/
Article Photo Credits
Article Photos: Shutterstock
Recipe photos via recipe authors. Used with written permission.